Question: What does a $14 million state-of-the-art glasshouse and a $15 entry ticket to the new Sweet Addiction chocolate exhibition get you?
Answer: Three cacao pods and two complimentary Lindt balls.
Look, I know we’re latitudes away from chocolate’s South American origins, but when three pieces of cacao fruit are all you see in an exhibition pitched at chocolate lovers, you wonder if you’re getting your money’s worth.
Unless you visited over the Queen’s birthday long weekend when there were chocolate fountains and Lindt demonstrations to celebrate the Royal Botanic Garden’s 200-year anniversary, you won’t get up close and personal with chocolate at Sweet Addiction.
There are plenty of neat plants in the RBG’s new Calyx glasshouse, but the place doesn’t look, feel or taste particularly chocolatey – or even tropical, to be honest. It’s fun seeing what a Stevia plant looks like, but strings of dried chillies and rows of parsley aren’t quite enough to evoke the Americas.
Essentially, the exhibition consists of: the aforementioned cacao fruit; a whole section dedicated to promoting sponsors Lindt & Sprüngli; and genuinely interesting information about the biology, history and process of making chocolate – genuinely interesting information that is unfortunately presented in uninspiring plastic boards of text and photos.
Chocolate aside, what Sweet Addiction lacks is an interactive element.
Instead of pictures on boards, it would have been nice to see what the raw product physically looks like at each stage of the chocolate-making process, from planting through to harvest, roasting, mixing and melting. It would have been interesting to see more models of the machinery used to manufacture chocolate.
There are a few features pitched at kids: plastic leaves that slide away to reveal a fun fact about chocolate, a soundtrack of insect and wildlife calls, some cute animal decorations.
However, details such as decorative signs that begin with the acronym OMG cheapen the experience: “OMG! Chocolate contains the chemical that triggers feelings of being in love!” If you really need to provide us with trivia, “Did you know …?” is a tried and tested formula.
The Calyx itself is cool – though maybe not quite $14 million worth of cool. Architecturally, the design is inspired and it’s a fantastic space. I think of a neverending book with pages flipping through for all eternity.
The much-hyped feature wall is impressive with its 18,000 individual plants carefully arranged to form images like this:
… and the straw monkeys in the front courtyard are fun to photograph.
The funny thing is that, overall, Sweet Addiction at the Calyx – even if it had been free – ended up being the least exciting part of my visit to the Royal Botanic Gardens.
And I had a great day at the Gardens.
The free hour-long tour was enjoyable and informative, the grounds are expansive, diverse and pleasant even in winter, and the walk to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair rewards you with some stellar views over Sydney Harbour.
So, my recommendation?
Spend a morning at the Royal Botanic Gardens, walk around the front of the Calyx, and then go and grab yourself some chocolate – somewhere else. Because sadly, you won’t get your fix at Sweet Addiction.
Sweet Addiction exhibition webpage: https://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/Visit/Sweet-Addiction
About the new Calyx glasshouse: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-14/royal-botanic-garden-unveils-new-glasshouse/7327518
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