Friday, 25 April 2014

London's Best Macaroon

So I set myself the arduous task of finding London's best macaroon. As food trends go, this one seems here to stay. Unlike the unwarranted hype of the cronut or the weather dependent deliciousness of gelato, macaroons have it all. Looks, flavour, portabililty and all year round desirability. Yes, it's all there in one snack sized package. And luckily, Europe is the hub of macaroons so I thought I would take advantage of the locational fortuity and scope the field.

In London all the macaroons shops live with the posh people out in the West. So one moderately sunny day I took a walk from Knightsbridge to Picadilly Circus to encompass four macaroon stops, picking the top three from each and conducted my own study which involved three separate sessions of me sampling a little bit of each, with sip of tea between each bite to cleanse the palate. Yes, I know. Very scientific. I did after all, spend a mind numbingly boring semester studying biometry at Vet school. Just an excuse to eat lots of macaroons? How dare you! Leave this page at once, you don't deserve the ocular feast I have prepared below.

And here are the results from best to worst.

1. Pierre Herme
At first I didn't like Pierre Herme. I bought a few back in December when they had their Christmas range and was completely unimpressed. But since sampling different flavours which change and looking through the variety they have in both Paris and London I have done a complete 180. These babies are a front runner by far. They're creamy, soft and supple and have so much flavour without being oversweet. They come in pretty colours and the flavour combinations are very interesting and on most parts - work well. Mint and red berries was my favourite. The Jardin des 8 with all those fancy flavours I think got a bit lost in it's conception, when you have too much going on, there's nothing to make you go "Wow, that really does taste like _______". It's just a mash. But regardless, top points for bravado. I will be making this my go to place for macaroons from now on.

Flavours (left to right): Jardin des 8 tresor which includes lotus seed, red date, wolfberry, rosebud, dried orange peel, dried longan fruit, chrysanthemum and osmanthus (yes, that was just the FIRST macaroon). Olive and Mandarin. Mint and Redberries
Best flavour: Mint and Red berries (though I have yet to try his signature macaroon, the 'Ispahan' which has lychee, raspberry, rose and white chocolate). 
Cost for three: 5.55
Location: Stand alone store in Knightsbridge and counter at Selfridges

2. L'Orchidee
Slightly small and not as soft and gourmet as Pierre Herme but otherwise a great combination of interesting flavours, nice biscuit base and creamy, centres. Slight smaller but also cheaper so you do get decent value. Only thing is that it's a little store in the middle of Westfield so not as nice of a 'shopping' experience I guess. Stratford store has a much better variety if you're planning a visit.

Flavours in the bottom right photo: Popcorn, salty caramel, watermelon, mojito, tutti frutti, wild orchid
Best flavour: Popcorn
Cost for three: 5.10
Location: Stratford and Shepard's Bush Westfield

3. Fortnum & Mason
These only narrowly beat Lauderee and that is mostly due to flavour. Though not imaginative at the very least they are interesting. My favourite has always been lavender but I found the violet one pretty good and the red velvet ceamy and pretty to look at. The dissapointing thing is the lack of care in their creation. Sometimes a bit wonky in shape with the cream mushed up to one side - sadly they do not present themselves very well even though F&M is supposed where the royalty do their shopping. Go to Pierre Herme, Kate Middleton, if she is reading this.

Flavours (left to right): Red velvet. Lavender. Violet
Best flavour:  Lavender
Cost for three: 4.50
Location: Piccadilly Circus, their Kings Cross mini store does not anything besides teas and picnic baskets.

4. Lauderee
I remember the hype in Sydney when Lauderee opened it's mini cafe in the Westfields. Though the shopfront is much nicer here in London (without the unjustifiable line) and even more so in Paris, I still find a visit to Lauderee disappointing. Their flavours are very traditional and even though I picked their most interesting flavours, my taste buds still fell asleep halfway. You'd think that the Marie Antoinette tea flavour would taste more fancy and less like a digestive. At least it was a pretty colour. Licorice was probably the best of the lot but even though - no where near as good as Pierre Herme. Like F&M macaroons, the shell was a bit dry and not as a chewy. Also, they were a tad too sweet.

Flavours (left to right): Orange Blossom. Marie Antoinette Tea.Licorice
Best flavour: Licorice 
Cost for three: 5.25 pounds
Location: Piccadilly Circus

5. On Cafe
This one was the wildcard of the bunch, much smaller in production, I found a few of them in a small section in the Harvey Nichols. I mostly liked how well decorated they were and the Asian flavours but after drooling over the sakura and cherry flavoured ones online I found the flavours that were available in store to be a lot more stock standard. This a great example of all looks, no substance. They were so dry and the consistency was all wrong. Maybe they had been sitting there for awhile but still, not impressed. Also the salted caramel and charcoal tasted like Milo and the triple critus tested like lemon (not the worst thing but at least add something else to it). Even though they were the cheapest they were also the smallest as well, not going back.

Flavours (left to right): Salted Caramel with Charcoal, Triple Citrus, Green Tea and Red Bean
Best flavour: Salted Caramel and Charcoal (but only becaue it was the prettiest)
Cost for three: 3 pounds
Location: Counter at Harvey Nichols

Monday, 14 April 2014


I had sent my last post to Phil two weeks before he died and I was at first embarrassed to share something so personal but sent it tentatively to him anyway and his reply was positive. He wanted me to share it on the blog so that I may find others who felt the same which would be helpful for me. At that point he knew much better than I that the time would soon come that I would need help more than ever.

