3938 Rivermark Plaza, Santa Clara, California, USA
I was on a business trip to Santa Clara in California, to attend meetings at the Intel headquarters there. On the day I arrived, I checked into my hotel, and then went for a walk to find the nearest cluster of shops. This turned out to be Rivermark Village, a new looking outdoor shopping mall in the Californian style, with a bunch of shops surrounded by an expansive area of asphalt dedicated to parking the hundreds of cars that Americans use to get everywhere. I wasn’t particularly intending to get anything to eat, but I passed a bakery called The Prolific Oven, and popped my nose in for a quick peek to see what sort of things they had.
Perusing the cakes and pastries, my eyes were stopped and riveted by what was obviously a vanilla slice, but with a bright red topping! It had the traditional wavy lines of white icing, but decorating a translucent and visually appealing red glaze. There was only one left in the counter, sitting on a large tray with a fresh raspberry next to it. I deduced that this must be a raspberry vanilla slice. I had to have it!
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Avenue 16 Septembre 1947, Tende, France
Continuing our driving journey through Europe, we found ourselves passing through the lovely Parc National du Mercantour, hugging the Italian border in the south-east corner of France. We stopped at the small village of Tende, deep in the heart of the park, for a few hours to look at the museum, which houses displays of stone age people who lived in the region thousands of years ago, as well as to have a walk around and to get some lunch.
After sightseeing for a while, it was time to eat. Not much was open, but we found a cafe called La Merenda on the main street running through the village. It looked a little run down and not particularly promising in the food stakes, but there wasn’t much choice. They did have some quiches and a tart des legumes, but also in a small sweet pastry section there were lurking a few mille-feuilles, the French version of the humble vanilla slice. Well, this was an opportunity not to be missed.
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Via S. Gottardo, 6780 Airolo, Switzerland
Driving through the Alps from Switzerland to Italy, we passed through a number of small towns. As lunch time loomed, we stopped at the town of Airolo to look for some food. Not much was open, but we found a panetteria and pasticceria called Beffa. Being southern Switzerland, this was an Italian-speaking region. After some halting words with a young lady who didn’t speak any English, we managed to get some panini, freshly made in a back room. And sitting in the pastry display was a set of millefoglie, the Italian version of a vanilla slice.
We got a small round table in the dimly lit cafe section of the pasticceria. An adjacent table held five elderly men who were drinking espressos and having an animated discussion in Italian. This was the sort of place where old men gather to while away the hours gossiping with their friends. After eating our sandwiches, I turned my attention to the millefoglie presented on a similarly aged plate.
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Via Basilea 28, Lugano, Switzerland
On a driving holiday in Europe, we found ourselves checked into the Continental Parkhotel in Lugano, a lovely lakeside city in southern Switzerland. The hotel overlooks the old town, across a railway line, and consists of a grand old building, plus a newer annex where the cheaper rooms are.
Normally the breakfast buffets at hotels in this part of the world have a selection of hot food, bread, cold meats, cheeses, and fruit. Sometimes they have cakes or tarts. But as I surveyed the offerings on this fine morning, I spied, lurking between a row of doughnuts and muffins, a procession of vanilla slices! Having the luxury of taking whatever I wanted for breakfast, I first filled up on healthy things like muesli and fruit, before returning to the buffet to grab a vanilla slice.
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Borough Market, Southwark, London, United Kingdom
While searching for a small sweet treat to round off a lunch of two sausage rolls, plus a beef and stilton pie which I found at another stall in London’s Borough Market, I happened across the stall belonging to Ginger Pig. This was a butcher, selling all manner of cuts of pork and pork products such as sausages, black puddings, and pork pies. But besides this meat designed to take home and cook or eat later, they also had sitting on the counter a tray containing a glowing golden treasure: four large, plump, delicious looking sausage rolls.
Drawn inevitably to this promise of culinary wonder, I saw that they had a warming oven behind the counter, and several enormous sausage rolls therein. A sign proclaimed that they came in two varieties: pork, and pork and stilton! Unfortunately, I was almost full already, and was thrown into a horrible quandary: to sample one of these delectable looking rolls, or to skip them and seek a thin slice of cake or tart. Because these rolls were not merely plump, they were truly fat. Big and chunky. Compared to the previous rolls from Northfield Farm and Boston Sausage, which cost £1.50 and £1 respectively, these cost £4 each – but they looked worth it, they were so big.
