Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier at The Star

Posted on September 3, 2013

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Sydney has many big names in food, but Adriano Zumbo has piqued my curiousity more than others. He burst onto the scene during the first season of Masterchef and since then has become the much feared ‘dessert master’ for many pressure tests on the show. His popularity (or notoriety) on the show then became a platform for him to launch his own TV series and cement himself as both a household name and an authority on desserts. Now you can even find packet mixes for his “Zumbarons” in supermarkets across the nation. But after seeing a number of his challenges on Masterchef, I’ve always wondered what the big fuss about his desserts were about.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but it didn’t look like his desserts were very difficult on a technical level, just process intensive because they were essentially a  mashup of other desserts. Or just required you to make multiple pretty copies of the same thing, a la the infamous macaron tower. That’s why I never really understood why his recipes were portrayed as so notoriously hard when there has been other more technically challenging ones. So I guess the question in my mind has always been, does his fame precede his desserts or do they really stand up on their own?

Only one way to find out! Instead of just visiting his regular shop fronts, his dessert train concept at Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier (Shop 1, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont NSW) proved all too alluring for me.

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What is a dessert train? Well you know those sushi trains? It’s exactly like that, but instead of sushi, the little dishes going around the conveyor belt carries desserts. Mmm sounds like a sugar lover’s dream already. Each plate off the conveyor belt will set you back $7, $10 for a plate of 4 zumbarons and a la carte items including Zumbo’s gateaus can also be ordered for $10 apiece. On the Saturday night I was there, there were about 4-5 different types of desserts making its way around the conveyor belt. I’m not sure if there is more or less variety on other nights.

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First up we tried the chocolate caramel fondant. This was ok, but very average. Average is not a bad thing – if this was an average cafe. But I guess that’s one of the problems with having such a big name; it comes with big expectation. The fondant was ordinary, and I couldn’t even taste the caramel. I actually really regretted picking this off the conveyor belt. In hind sight, it was silly of me to pick it. Fondants are best served fresh and warm so that the chocolately centre oozes out. Having done a few rounds of the train circuit by the time I picked it up, there was no oozing chocolate centre for me :(. You’d think that with Zumbo’s nous, he would have thought of this and only serve fondant to order..?

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As a self prescribed palate cleanser in between the dessert courses, we opted for a soft serve cone ($1.70, a cup of soft serve is $4). The flavour of the day was orange and Earl Grey. This had quite a nice flavour throughout, there’s a bit of zesty freshness and mellow undertones of tea. The let down was that the iciness of the orange flavoured part, it just wasn’t very smooth (you may even be able to see this in the picture below).

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The final dessert of the night was the ‘floating island’, which was a meringue in custard with caramel sauce and a sprinkling of nuts. This was the clear winner from our train selection. The meringue had a really nice texture, it had a crunchy exterior and a chewy centre. Zumbo’s staff clearly know how to make a good meringue; must be all those macarons they make! The custard was smooth and creamy and the nuts provided extra flavour. A really nice way to finish actually because it was quite a light and pleasant dessert.

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So it was after sharing 2 dessert plates and 1 soft serve cone, my fellow diner and I called quits on the sugar. Obviously Zumbo’s dessert train wasn’t designed with lightweights like us in mind. Our waiter told us the average diner here consumed 3 items each, and he distinctly remembers one recent customer downing 5 plates on their own! I’m not sure if I should feel relieved that I not as addicted to sugar as I thought or be disappointed that I fail at being a sweet tooth…

Though having said that, we did walk out with a few sugary treats for later consumption. It just wouldn’t be right if I didn’t leave with a couple of zumbarons. So I sampled the cherry ripe and buttered popcorn flavour ($2.50 each). The cherry ripe was spot on for texture and flavour. It really was a cherry ripe in macaron form. This, I would recommend to anyone. The buttered popcorn looked ever so promising with flakes of popcorn stuck onto the macaron biscuit. The texture was again great, unfortunately it didn’t quite deliver in terms of flavour. I found it a little bland actually.

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The “Bastard” is a cake of blackcurrant mousse, coffee cremeaux, salted peanut caramel, coffee peanut biscuit and blackcurrant glaze ($9 takeaway). I’m very conflicted assessing this gateau. I think it looks beautiful, the layers are pretty and the cross section looks quite amazing. But the taste…let’s start with saying that I think certain elements of this dessert were excellent. If assessed on their own, the blackcurrent mouse and salted peanut caramel were delicious. As a whole dessert, I didn’t think the flavours were necessarily in harmony. I found the coffee layer to be a particularly strange fit; it imparted a bitterness to the gateau that I found really at odds with the other elements.

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“Mr Tom Brown” is a gateau with chocolate coconut mousse, mango compote, milk chocolate ginger cremeaux, coconut ginger cake and chocolate glaze ($9 takeaway). Again, I would give it the same assessment as the “Bastard”. The individual elements are all fine and quite delicious as standalone items, I just find the product as a whole rather confusing and it’s very hard to taste all these flavours. I actually had to go back to his website to check what the Tom Brown gateau was because I wasn’t able to differentiate from all the things going on. What is the point in flavouring something mango when the mango flavour is actually lost amongst the chocolate, coconut and ginger? Based on the two gateaus we sampled, I believe they would taste a lot better if they were simplified. Less is more.

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My overall opinion of Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier is a bit mixed. I think his dessert train is a very novel concept and will definitely appeal to some consumers. It’s something you should probably try at least once to get that ‘kid in a candy store’ feeling. And generally I think that’s why Adriano Zumbo is so successful; his shops and creations make adults feel like they’re a child again – wondrous in a Willy Wonka-esque environment. He has created cakes and desserts that look like works of art and gives them a real sense of occasion. For that part, he is probably deserving of the kudos. However once you peel off the superficial layer and talk purely about tastes, then it’s a different story. The taste of Zumbo’s creations are nice at best and schizophrenic at worst. Generally I think Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier is fairly good, but it’s not as amazing as his fame has led us to believe. You can write me off as being a simpleton, but seriously, sometimes I find the tastiest things in life are the simplest.

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