Melbourne was riding high on a wave of quality sourdough and artisan pastries before the pandemic, with next-generation bakeries such as Caulfield North's Baker Bleu, Brunswick East's Wildlife and All Are Welcome in Northcote and Thornbury joining familiar stalwarts like Baker D. Chirico over the past five years. But we're still hungry for more bread and cake.
More than a dozen bakeries have opened or expanded since early 2020, defying the economic odds of successive lockdowns. There's Mabels in Toorak, Ripponlea's Zelda – one of the few Melbourne bakeries offering kosher sourdough – and Bakemono, a hole-in-the-wall CBD spot that opened a month before COVID hit and has thrived.
It's a far cry from the gluten-free days of the early 2010s. While that trend was already on its way out pre-coronavirus, the pandemic seems to have accelerated its demise.
Bread Club, from two bakers with time at Baker D. Chirico, fine-diner Vue de Monde and sourdough specialists Woodfrog, opened its first store in North Melbourne in January 2020. Within a year, owners Brice Antier and Tim Beylie added a location in Albert Park.
"In the first lockdown, we had no idea if we were going to stay open," says Beylie. "It was a bit scary. But we stayed pretty busy and we wondered if that was going to stop, and it hasn't."
With few businesses deemed essential during lockdown and limited opportunities for pleasure, Melburnians are flocking to places offering buttery, sugary comfort in a brown paper bag.
"You could get something at home and still feel really good," says Antier. "It's not fine dining, but in terms of cost, it's cheaper and you still feel gratified."
Comfort and homesickness were at play for accountant-turned-baker Raymond Tan when he used the first lockdown to experiment with the Malaysian sweets of his childhood.
Pre-pandemic, Tan baked towering cakes for weddings and was about to move into a studio to scale up operations. But when his Instagram posts of kueh – tapioca and rice flour treats sold all over Malaysia and Singapore – garnered an enthusiastic response and order requests, Tan changed tack.
In June 2020, his would-be studio became Raya bakery and cafe on Little Collins Street. The menu stars black sesame and miso chiffon cakes, chicken curry pies and kueh.
"I thought there are so many good bakeries in Melbourne already, what can I bring that's different?" says Tan. "I tapped into my culture and came up with Raya."
Being able to trade with few adjustments during lockdowns is a huge boon for bakeries and patisseries. Unlike restaurant dishes, baked goods are built for takeaway.
In March last year, Andrew McConnell's Gertrude Street wine bar Marion quickly flipped to Morning Market, a bakery, grocer and deli. Selling Baker Bleu bread plus cakes, biscuits and savoury items baked by the McConnell team, it was such a hit the first location found a permanent home three doors up the street. A Prahran Morning Market opened in April this year. Meanwhile, Baker Bleu is working on a second site after already moving to larger digs in 2019.
Sales have been strong for Audrey Allard, a former Lune Croissanterie chef who founded delivery-only business Holy Sugar in August 2020.
With fewer shifts at Lune, Allard poured her creative energy into curating boxes of elaborate sweet treats each week, posting them to Instagram for purchase. Wedges of lemon meringue pie, delicate mille-feuille and impossibly glossy eclairs were produced in limited quantities, with Allard initially making deliveries in her two-door Mitsubishi Lancer.
At her peak, Allard was making 70 boxes of six different treats herself each week.
She puts the bakery craze down to new-found appreciation for the craft.
"During [the first] lockdown, everyone was trying to bake at home and I think they realised it's harder than they thought."
Five more bakeries for lockdown and beyond
This West Melbourne spot specialises in Japan's fluffy white sandwich bread called shokupan, using it for crumbed prawn sangas and the more common pork katsu. There's also shio pan – salted dough shaped like a croissant – chiffon cakes and a variety of stuffed breads with flavours such as takoyaki and pumpkin. 125 Rosslyn Street, West Melbourne.
Take one out-of-work pastry chef, his super-organised speech pathologist partner and a lockdown, and you have a recipe for one of Melbourne's best-loved new businesses of 2020. Tarts Anon sells two different tarts each week such as lemon and rhubarb or cherry and almond frangipane, made by ex-Dinner by Heston chef Gareth Whitton. His partner Catherine Way opens orders on Instagram every Monday. Orders via @tarts_anon; address provided when orders confirmed.
The spunky, younger sibling of Lune Croissanterie, Moon specialises in the cruller, a doughnut riff that involves a twisted round of choux pastry. Owner Kate Reid fell in love with the creations in New York four years ago and has added her own take to Melbourne's offering. Go classic with cinnamon-sugar or try one of five glazes in flavours including vanilla and cappuccino. 50 Rose Street, Fitzroy.
Purveyor of Portuguese custard tarts, Casa Nata has gone from casual pop-up to two permanent shops in just three years, with Thornbury open now and a second Windsor location under construction. Run by Portuguese pals Ruben Bertolo and Nelson Coutinho, the business is laser sharp in its focus, offering nothing but pasteis de nata and coffee. Why mess with a good thing? 846 High Street, Thornbury.
Down a bluestone lane away from North Melbourne's main drag is Small Batch, once simply a coffee roastery and now a cafe and grocer. The drawcard is the pastry cabinet filled by the work of Charlie Duffy, a Tivoli Road alumni. Mead-poached pears meet Geraldton wax on an escargot, tiramisu is reimagined in a fluted choux pastry shell, and potato danishes are luxed up with truffle. The best part? A city location is on the way this year. 3-9 Little Howard Street, North Melbourne.