2070 Bells Line of Road, Bilpin, New South Wales
On a lazy Sunday drive into the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, I like to head out on the Great Western Highway, and then return via the more northerly route of Bells Line of Road, which is more scenic and has less traffic. Along the way you pass through the small settlement of Bilpin, which with its cool highland climate, is a great place to grow apples and stone fruits. Lining the road through this area are several roadside stalls where you can stop and buy fresh fruit and vegetables. Some are mere shacks, while a couple are larger and offer tables and cafe refreshments.
On this day we stopped for an afternoon break at The Pines Orchard Cafe, right across the road from the more well known Bilpin Fruit Bowl with its giant colourful fibreglass bowl of fruit out the front. The Fruit Bowl has a small kitchen right in the middle of the shop, where ladies make and bake apple pies seemingly constantly, and you can buy them either hot out of the oven, or cooled down to take home. The Pines Orchard is not quite so fancy, but upon entering and perusing the bakery cabinet I spot something which looks like a vanilla slice. They’re square cut slabs resting in a tray, topped with a delicious looking layer of passionfruit icing. Mrs Snot Block & Roll wants to get a coffee, so I ask her to add a vanilla slice to her order and I head across the room to find a table.
She comes to the table and tells me that when she asked for a vanilla slice, the lady behind the cash register asked her, “Do you mean the one with the lattice pastry or the passionfruit icing?” She knew I had my eye on the passionfruit icing, so asked for one of those. Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed anything with a lattice pastry in the display. I sit and wait, anticipating the flavour of the vanilla slice.
But when the lady brings it (and the coffee) to the table, the first thing I notice is that it has no pastry. The second thing I notice is that it has no custard. This thing which they referred to when asked for a “vanilla slice” is a slab of shortbread topped with a thick layer of passionfruit icing, a good 6 mm or so thick. This is distinctly not what I was expecting; the appearance in the display cabinet had been utterly misleading.
Okay… I’ve paid for it so I may as well try it. Picking it up and taking a bite, the first thing I notice is that it does indeed taste of vanilla. Okay, so: pastry, custard, vanilla flavour – it has one out of the three requirements at least. After experimenting with each component separately, I determine that it is the icing that is vanilla, with some passionfruit swirled in.
The whole thing is almost sickeningly sweet and very dense. I like a good shortbread, but not with a geologically significant stratum of icing on top. I struggle to get through it, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a slice defeat me. After finishing, I need a big glass of water to wash the sugar down. The first few bites were quite nice, but it’s just too sweet and too much. And it ain’t a vanilla slice.
“Vanilla slice with passionfruit icing”: 1/10