Frugii Dessert Laboratory is the most highly anticipated opening in Canberra since BentSpoke Brewery opened it’s doors. On it’s very first day, lines snaked out the door and they were sold out of cakes, all eight varieties thereof, within hours.
There’s a lot to love about a guy who makes his own chocolate from imported cacao beans – just so that he can make ice cream with it. When you first meet him it’s easy to mistake John Marshall as your regular Canberran public servant, that is, until you start talking to him about ice cream.
UPDATE 17/1/2014: Frugii have posted on their social media that they didn’t anticipate such high demand. They’ve sold out of cake are just concentrating on ice cream for the moment, so if you’re expecting a full dessert bar set up, you might be waiting a while longer. Affogatos and ice cream are still available, while it lasts.
But Canberra’s ice cream man – Mr Frugii, as he is affectionately known, is famous not just for his ice cream but for his unrelenting determination to get it exactly right. That’s not to do a disservice to his ice cream – it’s very, very good. There are a lot of flavours and what’s on offer depends on where you go (Frugii is also at the EPIC markets and the old bus depot markets) and what season it is. There’s everything from bacon to blood orange, gingerbread, riesling, laksa, he’s even made roast potato ice cream… and of course, the obvious favourites like vanilla and chocolate.
It’s not just any chocolate ice cream, mind you. When he wasn’t getting the depth of flavour he wanted from his chocolate ice cream, John started importing raw cacao beans in order to make chocolate, just so he could make ice cream with it. When he discovered that his ice cream maker (which by the way, churns 16L in 8 minutes) was getting variable results he invested in a sophisticated thermostat system to control the temperature of water being input into the machine. You get the idea. He’s a food geek of the highest order.
When I go to visit on the second day, they’ve mostly run out of cake again, and despite the queue John and his wife, Ed, are making time to speak to every single customer that enters the store, making sure that they feel welcome and sharing their passion for all things dessert. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
The prices are still being worked out, but for the moment their cakes are $6 each and ice creams are $5 for a small and $10 for a large. The affogatos are $5 and they use Toby’s Estate. By the time I get there at 5.15pm, they’ve run out of all but one cake. But no worries, as more cakes are being delivered as we speak. Excellent. That pretty much means we get first dibs.
I’ll take one of everything, please.
Their signature Lemon-Lime Bitters Choux is served with a pipette of concentrated Angostura bitters. You’re meant to squeeze it into the choux before eating. It’s a clever take on a traditional profiterole. Add that to perfectly golden brown choux with crispy sablage – they’ve got their basics down pat. The creme patissiere is light to allow the citrusy tang of the lemon-lime bitters to come through.
You can, of course, just eat the bitters as it is. It’s still fun, I assure you. I look around the table, and inevitably, everyone has finished their profiterole and is now sucking on the pipette, trying to get the last of the lemon-lime bitters out. I’d say that’s a pretty good sign that Frugii’s nailed it’s signature dish.
There’s a very real danger of overwhelming people with too much sugar at a dessert bar. Not the case here. Even the salted caramel eclair is really well balanced – sweet with a salty and slightly bitter edge from a proper caramel.
I don’t want to ruin the fun too much. A big part of the appeal of a dessert bar is that feeling when you walk in and feel like a kid again. That feeling of anticipation and not really knowing what to expect.
But I’ll leave you with this.
The affogato is pretty damn amazing. Take it from an ex-barista, Frugii has one of the most high tech machines in the territory. And they aren’t planning on mucking about with milk either. You get one type, hi-lo. (It’s a dessert bar, you can’t have full fat AND have your cake AND eat ice cream.) See, they really do have your best interests at heart.
Bear in mind that it’s a soft launch and you’re getting a small snippet of what the whole concept of ice cream alchemy is. There’s going to be a lot more fun stuff coming, including playing with liquid nitrogen. More pastries. Thick shakes. Chocolate ganache affogatos. Special flavours of ice cream sticks.
There’s also talk of weighing staff regularly to make sure they don’t
eat all the pastry put on too much weight. There goes my plan to work there.
Up until pretty recently, John worked as an IT specialist in the public service. His first machine was a 2L Simac that he remembers fondly. He later tells me that he gave it away to a family friend who needed cheering up. And that, really, sums up the beautiful nature of both John and Ed. Even though they are local celebrities in their own right, they’re always happy to have a chat. They’re genuine people, a big part of the local community and that’s part of the reason that people have come out to support Frugii in droves. And then of course, there’s the fact that it’s all just so damn good.
It’s just what Canberra needs. It’s fun and quirky. Not your typical Canberra ‘all hype and not much substance.’ Well worth a visit, though it’s worth trying to go in non-peak times (once you work out when that is). It’s only going to get better.
Frugii Dessert Laboratory
30 Lonsdale St, Braddon
Wednesday to Sunday, 12noon to 11pm (closed Monday/Tuesday)