Sylvia & Fran’s The Upper Crust, Collaroy

1003 Pittwater Road, Collaroy, New South Wales

This place is a local institution. It’s been nestled in the same spot in a conspicuous green and yellow building on the side of Pittwater Road, amidst a row of residential houses, for as long as I can remember. On weekends people pull up to park out the front in a continual stream, dash inside to grab a bag of hot pies, and then leave to let the next car grab a spot. Some people linger and eat on the sparse pair of aluminium tables out the front, or sitting on the wooden benches in front of an adjacent house. In the couple of hours around lunch time, there is usually a queue stretching out the door.

Vanilla slice, Sylvia & Fran's The Upper Crust

The somewhat run down building is decorated with numerous stickers and plaques indicating the numerous pie competitions that the eponymous Sylvia and Fran have won with their recipes. They have a selection of 30-40 different pies, with fillings ranging from the traditional plain minced beef, through chunky steak, to middle of the road combinations such as steak and potato, steak and mushroom, and steak and kidney. Then they stretch into more exotic flavours such as Mexican beef; lamb and rosemary; satay chicken; Thai chicken curry; beef stroganoff; and their multi-award winning chicken, avocado, and brie pie. There are sausage rolls too, in regular and cheese and bacon varieties. Vegetarians are definitely not left wanting either, with a selection including roast vegetable; Thai vegetable curry; Mexican vegetarian; spinach and feta; and potato, pumpkin, and sour cream pies – which are delicious enough to tempt even carnivores.

Vanilla slice, Sylvia & Fran's The Upper Crust

The ovens are not dedicated merely to savouries, though, and the bakers also churn out a line of sweet desserts including all the usual suspects such as apple turnovers, carrot cakes, custard tarts, lamingtons, and of course vanilla slices. I’ve had lunch here on numerous occasions, and usually grab a couple of different pies as they are so good and the flavours so varied. But today I downgraded (in size) a pie to a regular style sausage roll, and added a vanilla slice to my order. (For my pie I chose a new flavour since my last visit: butter chicken.)

Vanilla slice, Sylvia & Fran's The Upper Crust

I began with the sausage roll, which is solid, with a good weight to it. The pastry is golden brown and crisp looking, and causes only very minor grease spotting on the enclosing brown paper bag. (A good sign – some inferior rolls bleed oil into the paper bag until you can almost see through the paper.) The pastry looks cooked to a T, and turns out to be so as I take my first bite. It is crisp with a bit of flakiness on the outside and cooked through on the interior, without any sogginess. It’s good, but if I were to criticise it, I’d say it could be a touch airier and flakier.

Vanilla slice, Sylvia & Fran's The Upper Crust

Inside is a succulent and juicy roll of what is obviously minced pork meat from the flavour. It’s well seasoned, with a touch of saltiness bringing out the flavours of the meat, but light on herbs. There is also no evidence of onion pieces, carrot, or any other vegetables mixed through it. This is really an attempt to let the pork meat sing an aria all by itself, without being burdened by too much noise from the orchestra. And it works. It’s really tasty, well cooked, and juicy tender. If the pastry had just been a little bit flakier, this could have been a perfect scoring roll. It would go well with a juicy Beaujolais.

After a brief interlude with my butter chicken pie (absolutely delicious, by the way), I turn to the sweet course of today’s three-piece ensemble. The vanilla slice has a flat, square form factor, eight centimetres square by 2.5 centimetres tall, which is a set of proportions I haven’t found often before. The top is a yellow passionfruit icing complete with seeds (as required in any passionfruit dish). Below this is a thin layer of pastry, sitting on a surgically precisely cut block of custard, with another sheet of pastry as the bottom layer. The pastry is very thin, but looks appropriately layered.

Vanilla slice, Sylvia & Fran's The Upper Crust

This slice is easy to pick up, as the custard is chilled and very firm. The pastry layers are delightfully crisp, and give with a pleasant snap as they bend slightly into the yielding custard block. The custard doesn’t ooze at all, and the whole construction remains remarkably well behaved as I eat my way through it. The custard is a touch on the gelatinous side and doesn’t have a good sense of vanilla flavour to it – rather it has almost a milky flavour. It’s not terrible, but neither is it inspiring. The pastry is delightful, however, with its crisp flaky layers – the only thing wrong is there isn’t enough of it! They could have doubled the thickness of the pastry layers and this would have been much better. The passionfruit icing is too sweet, with sugar drowning out any tang from the fruit. The resulting mixture as one chews is too sugary sweet, and doesn’t have enough crunch to break up the custard texture.

Overall, each component of the slice had a flaw, though none is big enough to be a true killer. I’ve certainly had worse slices, but also better.

Sausage roll: 9/10
Vanilla slice: 5/10

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