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Monday, February 05, 2007

The Great Cocktail Bun Challenge

cocktail bun challenge
Cocktail bun challengers ready to rumble
L-R: St Honore, Montague Bleue and Emperor's Garden

I've always loved cocktail buns. This little filled finger of soft sweet bun was my standby treat anytime I was anywhere near Chinatown.

My long-time favourite had always been the cocktail buns from St Honore, the heady aroma of sugar, butter and coconut would envelope me everytime I walked through Sussex Street arcade, a route I'd always find an excuse to take, no matter my destination.

A tray would be lifted from the pile by the door, and a pair of tongs would reach their way into the cabinet, filled with the signature double-lined buns sprinkled with sesame seeds. Once outside the shop, a faintly sticky glaze would soon greet my greedy fingers, and being the saver that I am, I'd eat from both ends before savouring the buttery sugary coconutty-filled middle in all its decadent glory.

And then one day J handed me a cocktail bun that wasn't from St Honore. It was much better than St Honore, he swore--and he knew my devout allegiance to the arcade bakery. It was nice, this pale fluffy bun from Montague Bleue, but I had to be sure, and so the Great Cocktail Bun Challenge began.

cocktail bun innards comparison
Cocktail bun innards comparison
L-R: St Honore, Montague Bleue and Emperor's Garden

Ahh the joys of a food blog. It gives your impulsive purchase of cocktail buns from three different Chinatown bakeries a sense of purpose. Without a blog this would be gluttony. With a bit of tastetester feedback and an accompanying post it becomes research for the greater good.

cocktail bun innards cross-section comparison
Cocktail bun innards cross-section comparison
L-R: St Honore, Montague Bleue and Emperor's Garden

The filling-to-bun-ratio is but one factor in our search for the perfect cocktail bun. One must also consider bun softness, the sweetness of the filling, overall mouthfeel and exactly how many sesame seeds are afforded to you. Price plays a part. So too does any bloated after-effects.

Here are a few of our combined tasting notes:

st honore cocktail bun
St Honore cocktail bun 90c

I was taken aback at the new 90c price at St Honore the other day, although the new store re-furb must be paid for somehow. The bun was sweet, soft and fluffy; the filling tasted richest of the three with a strong buttery taste. This had a high filling to bun ratio which was good, but its richness always tends to leave me feeling a little queasy if I eat a whole one of these (I usually eat half and save the rest for later).

The glaze on this was the stickiest, and had quite a subtle maltose aftertaste too.

montague bleu cocktail bun
Montague Bleue cocktail bun 80c

The Montague Bleue cocktail bun was palest of all three, this Taiwanese-style bun supremely spongey and soft, more like a sponge cake than a bun. The bun didn't taste as sweet as the others, and I thought the filling was less sweet and slightly salty.

Much lighter in texture and density, polishing off one of these babies presented no ill after-effects at all.

emperors garden cocktail bun
Emperor's Garden cocktail bun 90c

Emperor's Garden has always been a pit stop for me with its supply of freshly baked cossack foal honey rice crisps, piped chestnut tarts and chocolate-covered florentines. Cocktail buns have never been part of the regular pick-up, with good reason, it turns out.

We unanimously found the bun dry and chewy. There was no sticky glaze on the bun and the filling was meagre and gritty on the tongue. Disappointed faces all round.

And the final result?

Who takes it? Whose cuisine reigns supreme?

Montague Bleue by a sesame seed, earning the people's ovation and fame forever.

If you're hard up on cash, I suggest you get a cocktail bun from St Honore and share it between two. It's rich enough for both of you. That way everyone's a winner :)

Emperors Garden Bakery
100 Hay Street (enter from Dixon Street)
Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 2135

Montague Bleue Patisserie
Shop 2, 45 Dixon Street
Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9212 0929

St Honore Cake Shop
427-429 Sussex Street
Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 1628

Related GrabYourFork posts:
85C Cake Shop, Sydney
Bread Story, Haymarket
Bread Top, World Square
Emperor's Garden Bakery, Haymarket
St Honore Cake Shop, Haymarket
16 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (AugustusGloop) on 2/05/2007 09:24:00 pm


  • At 2/05/2007 10:09 pm, Blogger PiCkLeS said…

    nooo not these ones! the filling is too sweet! I like the ones that are just plain and comes in a row of 4 or 6. Otherwise it's the pineapple bun for me.

