Can you smell that? That sweet, rich, decadent aroma wafting past on the breeze? That, my friend, is the smell of Belgian chocolate calling to you from a place like no other in Victoria, the new Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice-Creamery.
The Yarra Valley is Victoria's premier food and wine destination, so it's no surprise that Leanne Neeland, formerly of the Margaret River Chocolate Company, and her partner Ian settled on this area for their new venture - the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice-Creamery. The site was selected after a nationwide search for the perfect place to locate a new family-friendly tourist destination based on the joys of top-quality handmade chocolate.
The landscaped grounds and orchard provide a lovely outlook from the cafe, which has a large deck area.
The chocolaterie is housed in an architect-designed building on 16 acres just outside of Yarra Glen, surrounded by a newly planted orchard, lush lawns, and ample parking. Even on an overcast day like the first day of business on 15 December, the chocolaterie looks welcoming. Outside, the building blends into the natural environment, but when you walk inside you are met with a burst of bright colour - just what you would expect for a place that is going to give you a lot of pleasure!
Don't be fooled, though. The bright pinks, oranges, purples and greens bely the serious nature of this enterprise, which is all about quality chocolate. Everything edible is handmade on the premises, and to prove it you can gaze through the plate-glass windows at the back and watch the chocolatiers and hand-packers at work.
When you turn away from watching the chocolate production, you can browse the mountains of chocolate products and merchandise that stand between you and the bustling cafe and ice-cream cabinet at the other end of the building.
While you're perusing the very reasonably priced and beautifully presented chocolate treats, keep an eye out for the staff wandering around with trays of sample chocolate. After all, deciding what chocolate to buy is a very taxing venture, and you will probably need the sustenance! Just please resist the urge to grab the tray and run out to the car park to gorge yourself - you haven't even got to the cafe yet.
Adorable chocolate babies in chocolate eggs ($12.95)
Everything you see is made with Belgian couverture chocolate, which includes a selection of single origin and organic couvertures. They also used locally supplied ingredients, and will eventually use the produce from their newly planted orchard of 450 fruit and nut trees. Two French and four Belgian chocolatiers are the creative forces, and 39 locals fill all other roles, including an apprentice chocolatier.
There are 150 different products including block chocolate, decadent dessert sauces, chocolate-coated snakes, gorgeous chocolate eggs with chocolate babies inside, giant freckles, chocolate nut clusters, chocolate covered nougat, chocolate slices (essentially slabs of chocolate combined with other yummy stuff, like cookies and cream), and of course the stars of the show - the handmade truffles. None of these products will be sold elsewhere, so the chocolaterie is the only place you can try them.
2500 truffles, all just waiting for you...($1.80 each)
You can also buy dark, milk and white chocolate pastilles for use in your own culinary creations (or for a sneaky midnight snack). They are also planning to produce special products at different times of the year, like Valentine's Day and Easter. Clearly, this is not a place for a person on a diet.
Mountains of chocolate surround you everywhere you look
The centrepiece product, the truffles, are all beautifully presented. I was fortunate enough to try six of them, and they tasted as good as they looked. Chinese Five Spice, a beautiful little fan-shaped truffle, had a delicate spice reminiscent of gingerbread, but not as pungent. Earl Grey Tea, sprinkled with dried tea leaves, had an immediately recognisable tea flavour that matched well with the rich, smooth interior. Chili Chocolate was a smooth dark truffle with a satisfyingly hot kick. Lime Ganache came with a little slab of green on top, and the lovely tang didn't disappoint - clearly real lime has been used. You could also taste the real fruit in the Raspberry Bliss, and the Pina Colada held a more subtle hint of pineapple and coconut.
The truffles...clockwise from top left, Chinese Five Spice, Chili Chocolate, Pina Colada, Raspberry Bliss, Lime Ganache, and Earl Grey Tea
As with all really good chocolate, there was a perfect balance between richness and bitterness, they weren't too sweet, and the textures were velvety smooth. Other truffle flavours available include Vanilla Dream, Hazelnut Cream, Coffee, Zesty Orange, Jasmine Tea, Apricot Caramel, and Wattleseed and Bush Tomato.
