It really doesn't look like much. Even through the "makes everything look cooler" filter that is "Hipstamatic", Le Moulin bakery in upper Willis Street, Wellington, looks pretty unprepossessing from the outside (see pic). No spectacular window display of gorgeous cakes, or marzipan towers, or brain-boggling design like some of these.
Actually, not much to suggest that what lies within is anything out of the ordinary, or even that it will be any good. I can't even really remember why I decided to give it a go. Maybe I just smelled the bread as I walked past one day; maybe someone told me it was good. But boy, if someone did give me the heads up, I really owe that person a huge debt of gratitude, and maybe a canele or two...
You see, Le Moulin is the classic example of how you can't always judge a book by its cover (though there is perhaps some validity that you can judge a restaurant by its toilets).
The thing that sets Moulin apart from a lot of bakeries is, as it should be, their food. You will be unsurprised to learn, upon viewing my burgeoning girth, that I have partaken in more than my fair share of bakery goodies, but I reckon they could take out most comers in most of the fields that they would compete in.
To this end, I have composed an impromptu Le Moulin Top 7 - my seven favourite bakery specialties from my favourite specialty bakery;
1) Baguettes - oh, God, the baguettes! Anyone who has eaten the bread from Moulin will know exactly what I am talking about. The crust is crunchy, light and chewy, the soft white inner fluffy and almost sweet. A little cheese, ham and butter in there and you're dealing with a damn fine sandwich, though if you get a really fresh loaf, straight out of the oven, you may find it difficult to resist breaking off chunks and eating them on the way home.
2) Canele - a canele is a traditional French pastry made from a custardy mix that is baked in a cup-shaped metal mold, which gives it a crusty, caramelised outer, while the inside remains soft and yielding. They are amazing. Moulin does them better than any other I have ever tried.
3) Curry puffs - Moulin's curry puff combines a soft, light, buttery pastry adorned with fennel seeds, with a filling of curried mince. Again, extraordinary, even if I reckon the filling is not quite so good in a full size pie - it messes with the ratio.
4) Almond croissants - another miracle of Moulin - day-old croissants are soaked in an almond cream, dressed with toasted almonds and rebaked, then dusted with icing sugar. So decadent, so delicious.
5) Mille-feuille - literally, "a thousand sheets", and also known as a Napoleon or vanilla or custard slice, this is a sweet treat that combines layers of buttery pastry with delicious milky custard and a combed vanilla and chocolate icing. At Moulin they are huge - I have even been known to share.
6) Pizza bread - if this sounds a bit boring compared to some of the fancier morsels described above, they do still taste pretty amazing, and come in vegetarian, ham, cheese and tomato, and cheese and onion flavours. For between $3 and $4, they would make a substantial contribution to a tasty, filling and cheap lunch.
7) Danish - more light, flaky, buttery pastry coupled with fillings that include lemon, peach, apple and wild berry. They are quite delightful.
So there you go, my "Seven Wonders of Le Moulin", and I have barely scratched the surface of their tasty delights - I haven't mentioned the peach slice, or the pain au chocolat, or the pepitos... I love how idiosyncratic the place is: closed on Mondays, and only open until 2pm, when the Omni lunchbreak falls - if I want to go there, I have to go before work.
The people who run the place are friendly and obviously take an incredible pride in what they do. Every time I go there, it seems "special" to me, and I am sometimes almost overwhelmed with joy by how much artisanal baked goodness a modest ten bucks will buy me - amazed that you can trade mere money for something so good.
Great job, Le Moulin - you are one of the things I miss most about home when I am out of town, and I thank you for giving me a reason to keep on swimming. Oh, and if this has whetted your appetite today, you will have to wait 'til tomorrow - they're closed on Mondays!
Do you have a favourite bakery? What is it about what they do that keeps you coming back? Are you a Le Moulin fan? If so, is their baguette the best you have ever tasted or what?!
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