The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry | A Sydney Food Blog

Sparkle Cupcakery, Surry Hills

August 27th, 2008  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  15 Comments

If you had to graph our reaction to Sparkle Cupcakery in Surry Hills, our initial response was all off-the-chart spikes. On a less mathematical note, I might even admit to some jumping and down and perhaps the odd (totally undignified) yelp.

After all, the display was crammed with colour-coded cupcakes and vivid ingredients listings to match: Pistachio and Cardamom, Lavender & Honey, Oriental Flower, Coconut Ice and more.

Once you’d slimmed down your choices, the staff placed your treats in lavish bags – the type you associate with luxury goods and dream-on shopping sprees.

And if you were served by a particularly nice member of staff, you got to pick your bag-sealing sticker from the “wheels of colour” – handy if you had a clutch of purchases and needed an efficient (and pretty) tag to jog your memory as to which bag to hoe into and which one you were saving for your friend.

Then you walked out all keyed up with cupcake anticipation. It just HAD to be amazing to eat. After all, how could a Green Tea & Bubbles cupcake “filled with tapioca bubbles and lime frosting” be disappointing? Surely, this “cupcakery” had to be great if they churned out sweets like “lychee and rose cake with sweet rose petal topping”?

Well, our expectations thudded down to ass-bruising earth.

We thought we’d be in swoony cupcake heaven and the reality just wasn’t so rose-petal-coloured.

I wanted to like Sparkle’s cupcakes so much, but as the girls in Advertising in our office said the other day, “I can’t believe I spent $4.50 on this cupcake and it’s so dry!”.

The slightly Sahara-esque texture and moisture content wasn’t the only letdown. The cupcake flavours seem extremely low-key (sometimes even quite hard to sleuth out). The green tea was one such example and instead of making me want more, it only reminded me of much I love the Green Tea, Lemon Myrtle and White Chocolate muffins at Cafe Ish.

I tried my friend’s Coconut Ice, but the only discernible taste was of the coconut shreds on top – none of the cake actually registered. Her Oriental Flower variety exhibited some flavour, but sadly it just tasted like essential oils to me. Biting into the Pistachio and Cardamom offering, I got a little over-excited because an actual ingredient came to the fore – but cardamom has such a strong taste that it could break through even the blandest recipe. Being able to play spot-the-ingredient isn’t quite the same as enjoying the harmonious flavours at play in something well-baked.

All the PR about the cupcakes sounds good – the company claim to use high-grade ingredients, cracking free range eggs and mixing creamy butter and melting Belgian chocolate into their batches. Everything is fresh-baked. But from what we tried, this impressive claim didn’t live up to what we tasted. We wanted to really like their treats so much that my friend even wrote a really supportive email to Sparkle, telling them how much she liked the display and packaging and staff and store, but that the cupcakes she tried were unfortunately somewhat dry.

It’s so easy to just dismiss a place if you’re disappointed with what you try, but she thought this feedback might help them meet the grand potential they’d set up for themselves.

Sparkle wrote back with a slightly strange reply, asking her if she had bought the cakes on the day she sent them feedback about it tasting too dry. (Are people being too hasty by ONLY waiting three weeks to eat their cupcakes and then wondering why they don’t taste so flash?) Of course, my friend had bought them only hours beforehand. It was nice of them to reply, but the tone was slightly dismissive. They didn’t even trouble themselves with a blandly polite “we’ll take on your feedback to make improvements” comment.

Still, I thought I should give them another try before making up my mind outright. Just to be fair.

So I trekked again only a few days ago. I ordered the Espresso and Milk Chocolate varieties. Yes, the bag looked very luxe, but I noticed the sticker kept coming off, so it had a swish appearance but didn’t even seal properly. I took the cakes to work and sliced them up, conducting some office research. The coffee icing on the Espresso has a recognisable flavour but the actual cake disappears into barely-there territory once you bite into it. It still tastes dry – not just according to me, but the other guinea pigs who were part of my sample survey, which included the ex-editor of a monthly food magazine!

The milk chocolate (described as having “moist Belgian chocolate” on Sparkle’s flavour card) didn’t suffer from such a parched taste – and of the 10 flavours knocked off between all of us (and $50 later!), it’s the one that fares the best. But that’s not a particularly heady scale to be measuring from. As I passed samples around the office, the verdict seemed to be the chocolate was OK, but not amazing. The glitter was wearing off from our initial pro-Sparkle feelings.

