Published in Australian Traveller, Issue #002, July 2005.
“Hi! I can’t come to the phone because I’m eating chocolate,” says the chirpy voice on the answering machine when I call Suzie Wharton about her Chocolate Walking Tours of Melbourne.
When Wharton has had her fill and returns my call, she gently allays my fears that only the greedy would embark on a chocolate crawl. “There’s no need to feel guilty doing one of my tours, because there’s walking in between,” says Wharton, who has been conducting the tours for eight years.
A self-confessed chocoholic, the impossibly thin Wharton says having chocolate in the cupboard gives her a sense of well-being. Not only does she enjoy eating it, but she is an avid collector of all that goes with it: old-fashioned moulds, chocolate boxes, books and ephemera.
During our Saturday morning Chocoholic Brunch Walk, Wharton produces a cocoa pod preserved in formalin. It looks like a brain and everyone thinks it’s revolting, but she wants people to know how chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, so that they understand “it’s a crop, not something that miraculously appears on the shelves”.
At Laurent Patisserie, in Little Collins Street, the starting point for our tour, all sorts of goodies do indeed miraculously appear on the shelves. Lime jelly covered cakes with chocolate curls on top, éclairs filled with cream, little chocolate cakes with huge fans of chocolate on top …
For a moment, I am transported to Pariswhere shops like this are on every street corner. In Melbourne, it’s a treat to be drinking hot chocolate and nibbling on petit fours in such elegant surrounds.
Wharton tailor-makes walking tours on themes such as fashion, antique jewellery, fragrances and perfumes, but it is her chocolate tours that have everyone talking. There are three to choose from, each taking around two hours and guaranteeing generous tastings.
On the Chocolate Indulgence Walk, I could have been building up my glucose levels at New Zealand Natural Icecream, the Koko Black chocolate salon, and the Tisane Lounge at the Sheraton Towers Hotel Southgate. On the Chocolate and Other Desserts Walk, the tastings start at Charmaine’s Ice Cream and move on to afternoon tea and a behind-the-scenes tour of the pastry kitchen at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.
The Chocoholic Brunch Walk I have chosen to do was once a Coffee and Chocolate tour, but according to Wharton, “the chocoholics got scared of thinking they had to drink coffee”. So here I am, sipping on Laurent’s hot chocolate and nibbling on a chocolate macaroon.
Wharton produces some blocks of chocolate to taste, including delicious Chocolatier products from Belgium, a dark chocolate called Mayan Gold with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and orange, and three Lindt chocolates varying in cocoa butter content from 70% to 80% and 85%. Wharton has them lined up as in a wine tasting, so that we can appreciate how much richer the flavours become with the extra cocoa butter.
Just under an hour later – the time depends on how much she gets “carried away” – Wharton leads us in search of more treats. Wandering through the arcades and side alleys, she tells us interesting snippets about the city’s history. I love these charming little back streets, and even the drizzling rain doesn’t put me off. It makes the city feel even more European in character.
The historic Block Arcade could not be a more fitting location for Haigh’s Chocolates, our next stop. The oldest family owned chocolate manufacturer inAustralia, it has been going strong for around 90 years.
“Go into the little chocolate rooms in your brain and try to compare what it tastes like,” says Wharton, as she brings out some milk, dark and mystery chocolates for us to sample.
Told to block our noses, we can’t guess the flavour of the mystery chocolate when we eat it, but all is revealed when we unblock our noses. It has a delicious orange flavour and it proves the point that our tastes are guided by aroma.
A few chocolate almonds, French jellies and chocolate-filled orange sweets later, we are off up Collins Streetwith its pricey boutiques and heritage buildings. Wharton knows these streets well. She established her company, Talkabout Tours, after studying recreation marketing as a mature-age student. A couple of years ago, she produced a book called Spoil Yourself. A Chocoholic Guide to Melbourne.
We end up at the Caffe Mediterraneum, tucked away in theManchesterUnityBuilding, the city’s tallest when it was completed in 1932. Its distinctive Gothic towers soar skyward, while inside, art deco motifs adorn the walls.
Inside the cosy café, we munch on a chocolate muffin and the greediest pigs amongst us have another hot chocolate. Well, Wharton did tell us not to feel guilty. She takes a maximum of 24 on each tour and says they are usually very diverse groups: “Being a chocoholic covers all ages.”
The folk on my tour relax and chat a bit, and then Wharton brings out a book detailing the history of the arcade. On the last page, an ad for Newman’s chocolate, priced at eight shillings, is reproduced. Wharton is tickled pink. “It’s as if someone knew the chocolate walks were coming,” she says.
Suzie Wharton’s Chocolate Walking Tours of Melbourne cost $28, including tastings. Bookings: +61 (3) 9815 1228 or www.chocoholictours.com.au
© Christine Salins