And here I am. In the wake of his death, struggling to come to terms with the big black hole that has opened up in front of me. And no matter how many tears I cry into it and how many memories I try to block it up with, it just seems to be a endless pit. For three days now I've felt more distant and lonely than ever before. We're in London right now and couldn't be with him in his final hours nor share our grief afterwards. No one to hold except each other. This seems to be the only way to grieve without burdening others with it. 

Especially his sisters who have meant so much to him and who have been through so much already. Out of respect for their much greater grief of losing a family member I've tried to keep my own grief private. But since this massive outpouring on facebook and since I can't physically be at his memorial service I thought I might hold my own personal memorial here and hope they understand. 

Our shared story started 15 years ago in 1999 back in Canley Vale High School. We had music class together and I sat directly in front of him. We exchanged some witty banter and I liked him immediately for his beautiful smile, his quick remarks and of course, who could forget those luscious locks which in those days he wore in his trademark pony tail trailing past his shoulders.

This led to a whirlwind of a high school romance that lasted a month. He was my first kiss and the whole situation was very sweet and looking back now, pretty funny. No one knows how to conduct a relationship at the age of 14 and so the romance ended but not the friendship. The friendship skipped over a few years. He went on to date the lovely Sze Lok who I had chance encountered in front of Starbucks at Central Station and I went on with Kevin who became the love of my life.

But altogether we developed a Seinfield-like sort of life us July born babies. When Kevin and I moved to Clovelly, Chris had moved to Paddington and Phil was living in the Inner West we would get together at Cook + Phillip Pool for a weekly swim, play frisbee at Cetennial Park and go for jogs on Bondi Beach. And then there were the dinners out. Phil loved good food so he loved it when we went to Jazz City Diner for some friend chicken on waffles or some roti at Mamak. He made us his famous homemade spaghetti which was spectacular and I remember laughing at him for making the most over the top 'Yummmm' kind of noise on the first bite of a meal I made for him once. He always exuded so much appreciation and love. 

He hired out music studios where he and Kevin would just play all morning. Phil especially loved trying to perfect famous rock songs which he would always tell me about and I would listen with a smile but never truly understood what he was going on about. Sorry Phil. And when I started up my craft market stall he was my biggest supporter though I suspected he only bought my stuff to buoy my spirits. I remember having doubts about whether or not I could do it and he said with so much conviction 'Toni, you're one of the most creative people I know' which kept me going.

He loved to talk. Oh man, did he love to talk. Once we were eating burgers at a restaurant and we had all finished ours but Phil was sitting there with three quarters of his burger left from sheer determination to finish his story which of course with Phil, are never short. I remember us laughing at him and he said "If I eat, how am I supposed to talk?". He was a sponge for knowledge, also reading on different political views and telling me of the intricacies of Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina' and how he loved the detailed characterisation. He loved his housemates as they taught him about growing organic foods and helped to build an earth ship (house made from mud) one summer. 

Those were our glory days in the sun and even with the development of his cancer he kept going with the same spirit but with stunted strength. And now, he is gone. There are no new stories to share, just old ones that will replay over and over again. But every time I see a brilliant sunset or a distant flock of birds, I'll think of him and hope that he is still out there somewhere in this universe, just being him. And maybe then, I won't feel like I've lost him. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

An Open Letter to My Dying Friend

I have a dear friend who is dying of colorectal cancer. It started in his colon 6 years ago and has now obliterated most of his abdominal organs and invaded his lungs. I will likely never see him again. But I've been thinking of him, constantly.

I want to know everything about him. I want to know what he's thinking, how he is feeling, what he wants me to do and how I can best show him how much he means to me. I just want him to know that I've always cherished his friendship and love him in a way that would leave a gaping hole in my heart when he is gone. But I can't. I haven't seen him in over a year since we left Sydney and our communications have been few and far between. 

It's really hard to send an email going 'Hey! How are things? We're having a great time in New York but I can't bear the thought of  getting a job again'. You can't say shit like that to someone who is dying. It's everyday drivel that you think about and stress over and it encompasses all your energy but in light of cancer - it's not even worth mentioning. 

This is my first intimate encounter with death, and so far I'm at a loss. I've been a stagnant friend. Paralysed by fear for saying the wrong thing, of not treating his problem with the utmost respect it deserves and trying to be 'normal' about everything when it's clearly not. He really is the kind of person though who does NOT want me to do all these things I'm sure. He's always smiling and wouldn't want you to look at him with sad eyes full of tears. At 28 years he's mastered the ability to actually be zen and filter through feelings you only need. I sure could learn something from him. I wish he'd be around to teach me. 

Though he has taught me so much already. Through his chemo and constant hospital visits, his strength has been inspiring. He has come to term already with his own mortality and knows that another life awaits him so he is able to let go of this one. As morbid as it sounds, any one of us can be struck down tomorrow and his failing health shows me that our lives are but a fluttering flame that may be extinguished at any point. We go around with a careless sense of indestructibility. We don't look after ourselves, make poor life choices, stress over needless worries and fail to look at the bigger picture. 

I'm going to go out and run through fields of flowers and treat myself to a cupcake on the way and not care about life's little worries. Because that's what my friend would want me to do. And in those quiet moments of reflection I'll smile when I think of him and how lucky I am to have such a person in my life.