Daniel McCulloch is won over by an astonishing chocolate pavlova.

Slice of heaven

12:23:PM 01/05/2013
Daniel McCulloch

Everybody needs a vice. Some light up a cigarette. Others turn to the bottle, or gorge on a greasy treat. But for many of us, the choice is simple. Chocolate.

Melburnians are increasingly seeking out boutique chocolatiers to get their fix. Like many of the city’s favourite eateries, some of the best are hidden from the street. Chokolait is one such space; tucked in at the end of the Hub Arcade, off Little Collins Street.

A new offering at the independent shop has especially set chocoholics’ tongues wagging.

Inside, co-owner Marianna Harvey smiles broadly from behind the coffee machine, deftly texturing milk as she prepares decadent drinks for a young couple. At the counter, an out-of-towner hand-picks two dozen truffles. Soon, chef and co-owner Ross Harvey bounds into the shop from the upstairs kitchen.

“Welcome inside our chocolate box,” says Harvey, before enthusiastically setting off on a tour of the shop. “Everything on our menu is familiar and simple, and everything connects to chocolate.”

“Chocolate is a universal product – there are very few who do not love it.”

Soon, he looks at his watch, apologising. His signature dish is resting in the oven, and it must be taken out to cool. “There’s an enormous amount of time invested in this dessert,” says Harvey, peering into the oven.

Harvey retrieves a glossy, airy, chocolate pavlova. Heaven.

Each of these cakes takes five hours to craft. Preparation time has been refined to half an hour, and it takes 90 minutes to cook. Then, for an hour in each environment, the pavlova must rest in the oven, with the door ajar, before being transferred to a benchtop, and finally being placed in the fridge. Then, and only then, is Harvey prepared to serve it to his customers.

Chokolait’s pavlova looks deceptively simple: four layers of meringue, and three of Belgian chocolate. “We don’t want you to think too much, we just want you to enjoy,” he says.

Oh, how looks can be deceiving.

“There are no secrets to our recipes,” Harvey says, “Just our techniques.”

Harvey says the testing period for what has become his signature sweet lasted well over a month: “For weeks we filled our bin liners with failed pavlova experiments. Then, for several more weeks, we had a team of very well-fed staff.”

Establishing how to integrate chocolate into a pavlova in a way that created interest, texture and flavour was no easy feat.

As any dinky-di Aussie knows, our national dessert is notoriously sweet. Passionfruit and kiwi fruit are not simply added to mum’s creation for a splash of colour and texture, but to cut through the sweat-inducing sweetness. Harvey’s chocolate pavlova is different. To start, his contains about half the amount of sugar of a regular pavlova.

“We had to make it less sweet,” says Harvey, “Otherwise, a large slice of our customer base – many of whom are Asian – would have been put off immediately.”

Chokolait’s oldest customer, 94-year-old Olive, has visited the shop almost every Thursday since it opened in 2007. Despite the weather or the financial climate, people still crave small indulgences. By mid-morning most days, seats are at a premium, with many diners devouring that distinctive pav.

Appearing in the restaurant is Marcel Wiemer. The chef recently joined Chokolait’s team, and he and Harvey have been hard at work. Wiemer has been tinkering with the pair’s next creation; his eyes suggest he has just made a breakthrough. The two exchange an intuitive look, and Harvey excuses himself before he and Wiemer return to the kitchen.

Forget the smokes, sambuca and battered savs. Just fetch another slice of chocolate pav.

www.chokolait.com.au

Chokolait on Urbanspoon


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