“A lot of people say that they knew that they were going to be a chef when they were children, but often it’s just marketing. But I really knew I was going to do this when I was three,” Bernard Chu tells SBS Food.
He recalls spending time in his grandfather’s bakery in Malaysia: “He only had three products: choux pastry, butter cake and a nicely done coconut jam on buttered toast. I would run around, being helpful – well, not really - and my grandpa would make me weigh some sugar.”
In late 2011, they opened LuxBite in South Yarra. The idea was to blend traditional French techniques with Asian flavours. “I wanted to share my childhood memories, what we grew up with and what we have back home,” explains Chu.
If the Australian palate has gotten more adventurous in recent years, it wasn't always like this.
“When we first started, we used matcha and nobody knew what it was, we had to educate people, tell them green tea and matcha are different. We’d use yuzu and we’d tell people it’s like a Japanese lemon, but bitter and fragrant, and they’d say we should just call it lemon,” he says.
But the couple didn’t let that deter them.
“To be honest, we don’t really care, we do what we want,” he says, laughing. “These days, I’m very proud of the food scene in Australia, it has changed a lot.”
“We change our menu a lot and people hate it because they see something on Instagram today, but when they come three weeks later, it’s gone,” says Chu.
“When we first started, we used matcha and nobody knew what it was, we had to educate people."
Luckily, there is a signature range that’s always available, including the Kuma cake (inspired by milkshake flavours) and the Meringue Monster (a green tea sponge with watermelon yoghurt and sour strawberry mousse).
Rose cream, lychee and fresh strawberries are sandwiched between two large macarons with lychee ganache. Chu claims it’s even better than the original.
In addition to the signature range, the LuxBite team also regularly comes up with new creations, like the bubble-tea croissant: a traditional croissant filled with custard and tapioca balls.
At the moment, the custard is flavoured with matcha from Kyoto.
“We change the flavour every month. We did original bubble tea, taro, brown sugar, honeydew, and now, matcha should last until mid-February,” says Chu.
“A croissant filled with cream, it’s not a big thing in Australia, and I don’t think it exists in France, but we grew up with that,” he adds.
Funky croissants are definitely trendy right now, but the bubble-tea version is actually good, not just fashionable. The matcha prevents the dessert from being overly sweet, and there’s a great texture contrast between the flaky pastry, the custard and the chewy tapioca balls.
Chu is very upfront about the fact that his team – junior and senior – has created many items on his menu. “Part of our philosophy when we started was that we have no secrets in this kitchen. I share what I know and I also learn from young people,” he says. “At LuxBite, we don’t say ‘this is my way, we’ll do that forever’. That’s why our products change all the time. We try to give young people a platform to shine.”
All LuxBite’s creations are sold at the South Yarra store (order online so you don’t miss out), but only the signature range is available in the T by Luxbite CBD branch. And while Chu has done a few collaborations and has received offers to open stores all around the world (one dedicated shopper even brought bubble-tea croissants to Seoul and London), he prefers to focus on Melbourne for now.
“I don’t care if we’re not known [by] everyone, people love the idea of an independent shop. People come all the way from Camberwell and Doncaster, they drive on a Sunday to eat cake and go home. We’re very touched by that,” he says.
38 Toorak Road, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9867 5888
Mon – Sat 8 am – 7 pm
Sun 10 am – 6 pm
28 Katherine Pl, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9629 9662
Mon – Fri 10 am – 6 pm
Earthy matcha tea, nutty red bean paste and juicy strawberries infuse a classically French recipe with the unmistakable flavours of Japan.
Panna cotta is like a blank dessert canvas for flavour, and adding matcha tea powder to it imparts a unique grassy savouriness. A topping of fresh strawberries brings a contrasting burst of sweetness and colour.
This bowl was inspired by my travels in Vietnam, where avocado is often used in delicious smoothies. Avocado is an intriguing and totally underrated ‘sweet’ ingredient.