When you picture Acland Street, many images come to mind. It is a street rich in history, culture, diversity and culinary exploits. However one cannot go past the rows and rows of intricate mouth-watering cakes that are at the heart of Acland Street and its charm.
Cakes in Acland Street have been an ever-evolving business and culture since the opening of Monarch Cakes in 1934. These truly unique cakes are undeniably a signature icon for Acland Street, Saint Kilda, but also Melbourne, and are recognised worldwide.
First came the Monaco Cake Shop in Lygon Street, Carlton, followed by a shift to St Kilda Acland Street in 1934 where Monarch Cakes was born. Gideon Markham is now the current owner purchasing the shop 20 years ago this October.
As Acland Street started developing, came the requirement for restaurants and cafes. “People were going to the beach and they wanted to eat, have something to drink and of course, eat cake,” said Gideon. In the past supermarkets were closed on weekends. The only thing you could do was come down to the cake shops, have a cake and a coffee, and that’s how it evolved into what we see today.
Some of the recipes are a hundred years old explained Gideon “the cheesecake is the original recipe, the woman who started the shop 85 years ago in Carlton brought the recipe across.” The chocolate kugelhoph also came with the original shop and is a clear favourite. “The recipes are still our property, and they’re just as valuable as the shop, people come for the product,” he says.
What makes this so special is that you don’t see this concentration of cake shops anywhere else, and it wasn’t even the plan.According to Gideon, “it all began with the original apprentices at Monarch Cakes”.
“One day they decided why are we here; we know how to make cakes. From there they bought a place. And that’s how it has evolved and so on so forth.”
With recent developments in the area, there is some cause for concern. “Many people come here and ask me whether I am ever going to leave. I tell them, as long as I’m able to survive and have clean underwear, I will be here” he says.
One of the few individuals who has been a part of the cake business the longest is Leon Siapantas, owner of Le Bon Cakes in Acland Street. Le Bon is one of the oldest, prior to being here as ‘Le Bon’ it was run under other names, stretching back to the 1930s.
When asked why Acland Street is so known for its cakes his answer was simple “we make unique products that you can’t find anywhere else.” Leon’s family stretches back four generations of pastry chefs. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all pastry chefs, with shops all throughout Istanbul, and these recipes have been passed down to him.
Leon’s father came from Istanbul in the 1950s and began working for Monarch Cakes. After coming and introducing a lot of cakes, he left there to open up Acland Cakes and then opened up Le Bon. Just like his father Leon continues to deliver delicious handmade desserts for all the people who come and experience Acland Street.
“These Cakes are a truly unique product, you won’t find anything like this in all of Melbourne and would be hard-pressed to find anything like this in practically any part of the world,” Leon says. Le Bon boasts a collection of over 300 cakes all made on site, which alternates regularly. All cakes, are hand cut with no mould work, as Leon explains “It’s like edible art, that’s how I see it.”
“Specifically the rows and rows of cakes in the window like we have them, the variety, it’s the typical Acland display, it’s iconic.” He says. There is always room for growth and change with recent trends encouraging the Cake Shops to expand with more recipes such as gluten-free and flourless based cakes.
The future for Acland’s cakes seems to be going strong. What people want is a great quality product, in a great location and that’s exactly what is offered in our icon, Acland Street. If you are yet to try these delectable desserts which have stood the test of time, make sure you head down and treat yourself to a scrumptious taste of history, in the heart of St Kilda’s Acland Village.