one sunday afternoon at the height of summer, we went for a long walk, and harlan awoke from the ensuing nap to find himself in the sunlit wonderland that is l’atelier de monsieur truffe. it’s like teleportation, i tells ya — the surprise in his eyes when he wakes and discovers he is somewhere new and different. did you ever read the short story by stephen king, “the jaunt“? like that. it was hot that day, and perhaps being our first formal cafe date together, i played it safe and ordered something i could easily eat with one hand: a fruit salad. oh, and that there iced chocolate.
how many cafes in town, you order a chocolate drink, and get some milky beverage with barely a teaspoon of chocolate power or a dribble of sugary chocolate (flavoured) sauce in the bottom? many. not this one. mister truffle serves a tall glass filled with a deep dark chocolatey elixir. it is topped with a modest scoop of good ice cream, and a generous dusting of cocoa. it is all about the chocolate. and it comes with a stripy waxed paper straw! here’s the thing: it is served over ice. this means that though the chocolate is rich, it does not have the heft of half a litre of milk to add to your stupour. it does not have a cloud of aerosol cream for distraction (and i do love cream-in-a-can). but as bitter(sweet) as the situation is, the gradual dilution of the drink through the melting of the ice keeps things on an even keel.
so that you will be completely present to enjoy your $8 bowl of fruit. the menu listed rockmelon, raspberries and passionfruit, and that is what it was. there might have been a puddle of lime syrup at the bottom of the bowl, and the strange feeling you get from paying $8 for some cut-up fruit (this was before the height of melon season, when half a melon could be had at woolies for 60c) dissipated with each juicy mouthful.
on this day, harlan was happy sitting on my lap and watching… i dunno, the shiny thing in the middle distance? there is much to see in this big, light converted warehouse: the industrial fittings, the ornamental tiles in the prettiest shade of blue, the handsome wooden shelves of chocolate (housemade single origin bars, nibs, hot chocolate shavings…) begging to come home with you, the secret window into the chocolate moulding room, the behemoths that are the vintage chocolate processing equipment taking up a good third of the room…
but so, i had such a wonderful time that afternoon, that i thought kid #1 might like it too. so as an end of school holiday excursion one day, we trundled over. completely ignoring the fact that it was a chocolate cafe, she ordered kiddie pancakes and a ginger beer. i had a hot chocolate…
again, a wonderfully chocolatey drink, with all the rich and dark, and none of the glug or warm milkiness. and such a treat to drink from the ceramic tumbler and lick froth off the smooth wooden spoon; a tactile experience all round.
and an omelette to go with, a most elegant plating of a long golden pillow, moist and soft, filled with cheese and chives.
melty, oozy cheese, the variety of which now escapes me. gruyere? fontina? something. the kid was happy enough with her pancakes and ginger beer, but after rather too many tastes of my lunch, decided that she might have to have an omelette and a chocolate bevy to herself on our next visit.
which was not too many weeks later.
i had been somewhat obsessed with the iced chocolate in the interim, and it proved to be the perfect accompaniment to the reuben-ish sandwich i ordered off the specials board. pastrami with braised cabbage and picked onion slices. melted cheese. it was somewhat breadier than i’d like, and the pastrami sliced a little thin, but it was salty and good, and came with a perfect little salad.
the omelette filling that day was hot smoked trout and zucchini flowers, but maeve gamely ordered it anyway, despite her aversion to the gourd. how generously stuffed it was with slabs of flaky pink fish; and how delicate the ribbons of zucchini flower that ended up strewn all across the plate. i must admit, i helped her finish it off — that and her own iced chocolate — but even then, at the end, she lay her head down on the counter and said, “and now, i am dead.”
i read the online reviews, and people grumble about how the atelier is a chocolate cafe not serving chocolate desserts, but this is something rarer and altogether more necessary: a purveyor of superior chocolate drinks and well crafted savoury food, and then all the fancy chocolate bars and slabs of hazelnut-studded gianduja you can fit in your arms on the way to the cash register. i expect kid #2 and i will jaunt over this way quite a bit.