Long-time readers of the blawg know that I seldom review patisseries, bakeries, and the like. Not because I eschew visiting them, but rather because it is rare that I get enough “material” to coalesce into a blog post. I’m Still Hungry is, after all, a slow reads blog – it’s rare that I eat a significant percentage of my body weight in sugar in order to obtain enough content for a post.
Thus, you know a patisserie is something special if I’m putting out a post. Say hello to Ninou Patisserie & Boulangerie – my current favourite patisserie/cake shop in Sydney!
Date Last Visited: 14/08/2016
Address: 1-3 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery, Sydney
Originally, I thought that the name Ninou was of Japanese origin, as its name is not dissimilar from common sounds in that language – ni-no-u. Turns out that it’s French, and its meaning is that of a warming “cuddle”. With the majority of its frontage exposed to the natural light of the street, this is a message that carries across well, one I can imagine doing coming into its own during the warmer months.
So it’s a French patisserie, boulangerie & viennoiserie – and with Parisian interior designer Meredith Frichet taking care of the fitout, certainly looks the part. The use of clean whites, tan wood, and yes – even macaron chairs, certainly gives off that amiable Parisian vibe – and without the vanity.
And no, it’s not only Parisian techniques and fit out that co-owner Sabine Bourdin brings to Rosebery with Ninou. Even the flour for the goodies is imported from France, fully embracing the spirit of authenticity. Supposedly, flour from France has a divergent gluten profile, and milling technique is also dissimilar. Couple this “French flour” with pastry chefs Demba Diagouraga, Antoine Royer, Johann Malin, who have a combined professional experience of greater than 21 years between them, you’ll get the recipe for what surely must be an incredible gift to sweet tooths in Sydney.
You won’t be disappointed.
There’s no two ways about this – we pigged out, and ordered almost every sweet item off the menu. However, before we get to that, some savouries first – if they’re as good as the sweets, then that’s surely a recipe for success. Given that we’ll be sugar bombing shortly, we decided to keep the savouries to a bacon & emmental cheese croissant w/cream, as well as a quiche au fromage (cheese quiche).
Aha – as expected, the savouries were amazing. In particular, the ham & cheese croissant – buttery and highly-layered pastry to start with, followed by just the right amount of bacon (that is, heaps of it), and that cheese. Very tangy and sweet, very Swiss. There was a creamy element over the top of the croissant that differentiated itself from the multitude of other H&C croissants out there, adding a notably buttery texture to what was an already rich savoury bite.
The quiche au fromage essentially sports the flavour profile of a savoury cheese tart, except that the custard layer is all that’s on the inside. It’s a much lighter affair than the croissant, with egg flavour quite dominant but not overbearing. Texturally, it is certainly very close to, if not the same as, a sweet egg tart you can commonly find. The slightly chewy, burnt top layer was particularly tantalising.
When I revisit Ninou, I’ll be sure to place a greater emphasis on their savoury fare. After all, they are also a boulangerie & viennoiserie, which also bodes well for their bread products that they proudly display up front.
But now, for what most of you are probably waiting for – the sweet stuff!
When you order 9/11 items from the sweets cabinet, you know you’re going to be doing a flatlay. And yes, before you ask – we totally finished every single pastry with nothing left over. Gotta live up to the blog’s name, right?
Side note: coffees are decent here, and are served with mini chouquettes. It’s worth grabbing a cuppa!
Without beating around the bush, let’s get right into their signature cake – the Ninou. A complex creation of five major elements (including the French praline base) easily looking the part of a signature pastry.
Before I even talk about how it tastes, just look at how shiny that glaze is! That French buttercream glazing is so reflective, you can actually make out me taking the photo of the cake! It’s more polished than my car, or my writing – though the latter isn’t exactly a high bar to surpass. Heh.
And then there’s the taste. It’s complex, for sure, but as expected of a great dessert, very well-balanced. You might think wow – this probably looks to be a bit too sugary, but it really isn’t. The single origin dark chocolate mousse definitely lives up to its name – bitterness balancing well with the sweetness while being perfectly smooth and absolutely non-oily. The salted caramel cremeaux is more delicate and not sappy at all, and adds a unique, almost jelly-like component (texturally speaking) to the cake. The almond dacquoise (the white layer) packs a hit of nuttiness that’s accentuated by the French praline base below, and speaking of that base – it’s very, very crunchy and nutty.
These cakes are going to fly out the door, for sure.
While the Ninou is certainly going to be up there in any “best pastry cakes in Sydney” list (hmmm….is that an idea?), I can’t help but give similar praise to this next number here. It’s a cake with so many layers, spelling it out would mean bolding half the paragraph. Thing is, it is a simple formula, notwithstanding its complexity in its umpteen number of layers. It was the orange creme brulee and crispy almond & praline layers that do it. Creme brulee in a cake isn’t too commonly done, but it’s a combination that works really well with chocolate – the burnt, “caramelly” bits contrasting sharply with the richness of the chewy chocolate biscuit, that is then given a zesty tang from the orange that tops the brulee layer.
Almonds give the cake a bit of nuttiness without being too candied, and the entire thing is, once again, a carefully crafted example of flavour and texture equilibrium. What makes it special however, is how well the creme brulee is integrated into the rest of the cake. Excellent touch.
While we’re at it, can somebody add “caramelly” into the Oxford English Dictionary already?