Beautifully presented milk chocolate coated nougat selection ($2.95 per piece)
I thought it would be nice to recover from my browsing over some afternoon tea, so I cruised past the ice-cream cabinet and joined the queue at the cafe. I did briefly consider an ice-cream, but the queue there was lengthy, with people waiting to choose from flavours such as Praline, Cherry Delight, Tira Misu, Vanilla Bean, Cookies and Cream, and Mint Choc Chip.
Homemade ice-cream...very popular even though it wasn't a warm day ($4.50 for one generous scoop, $5.80 for two scoops)
The cafe in the chocolaterie provides light lunches (pannini, pizza, BLT, steak sandwich, caesar salad, and so on, all around the $16-20 mark) but primarily focuses on the sweet end of things, showcasing their own chocolate.
The warm liquid chocolate used in the cafe's sweet offerings
Desserts include 'Sensational Sundaes' ($12), chocolate fondues served with nougat, honeycomb, marshmallows, licorice, peanut brittle and fresh seasonal fruit from local suppliers ($14 for 2 people, $24 for 4 people), waffles ($8), dessert pizzas ($18), a chocolate mousse trio ($9), vanilla bean scones with homemade berry jam and double cream ($6 for one, $9 for two) and a range of cakes ($8.50) and macarons ($1.50 each). Clearly more than one visit is required.
Trio Chocolate Mousse (white, milk, dark) and macarons
Hot drinks include coffee ($3.50 - $5, using locally ground Silva Coffee), organic tea from the Yarra Valley Tea Company ($4 a cup, $4.50 pot for one, $6.50 pot for two), real hot chocolate ($5.50), and baby chino or baby hot chocolate ($1). Cold drinks include real iced chocolate or iced coffee ($6), milk shakes with homemade ice cream ($6), iced tea ($4.50), soft drinks with ice ($4.50), spiders ($5.50), and fresh juice ($4.50). It took a little while to get served as there was only one person on the register, but it was the first day of business and this is probably an area that will be improved.
I decided to try the jasmine tea torte, filled with mousse and served with double-whipped cream and warm couverture chocolate. It not only looked beautiful, it tasted amazing. It was so rich, I think you could easily share it with a friend and still be satisfied.
Jasmine tea torte, served with double-whipped cream and warm couverture chocolate ($8.50). I took a bite to show you the filling - mousse - totally decadent!
I accompanied the torte with a short black, which unfortunately arrived a while after I had finished eating. The chocolaterie was inundated with visitors on its first day, so I put the delay down to getting their processes right - a few staff looked a little frazzled though they were always friendly - and I'm sure that in future they will tighten things up. I'm pretty sure they will have to get used to lots of visitors.
Short black coffee, served with a shortbread biscuit ($3.50)
Verdict? The Yarra Valley Chocolaterie is a gorgeous location with high quality products. It welcomes all, including families and kids, with open arms and is a great spot to take a break on a trip out of the city. This close to Christmas, it's also a good spot to pick up a few unique gifts for some very special people.
It's worth being patient with any delays in service, as it's early days for the place and I'd expect the attention to quality shown in the products and the environment will soon be replicated in the service. Despite whatever pressure they were under, all the staff were friendly and welcoming. (I think I'd be fairly happy to be working in a chocolaterie too!)
Thank you to the Yarra Valley Chocolaterie & Ice-Creamery for their hospitality on 15 December and the very generous samples I received in order to complete this review. I paid for my coffee and cake and I will definitely be back to buy more chocolate and try a sundae.
Excellent review! I went there on 29/12 and it was SO busy that I wondered why I wasn't in the chocolate business as this place is clearly going to make a fortune. I tried one of the chocolate covered nougats and it was delicious. I will be back!