I survived the long flight from Toronto to Chicago to San Francisco to Sydney without going stir-crazy! But I had my share of drama right at the beginning of the trip. At the airport check-in counter, the crew asked if I had my visa to enter Australia. It was a moment of utter panic as I did not realize this not-so-minor detail until then. I quickly added up all the money I already spent on airfare and hotel and tried to rationalize cancelling the trip due to my own stupidity. Meanwhile, the crew member applied for a visa for me on the spot and non-reassuringly commented that if I don’t get immediate approval, I would have to delay my trip. Thank goodness the approval arrived and I got on the plane without any issues.
I get mass transit envy every time traveling to cities with direct access subway/train to city centre. Being host country to the summer Olympics in 2000, I do not expect anything less. Alas, my hometown Toronto is still in the dark ages. It took me all of 20 minutes to arrive at my temporary home in Darling Harbour with no need for any transfer or connection. My host was waiting for me. I got my key and Wi-Fi password (so important) all before 10am.
To help myself get oriented in the area, I decided to stroll around the neighbourhood. I was steps away from King’s Wharf and it made total sense to walk across Pyrmont Bridge to go to The Star Casino. No, I am not the gambling type. There was something a lot more attractive in the form of high end patisserie! Located across from Momofuku seiōbo was Adrian Zumbo’s pastry shop and dessert train cafe. You know how sushi restaurants have a rotating conveyor belt with plates of sushi parading in front of diners? Same idea here except with immaculately constructed pastries.
Alas the cafe only opens at night and I was one of the first customers of the day. The early bird got her reward though in the form of zonut. Remember how I did not line up for the famed cronuts when I visited Dominique Ansel’s bakery in New York City? Pastry chef Zumbo offers his take on the fried croissant with a limit of four per customer. Two big trays of zonuts were just right there in front of me. There was little reason for me to pass on the opportunity. My verdict? While pleasant, it tasted exactly like a fried croissant. There are more intricate dessert creation to crave.
I also ordered a carrot cake chouxmaca. There were many individual gateaux that caught my attention but I could only sample so many in one sitting. It was a very pretty choux globe filled with spiced bavarois (he called it carrot cake legere, I think) and a dramatic swirl of lightened cream cheese. A little top hat of orange macaron finished the pastry with flourish. Taste-wise, it resembled a carrot cake-inspired cream puff. With all that cream, not exactly the light dessert I expected.
At this point, I wasn’t even sampling anymore. It was dessert for brunch and possibly dinner too. I thought of saving the box of Zumbarons (ahem, macarons) for later but threw caution to the wind. I went through a macarons phase in which I tasted a lot of them from famed patisseries at home and abroad. And then I just stopped cold turkey. While the classic macaron is a picture of restraint hiding the most vibrant burst of flavour, I got tired of all the novelties using the macaron simply as a vehicle to deliver more and more outrageous flavour combinations.
The macarons at Adriano Zumbo fall squarely into the second category. From left to right: pandan sticky rice, toasted marshmallow, fingerbun, buttered popcorn, salted caramel on toast, pie & sauce. All were memorable in their own way though I did not like everyone of them. The pie & sauce was definitely savoury...like meat pie. Strangely enough, it was my favourite of the lot. Marshmallow had the fluffy marshmallow cream texture. Buttered popcorn tasted like a big wad of whipped butter with bits of softened popcorn. I really liked the sticky rice textural contrast with the fragrant pandan. Fingerbun was very coconut-y. Salted caramel on toast had good chew.
With a belly filled with pastries, I strolled and people watch some more. It was Melbourne Cup, the most well-known horserace in Australia. The crowd was out to celebrate in early afternoon. Men in suits and women in colourful frocks, towering heels, and the obligatory fascinator. Everyone was decked out and there was a festive mood all around.
Of course, horseracing is not just about seen and be seen. There was betting all around. The bookies set up their green van for mobile betting stations and there were huge crowd at every one I saw. My host Steve told me that in a few hours all the well-dressed people would be all drunk. I did not hang around long enough to find out, thanks to jetlag. I went to sleep while the sun was still bright outside and all the patios for waterfront restaurants were packed with merry partygoers.
From the little that I saw on my first day, Sydney is a beautiful city filled with active people. I came across countless joggers and people playing rugby on the lawn. Judging by the amount of pastry that I ate, I should follow their lead to work off some of that indulgence too!