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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Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney, New South Wales
If you’re reviewing sausage rolls in Sydney, there is one place you need to go to sample the ultimate example of the sausage roll elevated to an art form. That place is The Bennelong, Sydney’s most iconic restaurant space, enjoying spectacular harbour views from within the miniature set of pearly white shells at the southern end of the Sydney Opera House. This is not just a place you rock up to on a Saturday at lunch time and grab a roll and a snot block in a brown paper bag. This requires planning, finesse, and a willingness to pay for the experience.
On an evening when Mrs Snot Block & Roll had decreed that we should attend the Australian Ballet, we had an excuse to make a booking at this prestigious restaurant for a before-show meal. When chef Peter Gilmore, famously of the outstanding Quay restaurant (listed as one of Restaurant magazine’s 50 best restaurants in the world since 2009), took over running The Bennelong in 2015, he decided to split the food experience into a formal dining area and a more casual seating area by one of the bars. This casual area is known as “Cured & Cultured”, and has an emphasis on fresh “produce-focused” dishes, served raw or cold, though there are a few hot cooked dishes on the menu. All of the plates are designed for tapas-like sharing. And one of these sharing plates is the “suckling pig sausage roll with black garlic sauce”, which comes in at a hefty $24.
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Grand Arcade, 7 Bong Bong St, Bowral, New South Wales
On a leisurely weekend drive through New South Wales’ Southern Highlands region, we stopped for lunch in Bowral, the town where Don Bradman grew up, and famous for the Bradman Oval and Bradman Museum. But in recent years, Bowral has become notable for a different, and culinarily oriented reason.
It is the home of the Gumnut Patisserie, established in 1995, and quick to win an impressive list of honours. It won the Baking Association of Australia award for best patisserie in New South Wales in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012, and 2013. And as the comma at the end of the list on their window shows, they seem determined to win it again in the future. Not only this, but in 2015 they won the grand prize at the Sydney Royal Easter Agricultural Show for Best Vanilla Slice. Clearly this is a place we cannot ignore.
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9 Oaks Avenue, Dee Why, New South Wales
On a leisurely weekend drive to the beach suburb of Dee Why, we popped into Oaks Patisserie for an afternoon snack and cuppa. This is a small bakery on a somewhat dingy old retail strip just around the corner from the busy Pittwater Road, so the ambience is not great. Inside, however, is a mouth-watering array of cakes and pastries, which look colourful and artfully assembled. I ordered a sausage roll and vanilla slice and they were delivered by staff to one of the two outside tables for us to contemplate.
The sausage roll looks promising enough at first sight, with golden flaky pastry and ever so slightly burnt bits on the ends. However, on the first bite a different experience is revealed. The pastry is a little on the dry side, not greasy or buttery at all. The pastry case has pulled away from the meat filling, leaving a hollow space in between, but pastry is actually middling to okay.
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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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1296 Pacific Hwy, Cowan, New South Wales
The Pie in the Sky is a bit of a legendary pie shop, operating for almost 30 years on a site on the old Pacific Highway, a winding two-lane road that used to be the only way to travel north of Sydney before the opening of the F3 freeway. The place is nestled on top of a cliff overlooking the freeway below, and across a vast panorama of eucalypt forest in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, across to the Hawkesbury River.
It’s a favourite weekend hangout for motorcycle riders and vintage and sports car drivers, who prefer the scenery and thrills of the old road over the bland freeway. We arrived at lunch time on a Sunday, to find the car park area almost full to overflowing with motorbikes and fancy cars. Fortunately we located a spot that must have just been vacated, and joined the queue, a good 40 people long, to buy our lunch.
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I was walking through a local shopping centre and passed a T2 shop, which sells various types of tea leaves, as well as tea-free herbal and fruit concoctions, and various teapots and other paraphernalia for preparing hot drinks. I often buy their “Liquorice Legs” tea, which is a blend of peppermint, fennel seeds, and liquorice and is my go-to hot drink since I don’t drink coffee or regular tea. But this day I was gobsmacked to see something new in their display window: Vanilla Slice tea.
Obviously, I had to go in and check it out. The neat cubic box stated the ingredients as apple pieces, rosehip, hibiscus, vanilla pieces, and a mysterious ingredient described only as “flavour”. Determining it was caffeine-free, I bought a box for later brewing and reviewing.
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