Melbourne Gets Its Own Willy Wonka

Adriano Zumbo – the quirky sugar genius who made macarons ‘a thing’ in Australia – has launched his first foray outside Sydney; and it’s a resounding success. Australian Baking Business catches up with the celebrity pastry chef to hear about the retail enterprise that is delighting Melbournians.

t’s been about four months since Adriano Zumbo Pâtisserie first opened in Melbourne, yet fans continue to line up outside the South Yarra shop with cultlike fervour.

As the undisputed macaron king of Sydney, it’s no surprise Zumbarons – Adriano’s personalised version of the meringue-based confection – take the lion’s share of the spotlight. Covering both sweet and savoury bases, he has incorporated up to 14 spectacular flavours into the range.

Better yet, the macarons taste exactly like their unorthodox descriptions – a particularly impressive feat considering some are titled caramalised banana and balsamic vinegar, salted butter caramel on toast, strawberry wasabi and green tea, bread and butter pudding, and finger bun.

The selection is both a paradise and a nightmare for sweet tooths, who often resort to a take-home pack to satisfy their curiosity.

“Coming up with these flavours has a lot to do with experiences through life; what I ate as a kid and the flavours I remember,” Adriano says.

“Eating out on the food scene, you get to try some interesting dishes and some stay in your memory. Salted caramel on toast for me works. I love the earthy smoky neutral toasted bread flavour that has a slight sourness and that bitter sweet caramel that’s been salted.

“Close your eyes and picture warm bread smothered in that!”

Of course, it takes a scientific mind to be such a culinary renegade. In fact, Adriano says it wasn’t until he leant to fully appreciate how food groups mature and break down that he could execute several of the more complex macarons.

“Take the caramel, banana and balsamic macaron for example, it’s made from sweet, sugary bananas that are just starting to over-ripen. The sugars are breaking down and starting to get a slightly fermented note,” he says. “Add in the balsamic vinegar for acid and a rich, buttery caramel that’s bitter and slightly salty.

“Put it all together and you have balance. All the elements complement each other. For me, it’s like a twisted banoffee pie.”

To state the obvious, the Zumbo brand has also become synonymous with the Zonut – a fitting interpretation of the croissant-doughnut hybrid that became global craze last year. It’s savoury, salty, sweet, tart, crispy and fluffy all at the same time and, somehow, manages to not over-do any one element.

While Adriano’s namesake products may be the biggest crowd-pullers, the shop is also filled with everything you would expect to find in a good French pâtisserie, including croissants and danishes. In another cabinet, rows of cakes and tarts are lit up and displayed like tiny works of art.

Adriano’s V8 cake, made famous on Masterchef, is even on the menu. Its eight heavenly takes on vanilla – including chantilly, brulee, water gel, almond crunch and dacquoise layers – is available in a variety of sizes and, if need be, can feed up to 100 people. Although it looks minimalist from the outside, the various components are complex and the
taste is multi-dimensional – an overriding theme throughout the entire pâtisserie.

“We have also recently added a range of hand crafted ice creams to the South Yarra line-up and our artisan bread will be on offer shortly as well,” Adriano says.

While Adriano is in the driving seat, head pastry chef Daniel Texter is at the helm of day-to-day operations at the South Yarra store. Playing a lead role in developing the
Melbourne-based menu with Adriano, he also ensures macaron insanity doesn’t take the spotlight off the store’s varied offering.

Daniel, who has had an illustrious career working in Copenhagen and Singapore, even joked with Good Food he may draw on his German heritage to trial a schnitzel or sauerkraut macaron for the annual Zumbaron Day – when the store features up to 60 different macaron flavours.

After the hype surrounding the brand’s expansion into Melbourne, Adriano could have attracted sell-out crowds from an unsigned shoebox. But, in his typically flamboyant style, the shop itself is a whimsical delight. Hundreds of mirrored panels and psychedelic pink neon lights dominate the modern, semi-industrial interior for what feels more like a nightclub and less like a suburban food retailer.

It’s courageous, sensational and fun –even the take-away coffee cups are a brilliant shade of pink.

The design and identity of the Melbourne flagship store was entrusted to the graduate program of design practice Elenberg Fraser, which worked to not only visually epresent the brand’s commitment to innovation, but to also pay tribute to Adriano’s traditional schooling.

Design leader Thomas Orton says the graduates explored Victorianera architectural ornamentation from Melbourne’s golden age.

“We envisaged an engaging interior treatment that would reflect and celebrate the intense and colourful dessert and pastry products on display in the store,” he said.

“Investigation of techniques such as molded plaster and pressed tin ceilings that provided interior detailing, textures and patterns saw the designers conceive an experimental and highly contemporary approach to the interpretation for the retail fit out.

“We used a series of wall and ceiling panels that have been vacuum formed and metalised to create a vivid and surreal hall of mirrors that complements perfectly Zumbo’s unreal creations.”

Out the back, just as much effort has gone into creating an efficient space where Adriano’s staff can pump out enough cakes and pastries to satisfy the hordes of customers.

Paul Brady, owner of Brady IPS – the local, family-run specialist that designed and installed the store’s cold storage and food processing facilities – worked closely with the architects to ensure the space is as practical as it is pretty.

“We had really limited space and we had to maximise that space so Adriano could achieve what he needs from a production perspective,” he says.

“So, out the front we worked on a nice, polished concrete floor to complement the mirrored finish, neon sign and panelling, and ensured a food-grade epoxy flooring was executed out the back.”

All in all, it seems Melbourne has been waiting for a store like this. And, judging by its success, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear Adriano is keen to further expand the Zumbo empire in Melbourne, or in other states.

“Melbourne is a beautiful city, with great culture and great people. I’ve always admired it and always had a dream of opening up there,” he says.

“It was always going to be the first interstate store, but hopefully it’s not going to be the last.”

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