If I had to graph how we were feeling now about the place, the X-Y co-ordinates would be sloping downhill, that’s for sure. It’s a shame, because on paper, this new cupcakery seemed to add up to something exciting. Maybe once the dry spell breaks, a later revisit will justify our original cheerleading for Sparkle.

Sparkle Cupcakery, 132 Foveaux Street Surry Hills (02) 9361 0690, www.sparklecupcakery.com.au

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15 Comments

  1. Anita says:

    How very disappointing…
    I just saw the Sparkle Cupcakery in the newspaper and googled straight away to find out flavours and views. I often find bought cupcakes a bit too dry and am now not sure if I want to make the trek to try these cupcakes.
    Looks like you certainly did a lot of taste testing with quite a few people.

  2. leetranlam says:

    Hey Anita, thanks for the comment.
    If you’re ever in the area, you should do a little taste-test for yourself but Sparkle does fall a little flat given there are better flavour-friendly options nearby (Bourke St Bakery, Le Pain Quotidien, Cafe Ish etc).

    If you buy, say, a raspberry and white chocolate muffin from Bourke St Bakery, you can taste the BURST of raspberry inside – it’s ultra-fresh and flavoursome and ripe and sweet in your mouth.

    Usually fresh ingredients just are so vivid and sharp to taste.

    But while Sparkle make a big deal of their fresh and impressive ingredients, their cupcakes don’t have that same full-flavour burst – in fact they are a little too parched and flavour-subtle for my liking (and the price-tag).

    And we tried HEAPS of flavours on lots of different people. One being the ex-editor of a food magazine and another being an utter cupcake addict (she ate 5 cupcakes in a row from a way better joint after our Sparkle visit).

    I think I might re-try them a little later down the line, because the shopfront and packaging and service is cool. They just need to sort out their cupcakes…

  3. Anonymous says:

    I too read about Sparkles in the paper and as it is near my work, came at lunch. There were only about 5 cupcakes left in the whole shop. I tried the lemon flavour- agree 100% with your review, it was dry, lacking in discernible lemon flavour, and ultimately very ordinary and definitely not worth $4.50. I won’t be going again.

  4. reemski says:

    Hi Lee, I have to agree. After all the buildup it was sooo disappointing to try the cupcakes and find them so dry. I also had Kathryn from Sparkle comment on my blog, but sadly the cupcakes haven’t improved. Such a shame as cupcakes and champagne is such a wonderful concept!

  5. Aleks says:

    Hi Lee,
    Just last week a friend and I stumbled across Sparkle and like you we were like 2 school girls, so excited by the concept of champagne and cupcakes! We left very disappointed, granted I make a mean cupcake and therefore know how incredibly easy it is to create a mouth watering taste sensation from a simple little cake, but there was nothing sparkly about these cupcakes, they claim to use great ingredients but I find that hard to believe as great ingredients dont end with dry, bland and uninspiring end products. i think these guys have jumped on the cupcake craze bandwagon but think they will be lucky to survive 6 months unless they get a new baker!

  6. Anonymous says:

    OMG so it’s not only me who feels this way! I was so excited to stop in at Sparkles because the place looks great and so do their cupcakes. But I was SO disappointed when they turned out to be dry. And I am now even more disappointed that they did not respond well to your feedback. There are a lot of great food products out there that fail because of bad marketing and packaging, but Sparkles has done really well with that stuff. To the point where people who have bad experiences are willing to give them another go (usually its one strike and you’re out). But even Sparkles won’t get people back after the 2nd and 3rd try if the cupcakes don’t improve. And how hard would it be to make them a bit more moist? I don’t mean to trivialise it… but it’s not rocket science. They really need to listen to people’s feedback and make some changes :)

  7. Anonymous says:

    Agree with the flavour problem – my lychee and rose petal tasted of nothing but sweet – but the texture was pretty good

  8. Bec says:

    I have to disagree, I have had both the morning glory and the pink one (raspberry) and both where extra moist and come of the most delicious cake I and my fellow fussy workers have tried. Maybe give it one more try before you dismiss forever.

  9. leetranlam says:

    Hi Bec,

    Definitely open to trying Sparkle again – and definitely not open to dismissing it forever.

    Note that it’s been six months since my original visits and your comment, so perhaps in the meantime they’ve really sorted out their “dry flavour” problem. I’d be really happy if they had!

    The pattern of comments here suggests though that I wasn’t alone in originally thinking the flavour was lost in their baked goods.

