MsChief review: sweet stuff gets a healthy makeover


G03/105 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest,

“Let them eat cake.” We’re not sure if Marie-Antoinette really said that after learning her subjects couldn’t afford bread – but the image of her as an out-of-touch French queen certainly helped send her to the guillotine.

Despite its decadent cake display, the baked goods at MsChief in Crows Nest have all had their sugar reduced. Credit:James Brickwood

At MsChief in Crows Nest, though, “let them eat cake” is part of its welcoming philosophy: an inclusive gesture rather than a polarising one. The cafe’s healthier baked treats are meant for everyone, from people reducing their sugar intake to children who don’t want to be denied their muffins, tarts and well-iced slices.

Adelle Ly, who runs MsChief, credits her family for inspiring this approach. “I quit sugar five years ago, but I have two young children who still loved their baked treats, so I started baking with less and less sugar [without telling them],” she says. “I was able to reduce it by 40 per cent without them noticing it too much.”

So at MsChief, all the cakes – from the airy orange chiffon slices to the blueberry and lime friands – are baked with that same approach. Not only has she held back on 40 per cent of the sweet stuff, Ly uses palmyra as an alternative. It’s derived from coconut palm trees and has a lower glycemic index than other sweeteners. She also adds a lot of chopped fresh fruit to her batter, too.

The ricotta hotcakes with banana. Credit:James Brickwood

It’s an approach that works well in the best-selling orange chiffon cake, which has a light, citrus-charged flavour. The raspberry shortbread is buttery and satisfying, while the chocolate sea salt biscuits (a bargain at a $1 each) taste as good as the sugar-packed kind. The sticky date pudding seems more like a Christmas fruitcake: its healthy veneer might not convert anyone who prefers their pudding smothered in a rich flood of butterscotch sauce.

A better case for keeping things apparently sugar-free? The lemon-zest ricotta pancakes, drizzled with honey butter, scattered with berries and almond flakes, and topped with caramelised banana. The fluffy, stacked hotcakes deliver a wonderful, dessert-like hit, but don’t brag to your nutritionist just yet.

It’s worth remembering the banana is sweetened with palmyra – and that sugar is still sugar, even if it’s unrefined and low-GI. While the health credentials of "natural" sugar such as palmyra can seem impressive, all sugars are natural because they’re from plants (even much-maligned white sugar is derived from beets or sugarcane). That’s OK, too; there’s no crime in enjoying something rich and sweet, whether it’s "good" for you or not.

At home, Ly’s 75-year-old mother joined her in going sugar-free, which also meant embracing full-fat yoghurt, milk, butter and eggs. Ly claims her mother’s health improved as a result. It’s why MsChief’s menu doesn’t hold back on slathering butter or adding crisp bacon to dishes – even if you’d expect a health-focused cafe to do the opposite.

The bacon oat porridge is inspired by chicken congee.Credit:James Brickwood

So the Belt Sando squeezes bacon rashers, fried eggs, Norwegian cheese and roasted tomatoes between toasted brioche "buttered" with barbecue sauce. The porridge is inspired by her mother’s chicken congee: here, Ly flavours it with bacon, bone broth, rosemary, egg and the Japanese seaweed seasoning known as furikake.

Parmesan cheese butter, meanwhile, adds a decadent hit to roasted asparagus and fried eggs on sourdough. For something lighter, try the smashed avocado with salsa and feta on keto rolls: the bread is free of gluten, yeast and dairy. (The servings are small, but you can fill up with cake for dessert.)

The cafe has a bright feel, thanks to flowers from Odd Petals next door and the Leesa Knights artwork featuring the thumbprints of Ly’s children. We should thank them for MsChief and its invite to let us all eat cake.


Main attraction: An excuse to order orange chiffon and other cakes.

Must-try: The lemon-zest ricotta pancakes are a slab of fruit-topped sweetness.

Insta-worthy dish: The pancakes, although there’s plenty of photogenic goods from the cake counter – from the raspberry shortbread to the many other baked treats on display.

Drinks: From $4 for ONA espresso to $8 for the Chrissy Minty pine-lime frappes. The fruity spritzers are worth trying, too.

Prices: From $1 for chocolate sea salt biscuits to $20 for spaghetti bolognese.

Open: Daily 8am-4pm (look out for MsChief’s new dinner hours).



77 Willoughby Road, Crows Nest

Luho is an Asian eatery that also has an inclusive approach – there are plenty of gluten-free options and there’s a whole meat-free menu for vegans and vegetarians. Highlights include the chicken lemongrass curry, XO pumpkin and the pizza-like version of Vietnamese pancakes. And, perhaps to coincide with the festive season, Luho has just introduced bottomless rosé weekend brunches.


96-97 545 Pacific Highway (enter via Clarke Lane), St Leonards

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This harbourside museum is located in the former home of May Gibbs, the creator of The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Designed in 1924 and named Nutcote, the author lived in this house for 44 years, until her final days. Given how nature-inspired her work was, it’s apt the museum has a charming garden and ocean views.


3a-9b Broughton Street (enter via Bligh St), Kirribilli

If you’re looking to cut down on sugar, this shop offers 90 per cent cacao chocolate bars that are low on sweeteners and flavoured with rose and black pepper, hazelnut and sea salt, and hot cross bun spices. The chocolatier also offers Christmas plum pudding discs, giant chocolate coins and praline golf balls.


36 Blue Street, North Sydney

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