I love sampling franchise food outlets. The big branding, the logos, the professional eye-catching colour schemes, the larger than life posters on the walls promising quality, freshness, and taste. How could it fail? The procedures, policies, and tried and tested systems seem so foolproof that even the prospectus online may mention that you don’t have to be a qualified chef to deliver the menu from the kitchen. With a marketing machine behind the franchisee, what could go wrong? The punter off the street in Darwin should be treated with the same courteousness in-store as the punter anywhere else in Australia. Likewise, the meals, sweet treats, and coffees should be of equal quality regardless of location too. Correct?
Upon that train of thought I visited Michel’s Patisserie at Bakewell Shopping Centre (oh yes… the irony of that suburb’s name) where I sampled not one, but two, of their sweet treats…… and a skinny flat white. The staff behind the counter and serving the tables were quick, courteous and efficient.
But to break with tradition, let’s get the coffee out of the way first. I am presuming that the coffee used this visit was their award winning roast. The coffee served was strong, but terribly bitter. I refuse to add sugar to my coffee, and I doubt that any sugar would have corrected the taste. Was it burnt, a different roast, or just rushed? I’m not sure, but I won’t rush back for another. I’ll try a chai latte next time – you can’t go wrong with a prepacked powder mix.
I have a sweet tooth. I’ll be the first to admit it. On this visit I just had to try the Caramel Tarte, and the perfectly formed Choc Butterscotch Cheesecake.
The Caramel Tarte was also perfectly formed. A nice solid caramel filling with a very light caramel colour, a crisp pastry shell and a squiggle of milk chocolate as a flourish; the tart cut easily with the side of the fork. And that’s where the fun stopped. In the mouth the filling was grainy, much like the feel of undissolved caster sugar. Taste-wise, the filling was bland. You could taste the sweetness, but no caramel. Perhaps the lightness of the caramel filling should have hinted at the lack of taste. The pastry shell itself was pleasant; slightly crumbly without a hint of sweating on it, and delicious to taste. But without a satisfactory filling it wasn’t worth eating by itself. I didn’t get past more than a couple of mouthfuls. As perfect as it was to look at, the Caramel Tarte just didn’t do it for me.
The Choc Butterscotch Cheesecake was an interesting purchase. In the cake window it resembled a perfectly formed multi-layer mousse sitting upon a choc biscuit base, coated in a milk chocolate hard shell with a dollop of caramel on top and a sprinkle of nuts. And that is exactly what it resembled in the mouth. Michels’ website indicates that the base was a chocolate mudcake – and perhaps it was. But a very sweet and crunchy mud cake at that. Looking more closely, there were nuts cooked through the chocolate base.
Again, similar to the Caramel Tarte, the main fillings – the two cheesecakes – were bland. If one layer was chocolate and one layer was butterscotch, I couldn’t tell which. The taste in either was undetectable through the sweetness that engulfed my mouth. The peanuts were more a nut mix – not just salted peanuts as advertised. I’m sure I tasted peanut along with macadamia and walnut – perhaps I was wrong? If the nuts were salted, that too was undetectable. The chocolate hard-shell would have been nice had it been a bitter dark chocolate, but with a dollop of caramel sitting on top, ultimately the Choc Butterscotch Cheesecake was unbalanced with one sickly sweet layer on top of another. Topped off with more sweetness.
While tasting I thought that my palette had been ruined from the strong sharp coffee, but no amount of water allowed me to detect any additional taste from the foamy and airy cheesecake fillings, which – as I suspected – resembled mousse more than cheesecake.
I wondered if I was missing something? I’m not particularly sure. This is a big chain, once awarded as being the best coffee shop, and part of an even bigger multi-brand food outlet franchise operator. Why didn’t the flavours jump up and off the plate at me?
On this occasion I can only paint a pretty picture of the sweet treats with my words, but that is where it stops. Sadly, I don’t think I experienced Michel’s Patisserie at their best.