  • At 2/05/2007 10:39 pm, Blogger ZY said…

    Haha great post!

    Just a quick question - it looks like the right side of the frame on the first two shots is darker than the rest, is the bun actually darker or was the flash uneven or something?

    I never eat the Emperor's cocktail bun either, I go for the fruit tart (now $1.50!! oh the horror) or the custard puffs

  • At 2/05/2007 11:19 pm, Blogger papa lazarou said…

    haha.. nice work AG ! cant really comment, as i usually go for the meat filled buns... though i've been known to scoff a few freshly baked cocktail buns... mmm...

  • At 2/06/2007 10:32 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    buying buns in st honore feels like i'm fighting for my life...but i do <3 their bbq pork bun a lot!

  • At 2/06/2007 11:15 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hohoho 'whose cuisine reigns supreme' lol methinks one too many iron chef eps? i think im more of a custart tart girl than cocktail bun becos i tend to just eat the insides...

  • At 2/06/2007 12:26 pm, Blogger Veruca Salt said…

    Your dedication to the cause is commendable

  • At 2/06/2007 4:24 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hee hee go Iron Bread
    I heart bread and must try this winner! I'm a usual at Saint Honore too so if its better then must be very tasty!! Thanks and keep up the good work! Must be hard work but a food bloggers gotta do what a food bloggers gotta do!

  • At 2/06/2007 9:50 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The next challenge should be the little custard puffs. How can you go past the Emperors Puffs (fresh and hot from the tiny side window on Dixon St). Then you take them across to the outside tables at the Covent Garden Hotel and eat them with a dry cider or a glass of semillon!

  • At 2/07/2007 12:34 am, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Pickles - Plain is boring :P lol. I like the pineapple bun topping but I need more goodness. lol.

    Hi zy - Thanks, glad you enjoyed it.

    The darkness in the first shot is due to shadows.

    The fruit tarts are good. Yes the recent price rises were noticed indeed.

    Hi Papa Lazarou - "... though i've been known to scoff a few freshly baked cocktail buns..." I think you can comment. Ahhh... ok, you just did. lol

    Hi lyn - At least it's not as chaotic as it used to be! I remember the tussles that used to happen in the corner (right where the cocktail buns and char siu bao were situated as I recall!).

    Hi chocolatesuze - lol. I'm still working on my capsicum-biting.

    I like my custard tarts straight from yum cha. I've always preferred the flaky pastry ones :)

    Hi Veruca Salt - It's also very expandable. lol.

    Hi ffichiban - Aye it's tough, but it's a calling :)

    Hi Anon - Ahh but I'd need three different custard puffs for comparison purposes. Those babies are tasty though. And all-too-temptingly cheap!

  • At 2/07/2007 5:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    i LOVE head-to-head comparisons so much that it's my catch-cry!

    now i know which one to get tomorrow.

    can you also do a comparison of the other ones? maybe one each week ;)

  • At 2/08/2007 12:17 am, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi Cin - Are you in Sydney at the moment? We must catch up one day! :) NB. I don't think my jeans could handle much more "research". lol.

  • At 2/08/2007 12:18 pm, Blogger deeleea said…

    I had my first cocktail bun in Chinatown, San Francisco last year. I loved them so much I went back for 2nds the next day...

    I'd FORGOTTEN about them since I came home...

    Now I don't need an excuse to go into the city again... Thanks for the tip!

  • At 2/08/2007 2:21 pm, Blogger AteLate said…

    Yum...Cocktail buns are my fav.
    Have to try Montague's now. =)
    Thx Helen.
    What's the next challenge ? Yum Cha?

  • At 2/09/2007 3:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Yes I was and yes we should!

    I've taken up your Cocktail bun Challenge, so read all about it here:


  • At 2/09/2007 8:58 pm, Blogger Helen (AugustusGloop) said…

    Hi deeleea - Don't you just love it when you find something that tasty you must have seconds immediately? :P Hope you enjoy your next foray into the city. A tasty adventure indeed!

    Hi atelate - I think the challenge is when to say no! lol.

    Hi Cin - Great work on the cocktail bun challenge. I love that you've made it dual-City too!

    Let me know the next time you're up in Sydney!

  • At 3/05/2007 3:15 am, Blogger DiveMummy said…

    excellent research AG. You are definitely a connoisseur cocktail bun consumer now!


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