    Personally, if Sparkle have improved on their initial cupcakes, I’d only treat that as good news because everything else about the bakery is pretty attractive.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am a local at surry hills, and have been for a while. I’ve passed the place more than a hundred times, and have only recently decided to venture into the premise.

    I bought a dozen cupcakes the first time a few months ago and split it with a few mates and we agreed that the cupcakes were quite tasty. The only ones we had issues with were the morning glory and the oriental flower which didn’t have enough of the flavour the menu describes.

    In terms of freshness I had a good experience, and the cupcakes weren’t dry but they weren’t moist, in fact the general consensus were that they were the right consistency for having a cuppa. If I wanted wet or moist, I would have gone a friand or a fruit muffin.

    About two weeks ago I bought another dozen and it was still tasty and the morning glory was a bit better, whereas the oriental flower still lacked in flavour.

    My favourite flavours are the citrus cloud and lavender and honey.

    Overall for a guilty indulgence and keeping in mind you love cake, this place is nice, so long as you don’t mind paying a bit more. But as soon as you open the box with the silver lining and cupcakes eagerly awaiting to be eaten, it is quite a surreal experience.

    Pete

  11. Angie says:

    I recently went to a friends 40th bday where the sparkle cupcakes were taking centre stage of the food display (while still in their wonderful box) I was impressed with the look of the cupcakes and was very excited about the flavours. Unfortunately the taste was exactly how the majority describe on here, dry and tasteless, what a terrible disappointment. I came home to google the company to find out more (such was my disappointment) and came across your website. I don’t think they have what it takes to make a moist (but not wet) tasty (subtle but not overpowering) cupcake. Shame.

  12. cupquakes says:

    Hey Lee

    I just finished reading through the numerous negative reviews of Sparkle Cupcakery here. I’m doing research having just started up my own little cupcake business and am in the process of recruiting taste testers in my neighbourhood to trial my cupcake collection. So far so good. Everyone has said my cupcakes are moist and tasty, even up to 3 days after baking.

    Can I ask what you (and the fellow addicts as well) look for in a good cupcake? Thanks in advance.

    Teen @ Cupquakes :)

  13. Sheryl says:

    Thanks for the review, I enjoyed reading it! When I came across “Sparkle Cupcakes” they looked oddly familiar and almost IDENTICAL to Sprinkles Cupcakes (http://www.sprinkles.com/) which is the first cupcake bakery to open in the U.S. Clearly they have blatantly copied their signature dot and cupcake design, as well as the sleek cupcake store layout. And to call the place Sparkles which is two letters from being Sprinkles. Hrm… It seems to me that they spent all their time copying another cupcake shop rather than working on their recipe first. I’m all for cupcake shops opening up in Australia but a little bit of originality and a real passion for baking cupcakes is needed.

  14. Lena says:

    Hey Lee Tran,
    It’s been about a year since you posted this article and only now have I taken the bold initiative to try these cupcakes. I originally black-banned them because $4.50 for a cupcake is kinda ridiculous.
    But yesterday my pregnancy hormones got the better of me and I bought the milk chocolate cupcake. I was completely disappointed. It tasted like it was 3 days old, which would have been fine if they were selling them for 50c. I totally agree with all your comments – good marketing, bad product. Next time I’ll just bake my own!

  15. Anonymous says:

    Interesting reading all these comments. I went to uni in the very same street (at AIM), but have moved interstate and now live in Melbourne. A few comments ago, someone brought up the fact that Sparkles have copied Sprinkles, who are a major chain of cupcake parlours in the states. Sparkles are lucky they’re out here in Aus, because from what I know, Sprinkles slaps a law suit on anyone who even comes close to using their business name let alone ripping off their whole concept!
    Ladies, (and gentlemen of course) if you’re after a delicious AND stunningly decorated cupcake I would go for Sweetcheeks Cookies and Cakes, they’re in South East Melbourne (Bayside) and in South West Sydney (Macarthur) too, they don’t have a store to go in and just buy on a whim, but they are perfect to order for birthdays, weddings, whatever. I order 12 cupcakes in different designs for each of my friends birthdays down here. Perfect present.
    http://www.sweetcheekscookiesandcakes.com.au
    Next time I’m in Sydney, not only will I go to Sweetcheeks, but I might trek into the city and give Sparkles a go, just to see for myself.
    Thanks for the info gals. Hope Sparkles lift their game.
    Danni

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Hi, I'm Lee Tran Lam. When not blogging with my mouth full, I'm usually writing, presenting Local Fidelity on FBi radio, making zines, producing podcasts or continually breaking promises about how I really am gonna get through my book pile one day.

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