St Ives Shopping Village, Shop 67, 166 Mona Vale Road, St Ives, New South Wales
I made my way to the northern Sydney suburb of St Ives in search of La Petite Lorraine, a bakery which appears frequently when Googling “best vanilla slice in Sydney”. Its name jumped out of the web page so many times that I had to make the pilgrimage. Alas, when I arrived, La Petitie Lorraine was nowhere to be found, even with the help of Google Maps telling me that I was standing less than 5 metres from its location.
Assuming there was some location error, or that the place had closed, I sought refuge from the burning sunshine inside the St Ives Shopping Village – which is really just a mid-sized indoor shopping centre. There were a couple of bakeries in there, and I located one which had both sausage rolls and vanilla slices: the Bakehouse Cafe. Despite the “Cafe” in its name, it was really just a bakery counter front, with no tables or service other than two women behind the cash register selling the baked goods.
I procured the roll and slice, and then with no nearby seating available, walked the length of the shopping centre to the food court area to find a table. (Mrs Snot Block & Roll acquired a date scone, which was large and chunky, and declared it to be quite good.) Sitting down, I began examining the sausage roll, which had been packaged in a brown paper bag emblazoned with the logo of the Bakehouse Cafe.
The roll was small, and very thin. The pastry was a rich, golden brown on top due to an egg wash, the edge of which was plainly visible on the side of the roll where it shifted colour abruptly to the paler pastry browned without the benefit of the wash. The construction looked hand-rolled in a slightly inexpert fashion, with a large flap of loose pastry on the bottom side. On first bite, the overwhelming impression was of dryness. The pastry was reasonably flaky, but very dry to the mouth – not at all buttery. And the meat was dry too. It was a uniform brown-grey colour, with no evidence of any onions of other vegetables mixed in. It had a good strong hit of pepper and other spices, but beyond this initial impression of flavour there was no depth to it, leaving it ultimately unsatisfying. Overall, too small, too dry, and too unexciting.
Moving on to the vanilla slice, I extracted it from its own paper bag and observed the pale whiteness of the custard, with just a hint of yellow to it. The pastry layers looked okay, of medium thickness and with some flakiness visually evident. The icing was a uniform yellow colour, and I thought it was passionfruit but without any of the seeds.
The first bite dispelled this misapprehension, however, as the flavour combination launched a surprise assault on my taste buds. The custard was very bland, with not much more than a faint milky flavour, but the icing was not passionfruit, but vanilla, and strongly vanilla at that! A bite through all layers – icing, pastry, custard – ended up blending into a passably pleasant vanilla flavour in the mouth. The problem was the textures, of the pastry and the custard. The pastry was too coherent and biscuity, rather than truly flaky. And the custard… was rubbery. It clearly had a lot of gelatine in it. I had in fact wobbled the whole slice on the table top before biting into it, and took the video shown below. And then while eating, the rubberiness of the custard was again demonstrated when I squeezed the layer between the slices of pastry (second half of video clip).
In the end there were just too many things wrong with this slice. As I said, the blended flavour profile of a bite through all layers was actually okay, but the vanilla was in the wrong component, the icing, and the custard was a real let down. Add in the overly biscuity pastry and this slice rated as disappointing as the sausage roll first course. Furthermore, the roll was so small that I had to go get something else to eat to afterwards to end up with a filling lunch.
Coda: The next day I discovered from a co-worker who happens to live in St Ives that La Petite Lorraine had actually closed down recently, and been replaced by a different patisserie. I had actually seen the new shop on the same premises, but they didn’t sell vanilla slices, so didn’t try it.
Sausage roll: 3/10
Vanilla slice: 3/10