Freelance writer exploring Melbourne and beyond. If you enjoy the following article click on the Like button, Facebook it to your friends or subscribe. I'll update you with yummy and often free events. Like my photos? I instagram @redbagwilltravel
I'm not a huge fan of Laurent; I find it clinical, clattery and pretentious.
Staff aren't particularly memorable, because they are not particularly friendly. Even the name crackles with an affront to the uneducated. Officially the name is Laurent Boulangerie Patisserie which simply means it is a bakery and a pastry shop.
It has the gloss of luxury and a display case full of decadent offerings, including psychedelic macaroons and sinful looking cakes.
I have learnt over the years that a drive to Box Hill (which is just down the road) to one of the many Vietnamese bakeries (Vietnam of course being highly influenced by French cuisine) is a much more cost efficient exercise.
But there are a couple of things to really enjoy about Laurent or if you want to say the whole mouthful, Laurent Boulangerie Patisserie.
The first is that they do one of the best hot chocolates in Melbourne - rich, velvety and decidedly heavenly. It is worth a visit just for one of these rich potions.
Their bread is also superb, particularly their small dinner rolls. They are deliciously crusty. I love buying them when I am catering for a dinner party. On weekends locals rush in for baguettes carrying them away under their arms like the French do.
Another bonus is Laurent's opening hours. At this stage of my life I am a night person. I only sleep seven or so hours but I wake up late, luncheon late and so forth, cumulatively ending up running behind the rest of the world, so I am often looking for a cafe in the late afternoon.
The boring thing about Balwyn is that most places close at around 4pm and their kitchens close down at 3.30pm. Laurent on the othe is open from 7am (not that you will find me there then) until 6pm every day.
My final reason for suggesting a visit is the decor. Laurent has just moved a few doors down from their original home to 300 Whitehorse Road.
They have taken over the premises of what was once a Melbourne institution for book lovers -- The Merchant of Fairness Bookshop.
The Merchant was always a charming nook for book lovers stuffed to the brim with 100,000 books or so. No one would dare count them because it would have been an impossibility and the 100,000 was always a conservative figure in any case. The premises were two storeys with a wooden staircase up to yet more rooms overflowing with books.
Laurent have gutted it.
At least the old English quaint exterior remains and The Merchant of Fairness has a new lease of life down the road near Palace Balwyn Cinema. They are now at 237a Whitehorse Rd - phone 9816 8875. I give you the details because this is such an old-fashioned bookshop - they don't even have a current website.
In gutting the inside, Laurent have turned up the lights. From the Dickensian old stye bookshop there are now lots of large windows, huge rooms (they took over the shop next door as well) and I must admit they have a fabulous decking area out the back which is going to be fantastic for hot summer nights.
There is also a long thin reading area where you are faced with a whole wall of magazines. This is going to be great if you love your magazines as I have noticed that they update these constantly. No free wifi unfortunately. When will cafes learn that if they don't open up their Internet networks it will drive everyone to McDonalds where it is possible to check your emails with your coffee? (The other place with free wireless in Balwyn besides McDonalds is the Old Pie Shop.)
So you might want to give Laurent a try. For friendly service and great wholesome food I would probably have to recommend Thanks a Latte and Rhimini's (great but expensive coffee) which are a few doors down.
But if it is late in the afternoon, Laurent is the only place open. It is certainly a bright and shiny experience sitting there with one of their superlative cakes, a hot chocolate while flicking through the latest glossy mag.
For my review on Balwyn's best coffee click here. And no it is not Laurent.