Cherrier brings a unique style of French artisan baked goods to the streets of Collingwood.
Melbourne loves a little bit of Frenchiness, so it is no surprise that there was quite a lot of oh là là-ing going on when Gontran Cherrier opened one of his artisan bakeries on Smith Street. A fourth generation (and extremely successful) baker with boulangeries in Paris, Japan, Korea and now here, Cherrier is, by all accounts (and in all his interviews, whether in French or in English), charming, passionate about his craft and undeniably talented.
If you're planning a Parisian picnic, then grabbing a classic baguette from behind the counter or a big thick loaf of sourdough and selecting some little tarts or cakes from the patisserie cabinet is definitely the way to go. The bread is made using Gontran's own flour, Label Rouge, which is sourced from the fields of Auvergne and produced by 50 of the region's farmers and millers. It is excellent bread. While it (deliberately) doesn't have quite the crunchy-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside factor you might find in France, Cherrier has nonetheless created a delicious loaf that will appeal to the Australian palate in both texture and taste.
On the other hand, if you choose to dine-in, don't expect any sort of Proustian moment of exquisite otherworldliness. The fit-out, for a start, puts a stop to this. With its neon pink rope pot plant adornments — not to mention the fluoro sign that says let them eat... croissants — the dining room has a slightly frozen yoghurt vibe.
Then there's the menu. Apart from the specially-imported French flour and butter, there is an appealing appreciation for local, ethical, organic produce — and St Ali coffee, which gets our nod of approval. When there are no fields to be ploughed by hand, though, it is tricky to be wooed by heavy breakfast dishes such as thick-cut belly bacon and Burrawong duck cassoulet or Pacdon Park pork boudin blanc. A lighter option, the croque monsieur comes highly recommended, but is a thinner, drier version of the croque monsieurs I have known and loved. The fat wedge of gherkin on the side just confused me — but perhaps I'm overlooking a Paris-New York fusion trend.
Now to the headliner: the croissant. Perhaps ascertaining exactly what it is that makes the perfect croissant is a subjective thing, but, generally, it's universally accepted concept that a honeycombed, lightly layered crunchy croissant with a buttery rather than sweet flavour is the go. This is not the case of the GC croissant. Expect a cakey, almost brioche-like consistency and sweetness.
Look, Gontran Cherrier is an artisan, and artisans can do whatever they like in the craft they have perfected. Creating traditional breads and pastries while weaving in some miso, yuzu and lemon myrtle flourishes is clever; however, a squid ink and nigella baguette is not for everyone. Nor are variations on perfectly acceptable dishes. But some people love all that — and if you're keen to see if you're one of them, Gontran Cherrier's Collingwood outpost is worth a visit.
Images: Hayley Benoit and Jo Rittey.