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Borough Market, Southwark, London, United Kingdom
After the slightly disappointing sausage roll from Northfield Farm’s stall in London’s Borough Market, I continued wandering around, looking for more interesting things to sample. In a far corner of the market, right next to Southwark Cathedral, is a row of hot food stalls, preparing lunch treats for passersby. Amongst the grilled cheese sandwiches, kebabs, and enormous dishes of paella, was a place named Boston Sausage. They did a line in sausages on bread rolls, and burgers. But also on the menu, under the heading “Appetisers”, was the golden item: sausage rolls. And only £1 each, so I assumed they must be fairly small.
I went over and asked for one, but the guy told me that they were just putting a batch into the oven, and they’d take about 15 minutes. I said I’d return and went for a bit more of a wander through the bustling market. After about 15 minutes I returned, to the loud spruiking voice of one of the staff proclaiming, “Hot sausage rolls! Come and get ’em! Best sausage rolls in the universe! Better than my mum makes!” There was a metal tray piled with the rolls hot out of the oven, and they were going quickly as people were attracted to the yelling and the delicious smells of the stall.
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318 Chiswick High Street, Chiswick, London, UK
On a business trip to London, I was staying in the Chiswick area for a few days. My explorations of the Chiswick High Street on foot uncovered the delicious looking Valerie Patisserie, which enticed with a window display full of luscious cakes and pastries, crowned by a huge piece of decorative frilliness rendered in dark and white chocolate. Amongst the mouth-watering cakes and slices in the window was a neat row of milles-feuilles, looking for all the world like classic Aussie vanilla slices, complete with the traditional drawn brown icing lines on a top of white icing.
I discovered this early in the day, on a post-breakfast walk before a day full of business meetings, and had already bought a more robust scone from a nearby bakery to serve as morning tea. So I filed the shop away in memory, to return that evening after the work had been completed for the day and buy one of the slices to take back to my hotel after dinner for dessert. The price was £2.95, and for that the lady behind the counter, rather than tossing it in a brown paper bag as would happen back home, placed it in a neat cardboard box emblazoned with the logo of the patisserie, using no less than three logo stickers to seal the box. This was then carefully lowered into a paper carry bag with handles, again decorated with the shop’s logo.
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Borough Market, Southwark, London, United Kingdom
On a lightning business trip to London, I decided to make the most of my bit of free time by seeking out some sausage rolls here in Old Blighty, the original home of the sausage roll. Near my hotel in Chiswick, there were some bakeries, but they concentrated on bread, cakes, and pastries, with no sign of pies or sausage rolls anywhere. So I took to the Internet, seeking the “best sausage rolls in London”. Several list articles mentioned the Borough Market, a lively food market in Southwark, just on the south side of the Thames River from the City of London. I’d been here before, but was happy for an excuse to return.
Amidst the sights and smells of this wonderful market, I spotted my first quarry, sitting in a neat pile on a silver tray on the counter of a stall bearing the name of Northfield Farm. These were clearly sausage rolls, but they were obviously cold. The stall mostly appeared to be doing a line in hamburgers, fried sausages in buns, and steak sandwiches, with nary a pie warmer to be seen for heating up the sausage rolls.
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503 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, USA
I was visiting San Francisco for a conference, and outside of conference hours I spent some time exploring the city. The North Beach area is famous for its Italian heritage and modern day Italian restaurants. Mixed in with the pizza and pasta places are a few little pastry shops. One is the famous Stella Pastry & Cafe, which I’ve visited before and is so good that I wanted to return for dessert after a dinner nearby. But alas, for the week that I was in town, Stella’s was closed for renovations!
But this being North Beach, fortunately I didn’t have to go far to discover another Italian pastry shop. I was walking down Columbus Avenue when my eyes were drawn to the sugar-laden windows of Mara’s Italian Pastry. This hole-in-the-wall was a tiny cafe with only three small tables inside, and a counter loaded up with biscotti and other baked goodies. The real treat was in the front window, however, which contained succulent looking fruit danishes, poppy seed cakes, slices, rolls, and countless other delicacies. There were also a couple of trays of square dish pizzas, cut into slices, for anyone silly enough to come in here and want something savoury.
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