Melbourne’s Next-Level Pastry Scene Is Reason Enough to Book a Flight to Australia

Come to Melbourne for the lamingtons, stay for the madeleines.

<p>Nigel Killeen/Getty Images</p>

Nigel Killeen/Getty Images

You could say that Melbourne has always been a pastry city. Jewish refugees paved the way with chocolate Kugelhopf, baked cheesecake, and plum cake when Pearl and Joseph Levine arrived by ship from Poland via Perth, opening the Monaco Cake Shop in the inner city suburb of Carlton in 1931. The bakery followed the influx of Jewish migrants to the seaside suburb of St Kilda, moving to a new location on Acland Street three years later and rebranding as Monarch Cake Shop. This little slice of continental Europe quickly spawned three new cake shops on the same street when a few of the Levines’ apprentices left to open their own businesses. Although it’s now had a handful of owners over the decades, Monarch is still open today and still baking that Polish cheesecake to a 100-year-old recipe.

If this seems like a rather recent timeline, consider that Melbourne was established by British colonizers in 1835, supplanting 40,000 years of Indigenous culture and food traditions in the place the local First Nations people called Naarm. The newly established colony experienced huge growth in the 1850s during a gold rush, then again in the postwar 1950s with the arrival of Italians, Greeks, and Yugoslavs with their coffee and pastry traditions in tow, forming the largest communities of migrants in the city through to the 1970s. The city saw another wave of migration in the 1980s with the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. Today Melbourne is one of Australia’s most culturally diverse cities.

This history lesson is important because it explains the breadth and depth of Melbourne’s pastry scene. It's home to Vietnamese bakeries like the long-running Phuoc Tan offering incredible steam-baked baguettes, as well as Cannoli Bar's crisp, ricotta-filled cannoli. Tokyo Lamington's Japanese-born owners reimagine the iconic, fluffy, Australian lamington — a square of sponge cake iced in cocoa and sprinkled with desiccated coconut — through the flavors of their heritage.

“Growing up in Melbourne, you are exposed to the local bakery from a very young age. It’s where mum or dad pick up a loaf of bread for school lunches, buy a lamington for afternoon tea, and if you were lucky, a sausage roll on the weekend,” says Rebekah Pedler, a Melbourne native who is the pastry sous chef at the three-Michelin-starred Eleven Madison Park in New York City. “Bakeries were a constant source of conversation in our household, and we’d often debate the merits of the goods from the new Russian bakery in town or the Greek pastry shop up the street.”

It’s apt that a young Pedler pursued a career in pastry after finishing her chef's apprenticeship. She was inspired by the likes of internationally renowned chef Raymond Capaldi who led the charge in molecular gastronomy in 1990s Melbourne with desserts that combined “chocolate soil” with wasabi ice cream, as well as Swiss-born chef Pierre Roelofs — who had worked at The Fat Duck and El Celler de Can Roca — and charmed Melbourne locals with a tiny weekly dessert pop-up showcasing whimsical desserts served inside glass test tubes.

It’s in this creative, pastry-forward environment that a former Formula 1 engineer, Kate Reid, kicked things up a notch with the arrival of her now world-famous Lune Croissanterie in 2012. Her creations have a global following and her croissant is widely considered one of the best on earth. “The croissants are very special. I believe that her background in engineering really drove her research and development stage, which has definitely paid off in precision and execution. I was at Lune during the Australian Open tennis tournament this year, and there were quite a few international people in line who had made the pilgrimage to taste her glorious creations,” says Pedler.

In addition to the perfect prototype croissant, cruffins, and morning buns, Reid and her team also produce savory offerings such as the everything croissant with confit garlic, a carbonara-style Danish with bacon bechamel and an egg yolk, and a pain Suisse-inspired creation filled with gochujang ground beef and kimchi. In 2021, Reid opened a sibling to Lune called Moon, which specializes in fried crullers glazed in vibrant hues. They produce four classic flavors and two “wild cards” per month, including combinations like coconut and lime, and rose and lychee.

This laser focus on perfecting one pastry is a common theme behind a new wave of pastry stars in Melbourne. “I think Reid has set the standard for people across the hospitality landscape," says Pedler. "Not just desserts and pastry — to focus on one area and really hone in on it, understand it inside and out, and perfect it.”

Another case in point is chef Gareth Whitton of Tarts Anon, who — you guessed it — specializes in the magic art of the tart. Last year’s Masterchef Australia: Dessert Masters winner was the head pastry chef at the Melbourne outpost of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal (where Pedler was one of his underlings), launching Tarts Anon with his partner Catherine Way from their home kitchen during the pandemic. It became one of the city’s most popular lockdown bakeries and they opened a brick-and-mortar location in 2021. The duo's incredibly precise, perfect tarts bought by the slice lean into some classic Australian flavor pairings like mango and macadamia, as well as into nostalgia. Their peanut “freckle” tart pays homage to the iconic Australian sprinkle-covered chocolate candy, the tart shell layered in caramel-soaked sponge, a brown butter and popcorn custard, and choc-hazelnut popping candy.

A singular focus is also the business model behind Madeleine de Proust in the Carlton neighborhood, where co-owners Hyoju Park and Rong Yao Soh lean into traditional French technique fused with an Australian sensibility and pan-Asian ingredients. Korean-born Park was formerly the pastry chef at Attica, one of Australia's most awarded and globally recognized restaurants, while Soh, who hails from Malaysia, cut his teeth in Michelin-starred kitchens in London. You can taste that heritage and experience in their use of flavors like black sesame, brown butter and Tasmanian leatherwood honey, and pandan and coconut. “Their madeleines are an ethereal experience. Plump and fluffy with a generous explosion of flavor — simple but perfect,” says Pedler.

Another Attica alum, Rosemary Andrews, also focuses on doing one thing well at her bakery Mietta in the form of impossibly perfect eight-layer cakes sold by the slice in flavors including hazelnut tiramisu, and carrot, toasted pecan, and white chocolate, as well as whole Basque cheesecakes featuring pairings like pandan and white chocolate, and roasted corn and muscovado.

These bakeries are just a small fraction of Melbourne’s pastry greatness. There are many more spots the hungry and curious traveler should not miss, like Monforte Viennoiserie and its ridiculously handsome sausage rolls, Chic de Partie and its boozy brioche, and the stalwart Baker de Chirico for its sourdough loaves and bombolone. In considering the current wave of bakers shaking up the scene in her hometown, Pedler points out that there is truly a high level of fluency in pastry in the city.

“I think Melbourne is so receptive to these businesses because there’s a very good baseline of knowledge in food, even for people who are not in the industry," she says. "Enjoying something in its peak most elite form is something Melbournians are [passionate about].”

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