24 April 2008

I ♥ croissant

All images reproduced from the fabulous Sourdough Companion

She was blonde, about 18 and dressed in an eighties style, retro red fleece tracksuit trimmed with cream cuffs. Desperate to flaunt her incongruously unnatural, deep mahogany solarium tan, she had hiked up the top, allowing one shoulder to fall ‘Flashdance’ style revealing a little singlet top, and she had rolled down the waistband of the tracksuit pants to the point where it grazed her Mons Pubis. It was clear that she was a fan of Brazilian waxing. But I had the creepy feeling that her pants could fall down at any moment.

Like an accident waiting to happen, I struggled to look away, as did most of the people sitting alongside me in the cafe seating of the bakery. I silently wondered whether she was a King Street 'Entertainer' and pondered what would lead a young woman to that path in life.

Sadly her pronounced hip bones betrayed the fact that any solids she ate probably moved her to 'drive the porcelain bus' and that perhaps most of what she ingested entered her body via the nasal cavities.

Her lank hair was dragged up into a messy ponytail. Multiple bangles circled her bony wrist and most of her face was shielded by an enormous pair of dark sunglasses, marked with emormous Gucci logos. I figured that she was probably trying to channel Nicole Ritchie or one of those prevalent rich, self-centred bimbo’s who populate the weekly trash mags.

She dragged her short verdigris coloured fingernails across the glass counter of the Patisserie selection. Looking at all the culinary wonders below, she could breathe in the beauty of the pastel coloured macaroons, the elegant French cakes that looked like exotically coloured and patterned couture gowns, fluffy custard filled beignets - aka bomboloni - with the sunlight glistening off their sugary coatings, large mousse & cake filled chocolate domes, substantial and lavishly filled baguettes and a parade of buttery pastries.

Behind the counter a dainty Mauritian girl, with skin as smooth as the bakery’s fine, hand made chocolates and as pretty as any of the offerings under glass, stood with her back to a wall of freshly baked artisanal loaves of bread. She glistened proudly in the reflection of the wonder around her, smiling broadly and expectantly.

Strung out, vacuous customer: "…ave you got croyst-zants?"

Pretty Mauritian: "Sorry?"


"Oh Croissant?" She replied with a perfect French lilt. "Yes. Would you like plain, chocolate or almond?"

The subject of my fascination chose a plain croissant, then scuffed her way out to a kerbside table. A cigarette was quickly lit and, after the first drag she buried her head in her hands. Her spiky haired blonde boyfriend in the skinny jeans and clunky multi-hued retro sneakers – who I suspect was modelling himself on an early version of Jon Bonjovi - enthusiastically ordered a pile of food for himself and bounded over to her at the table, looking contrastingly fresh and happy.

Meanwhile my own croissant arrived. To me the simple, buttery marvel of a croissant, is one of life’s simple pleasures. This particular specimen was golden, crisp on the outside, multi layered, subtly sweet yet savoury and slightly chewy inside. As I pulled it apart I swept up the flaky crumbs with one finger and inhaled them.

The first piece of pastry melted on my tongue. The second chunk was dunked into my bowl of French hot chocolate, made not with cocoa but shavings of dark couverture chocolate. The croissant did not disintegrate into the milk, an excellent sign of quality ingredients, but absorbed just enough flavour to make my head spin with rapture on tasting. I slowly stretched out my consumption so that I could enjoy it for the longest possible time.

I hoped the girl outside was enjoying hers as much as I was mine. Simple unadorned, buttery heaven in a pillowy soft crescent. A moment's solace perhaps in a life confused with unreal expectations of the feminine physique.

So welcome to Noisette, my local Boulangerie and Patisserie(Bakery & Pastry Shop), the place where I find inspiration and respite from my schedule. The Owner and Patissier at this particular venue is a fifth generation French Baker. I've been told he had moved to Australia a number of years before, to head up the sweet operations for another more volatile and entrepreneurial French Baker, who has a big local chain of French Patisseries.

Fortunately for me when David Menard tired of the restrictions and tantrums of his boss, he opened his own place around the corner from my little house by the sea. Compared to the chain he had previously worked for, his own place is modern and simply decorated, not a throw back to bygone Paris or Brittany, but an ode to the meeting of the old country and the new.