Up next is possibly the most “normal” pastry on the menu – the humble strawberry tart. Despite its ubiquity, it is, like almost every other pastry in Ninou’s cabinets, delicious. Other than the obvious freshness of the strawberries, the fun part is in the crusty pastry itself. In my experience, a good strawberry tart always had very crumbly, but still moist tart pastry; Ninou’s is one of the most friable of them all. Once again, flavours are balanced – not too sweet or rich, a piece I could consume wholly by myself without regret.
If you were going to criticise it, it would be that you would want to fill up on Ninou’s other, more unique pastries ahead of this – as it’s omnipresent in every sweets cabinet out there. A real shame, but yes, the quality here is so high that there are definitely other cakes from which to choose. For example…
Try Ninou’s exotique. This is probably my favourite cake on Ninou’s menu, and don’t worry if it isn’t yours, because my bias towards citrus-based desserts is well-documented. That’s exactly what the exotique is about. Cross-sectioning reveals a layer of tart lime panna that is of course, perfectly set and comprising the lightest element in the cake. An “exotique insert” comes next, comprised of passionfruit, mango & banana. It actually doesn’t taste too much like any of those things individually, and on the whole is surprisingly devoid of flavour relative to the lime glaze and panna cotta. That said, there was a jelly-like chewiness to the insert that kept the cake interesting. And then there’s the coconut dacquoise – a tropical touch. Rounding out the cake is a perfectly-tempered piece of white chocolate, and an amazingly detailed white chocolate feather on top. This is effort that is well-reflected in taste. A beautiful cake that’s right up my alley.
If there was going to be one item in Ninou’s repertoire that doesn’t quite steal my heart in the way the other cakes did, it would actually be one of the most quintessentially French sweets we could think of:
The humble macaron. Or in this case, an oversized raspberry macaron w/pistachio ganache. Everything about it was great – the presentation of those juicy, luscious raspberries, the chewy macaron biscuit, and the creamy texture of the ganache.
However, the problem was that there was a strong hint of pistachio essence that made itself unwelcomingly known from the first bite. Pistachio essence is essentially “fake pistachio flavour”, used when pistachio paste (the real stuff) is too expensive. To be fair, it is really expensive – the macaron would probably be $10 with the stuff, but it’s a price I would pay. Essence tastes all too medicinal…cough syrup, anyone?
Update: I received a message from Sabien herself upon reading this post. Her explanation below:
If i may: we don’t use any essence at all in an of our cakes. We pride ourselves in using the best quality produce so the kast thing we would do would be to use an essence. We are currently using a pistachio paste from France. However, it doesn’t quite work the way our chefs wanted it work. We have tried few other local ones but nothing has worked better than the French one we have. We are in discussion with a local pistachio producer but it turns that its not as easy to get down here we hope to fix this soon and we know it can be improved as you pointed out in your article.
Well then, I look forward to a new and improved version of the pistachio macaron!
While this was a bit disappointing given Ninou’s overall quality, there’s obviously no lack of superior cakes with which to fill my stomach. Another case in point:
No no, look to the right hand side and observe – the raspberry & vanilla mousse. Another standout cake, this one keeps it a bit simpler with a berry glaze on the outside, berry jam on the inside, and a vanilla mousse all up in between the place. There’s a feuilletine biscuit base (or at least, that’s what I think it is) which adds a crunchy element that presses all the right texture buttons, as if the smooth cake that sits on top of it wasn’t enough deliciousness.
This one’s definitely on the simpler side, but is it worth getting? Absolutely.
At this point, you’d expect the sugar coma to be pretty significant, and you’d be right. Fortunately, I was trying little bites of each cake so I wasn’t sugar’d out – a real shame if that had been the case, especially for the next number here:
If all the previous cakes were too pansy, too fruity for you, and you were seriously hoping for that once-and-for-all chocolate hit, the infiniment chocolat is for you. This is chocolate cake done right, without the OTT-nature of inferior chocolate cakes that just smack you around with no finesse. There’s layers of darkness, of bitterness, crunch and creaminess from the infiniment’s many layers, with the ultimate flavour profile being that of bittersweet dark chocolate, Nutella, and almond nuttiness. There is an almost…endless spectrum of flavour transitions throughout each layer – infiniment – aptly named.
The last little tidbit on our sugar-paved journey are the Ninou macarons. There are currently four flavours available – vanilla & salted caramel, pistachio, lemon, and raspberry. I found the lemon & raspberry macarons most to my taste, while the pistachio macaron had the same issue as its larger brother in its use of essence. The vanilla & salted caramel one (the one with the colours of France) was also pretty good, but lacked the impact of the fruity macarons. All in all, if you are lacking the stomach space – and you should, given the plethora of other goodies in the cabinet – you can save yourself from getting these, as Sydney has many other great macaron merchants.
As far as patisseries go, Ninou is my current favourite. The fact that there are cakes “to die for” that go beyond one single signature creation is already newsworthy, but a pastry cabinet that’s almost chock-a-block full of winners? This is next level goodness. Sydney has a sea of great pastry shops, and with Ninou sailing in, the tide has risen for every Sydneysider. Get your butt here now – muffin tops be damned.
This post is based on an independently-paid visit to Ninou Patisserie
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- The best pastries I’ve had the pleasure of eating in Sydney
- Excellent chocolate work, reminiscent of France
- 1-2 average products bring it down a notch for everything else
- The waiting game while the pistachio paste issue is sorted out…
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F8 | S4 | A2.5