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.
The patisserie sits in a heritage building on the corner of the wonderfully named Bong Bong Street, which is the main street of Bowral. The livery and logos on the exterior are in an eclectic mix of Gothic blackletter, brush-stroke cursive, and Art Deco fonts. But what they lack in typographical design skills they clearly make up for in baking. It’s the height of lunch time as we approach, and there is a long queue of patrons waiting to get sustenance. Outside in the shade of a tent cloth are several tables, which see a busy stream of customers munching on pies, pastries, and other assorted goodies.
The pie selection is fairly basic, with an array of favourites but nothing terribly exotic or original. There is a spinach and ricotta roll to cater for vegetarians, and one basic sausage roll, with the meat filling remaining anonymous rather than emblazoned on the menu as pork or beef or whatever. The vanilla slices are shown proudly on a shelf in the glass display cabinet, each one topped with an individual label indicating this is the slice that won the best vanilla slice award at the Sydney Royal Show. I order one with a sausage roll, and take them outside to the tables to eat.
The sausage roll is fat but short, with a golden orange-yellow colour. The pastry is thick and extremely flaky to the touch, wrapped around a portion of meat that protrudes suggestively from one end. As far as visual inspection goes, this looks very promising indeed.
On biting, the pastry indeed turns out to be excellent; it is light and flaky and buttery and baked to perfection. The meat filling inside is moist and well spiced. The flavour is slightly peppery, with visible black specks of pepper throughout. There are also small chunks of onion, but I detect no signs of orange or green that would betray pieces of carrot or freshly chopped herbs. The meat is firmly packed and dense, but soft and deliciously juicy. The good amount of spiciness works well to relieve the richness of what is obviously good quality meat. Combined with the close-to-perfect pastry, this is a killer combination and I am sad when the last mouthful disappears. If this quality continues into the vanilla slice, we are really in for a treat.
The slice shows three layers of pastry with a crisp, biscuity look. Sandwiched between are two layers of a rich looking, deep yellow custard. The white icing on top is quite thick at around 2mm or so, with intricate brown swirls of a pattern more complex than usually seen on a humble snot block. Clearly someone has taken their time in decorating this. The slice was clearly made in a large slab, and comes precision cut with lovely sharp edges, as though sliced by a laser. The icing is very firm and solid, resisting finger impressions, but the whole construction shows quite a bit of wobble when shaken gently on the table.
On picking up and biting, the middle layers slide right out, dropping custard all over the paper tray! This is a very messy experience. The pastry is crisp and firm, with a strong biscuity snap, and lots of flaky layers. It’s marvellous. The custard is slightly lumpy with a nicely rustic, home made texture; but the flavour is very subtle, there could definitely be a touch more vanilla in it. With the heat of my fingers on this hot day, the icing begins to melt after a minute or two and becomes very thick and sticky. The overall result is really messy- it would have been the messiest slice ever if not for the complete self-annihilation seen at Oaks Avenue Patisserie. The icing provides a plain, bland sweetness, and just a touch too much with its thickness. Overall though, this is a very very good slice, combining almost perfect textures of pastry and custard, and any criticism is really nitpicking on the finer details of the vanilla flavour. It’s great, but there are better slices out there. But as far as combined scores go, you’d be hard pressed to find a better roll and slice combo than this anywhere.
Sausage roll: 9/10
Vanilla slice: 9/10