At the back of the shop a huge window opens on to the bakery and the industrious machinations of he and his white clad baking staff are on display to all those who can tear their eyes away from the people watching on the street outside.

The shelves are filled with organic sourdough, Pain de Mie, Miche and all manner of sumptuous breads. Then there are sweet little hampers, small cellophane bags of tempting morsels, a large jar of fresh Marshmallows and jars of Bonne Maman jam. Facing the door, a section of the counter is filled with handmade chocolates from another of my favourite venues, Cacao.

I love watching the crowd here. It changes and evolves at certain times of the day. In addition to the spoilt young adults and attention-seeking tots lying on the floor blocking the path of the staff, there are those who race in breathlessly and come out clutching artisanally crafted bread rolls and loaves of bread. There are men in Lycra road cycling ensembles replenishing spent energy and lovers sparkling in the rosy glow of their desire.

On busy days the regular posers hog the outdoor tables, while the beautiful thirty-to-forty something design oriented couples take time out indoors. The middle aged middle class sip genteelly - and annoyingly - on the one cup of coffee for hours, oblivious to those who miss out on a seat, while an endless stream of conversation pours out of them. It's certainly a convivial spot. Last time I was there a couple beside me were meeting with a Marriage Celebrant.

And then amongst the regulars there's me.

I like to steal down there on my own or to hold work meetings there. I will drag a small production crew or my favourite clients out of airless boardrooms and over to the patisserie for our discussions, filling the table with sugar spun miracles.

Time passes more quickly when surrounded by the smell of baking highlighted with aroma of perfectly roasted coffee. It unearths an instinctive joviality that lubricates communication with laughter and works a minor miracle on the soul. But mostly I'll steal in there at the end of the day when it's quiet, for a Palmier and a coffee before facing my last hours of work and then retreating to the kitchen to make our evening meal.

Noisette Boulangerie & Café
84 Bay Street, Port Melbourne, Victoria.
ph +613 9646 9555


Anonymous said...

Jane...sounds fabulous!!! Lucky you to have it so close.... what a temptation though... when did it open?

stickyfingers said...

Gosh I can't recall exactly when it opened - August 2006? The clientele has built up as the new apartments around it have populated and the offering has evolved accordingly. Thankfully for me they have not recieved as much PR as D.Chirico & Dench, so you can still mostly get a seat in there.

I'm not particularly a sweet tooth, hence the predilection for plain Croissants and Palmiers which seem sweet enough, so I'm not tempting to binge - LOL! I do however buy the magnificently rich and exotic big occasion cakes when visiting friends for dinner.

The breads contain no preservatives and are organic which really appeals to me and I think their hot cross buns are better than the ones favoured by local food reviewers.

Y said...

Oh.My.God. Those baguettes are so golden they look like fluorescent tubes. And those marbled displays of cakes! Reminds me of Paris *sigh* and Tokyo *double sigh*

Ed Charles said...

I keep meaning to drop in there. Bistro Guillaume use his bread which is a big compliment.

stickyfingers said...

I was there yesterday with my nose deep in one of the 'What Einstein told his Cook' series, when Phillipe Mouchel and his wife strode in.

They gazed at all the miniature treats and chocolates directly across from the door, stayed for a coffee and bought bread.

I wonder how many of Melbourne's French Chef's favour the place? We already know Guillaume Brahimi and Christian Gattermayr(an ex Bocuse chef) stock their bread, along with Amelie from C'est Bon...

stickyfingers said...

Matt Preston has now reviewed Noisette for The Age and referenced their servicing 150 other venues with products. Fortunately the quality of the product has not diminished in spite of the expansion.

Congratulations must go to the Menard's who having started small in Port Melbourne now have gone from strength to strength with their factory in Mulgrave and distribution to restaurants, other bakeries and cafes around town.

It still remains my favourite refuge from the working day and I adore the staff. Watching the characters who play out their lives over coffee and sweet things still keeps me enthralled.

Anonymous said...

Marc the "Waffle Man" in Degreaves Street uses Noisette baguette for his fabulous sandwiches. Which might explain the queue that leaves his hole in the wall and goes halfway down the lane at lunchtime. So if you ever find yourself craving tartine and are stuck in town, that's the place to go!

stickyfingers said...

Thanks for that SJF - I'm often in the CBD and that would be a great option to the thali's, dumplings, pho and bento boxes I usually eat.