Shop 18, Strand Arcade, 412-414 George St, Sydney, New South Wales
This is a tiny cafe in the upmarket Strand Arcade in the heart of Sydney. The Strand is an historical Victorian era shopping arcade, lovingly restored and full of quaint little shops that offer exclusive services such as bridal fashion, jewellery, antiques, high fashion, millinery, a shoe maker (an actual workshop with a guy hand-making shoes from large sheets of leather), fancy chocolates, cigars, a shoe-shine service, and a barber with fully reclining chairs on which men lie back and have their faces lathered for a cut-throat shave.
Amidst this, Sweet Infinity offers tea and coffee, and a selection of fancy looking and lovingly made baked goods. Mrs Snot Block and Roll and I looked in a few months ago and noticed that they serve pies and sausage rolls, as well as various cakes and slices, including a vanilla slice. So we stored it away in our memories for another day. Today was that day.
The cafe really is tiny. You can count the tables on the fingers of one hand. And you’ll only need two fingers. And each of the two tables is tiny, with just two small stools apiece and room for two people to have a cup of coffee and maybe share a slice of cake. I ordered a sausage roll and a vanilla slice, while Mrs SB&R had a spinach and ricotta roll and coffee. This place is not cheap, but you expect that being in the Strand Arcade: The sausage roll cost $5.50 and the vanilla slice a whopping $6.50!
The sausage roll is labelled in the display case as “Beef sausage roll with lots of flavour”, which sounded promising. Unfortunately, the display case is refrigerated, and all the hot food has to be reheated in a microwave oven behind the counter, which is never a good sign. It arrives at our table a few minutes later, after the coffee and the vanilla slice. It’s served on a pristine white plate, with a knife and fork.
Eschewing the cutlery and picking up the roll in my hand, I notice it is extremely hot – much hotter than a typical roll served hot from a pie warmer. I need to be careful taking a bite to avoid burning my mouth on it. The pastry looks reasonable, but the fact that it’s been microwaved lowers expectations immediately, as that often makes pastry soggy. There is still a slight crispness to the pastry, but it’s obvious that this would have been better fresh out of the oven after baking, rather than reheated in this fashion. It has lost whatever crisp flakiness it had and is now a bit flabby and undistinguished. The meat is very uniform in texture, with no chunks of onion or anything. “Lots of flavour” is a lie, as it is quite bland, with not much in the way of herbs or spices to it. On further biting and chewing, the meat reveals a slight texture of soft graininess, like it has softened semolina or something in it. I fear this betrays some cereal filler in the meat. Altogether, it’s really quite bland and flavourless. There is nothing truly terrible about this roll, but every part of it is solidly below average at best.
Moving on to the vanilla slice, the very first thing I noticed, even looking at them in the display case before ordering one, is that it has no pastry layer on top! They look like they have been assembled with a thin layer of sponge cake on top of the custard. Looking closely at the one presented again on a white plate, with a fork, I can see that the layers are as follows: pastry, custard, pastry, custard, sponge. The middle layer of pastry has split between its flaky layers, and the upper layers are skewed a little bit as served. Testing this out, I discover that in fact, the upper half is completely loose from the lower and can be manipulated freely!
Picking this up in hand is a bit tricky, but achievable, with some care to realign the layers. On biting the pastry is soft and pliable with only that residual sort of reluctant soundless snap as it parts between your teeth. The “custard” turns out to be more like a whipped layer of mock cream. The whole thing is very soft and light and creamy and sugary, like a Japanese bakery’s take on a vanilla slice by removing all the good bits and replacing them with overly sweet and fluffy emulations. It’s worse for being so bad an imitation, as opposed to being just a sweet creamy thing that isn’t claiming to be a vanilla slice. I think the “custard” might actually be just whipped cream, with a hint of vanilla flavour. It’s pretty awful as a vanilla slice, but if it was presented as a “vanilla sponge cream slice” or something – and you liked that sort of thing – it might be okay. Well, except the pastry is soggy.
Beef sausage roll: 3/10
Vanilla slice: 2/10