Shop 8/1380 Pacific Highway, Turramurra, New South Wales
On a fine winter Sunday afternoon, after a relatively light lunch, the call of afternoon tea beckoned, and I decided to make the trip and check out a place that garners a mention in various “best vanilla slice in Sydney” discussion threads on the Internet. The place is Pierre’s Patisserie, on the Pacific Highway in Turramurra, in Sydney’s northern suburbs.
According to the potted history on the website, Pierre’s was founded in 1976 by immigrant Frenchman Pierre Cantin. He was not, however a pastry chef, so hired two chefs, who preceded to build a reputation in the local area. The current owner and chef is the son of one of those two, and appears to have maintained the local praise for this establishment.
I arrived mid-afternoon and found two other customers being served ahead of me, indicating good business relatively late on a Sunday afternoon. The shop was full of delicious looking sweet pastries, tarts, and cakes, as well as fresh bread and savour pastries such as quiches, pies, and sausage rolls. I scanned for a vanilla slice and beheld, wonder of wonders, not one, but two different types! A quick question of the woman behind the counter led to the explanation that the only difference was in the topping, either the traditional white icing with brown stripes, or a simple dusting of icing sugar.
Not being overly keen on powdered sugar, mostly because of the accidental inhalation problem, I opted for icing, plus a sausage roll, to be eaten on the al fresco tables located out front. While this area is a pleasant mixture of sun and shade, it suffers a bit from facing the highway and its rather noisy traffic. But never mind, we’re here to sample the food.
The sausage roll comes on a large white plate, with a small packet of tomato sauce and some cutlery. On looks, it doesn’t seem very promising. The roll is long and skinny, and a little bit pale, fading to a delicate light golden brown on top, where a there is a dusting of loose material like fine breadcrumbs. It looks as though it might be a bit dry. Eschewing the sauce, I pick it up by hand and take a bite. The pastry is not as bad as it looks – it’s actually pretty good, with a high flakiness factor and enough butter to avoid any accusation of dryness, but without being greasy either. The toasted crumbs on top add a little bit of rough texture, which is interesting and not unpleasant.
The meat inside is also a bit better than it looks. It has a touch of herbs and spices, subtle, but enough to be sure that you’re not chowing down on unseasoned meat. There are a few tiny chunks of onion and a good deal of fresh chopped green herbs visible. It’s nicely moist without heading into juicy territory. Really, there’s nothing wrong with this roll at all, either the meat or the pastry, and it’s definitely on the positive side of average, though on the other hand nothing about it really stands out either. A good solid entry, but nothing great.
The vanilla slice is an imposing block, with a solid rectangular prism shape that could quite possibly be used to stop a door. It’s both long and tall, exceeding average expectations in two spatial dimensions, and about average in width. The construction is three layers of quite thick pastry, which is evidently very flaky and brittle, judging from the numerous shards and fragments littering the outside surface of the custard, as well as the brown paper cupcake pan it sits on and the small plate that it is served on. Sandwiched between are two thick layers of custard, a creamy mid-yellow colour, and the whole is topped with the traditional white icing with wavy brown lines. This is a vanilla slice you could build a house with.
It comes with a knife and fork(!), but as usual I attempt to eat it by hand. And it’s a tough job, as the custard oozes out lusciously with the first bite, and the centre slab of pastry skews to one side. It’s messy, but delicious. The pastry is about as crisp as any pastry I’ve ever had, but light and made of dozens of layers of paper thin sheets, so it crackles and fragments easily. It crunches appealingly in the mouth, making a wonderful contrast with the silky smooth custard. The custard has a moderate hit of vanilla, definitely there, but not over the top. The icing adds the extra hit of sweetness that complements the pastry and understated custard. It’s a gooey, flaky, sticky mess, and it’s absolutely delicious. This is about as good as it gets, held back from a perfect score only by lack of any particular extra something to put it right over the top.
Sausage roll: 6/10
Vanilla slice (with icing): 9/10