153 Katoomba St, Katoomba, New South Wales
Katoomba is a small town in the heart of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, and a perfect destination for a day trip. It’s on the edge of the Blue Mountains National Park, which is part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, and walking distance from some of the biggest tourist attractions in the park. As such, it has a host of shops, cafes, restaurants, and – strung in a sequence along the main street – three bakeries within the space of about 20 metres. They are on different positions along the poshness to down-to-earthness scale. Possibly the most down-to-earth is the Blue Mountains Buttery, which has some good old working-class vanilla slices where the others tend to go for fancier cakes and pastries.
On this day, a plate of four slices was sitting next to delicious looking custard tarts topped with strawberries. But I was here for the slice, and ordered one, taking it outside to a nearby bus stop seat to examine. The first thing I notice is that the slice is square, rather than the traditional rectangular shape (usually roughly a 2:1 aspect ratio). Okay, not so traditional, but shape isn’t really a major determiner of excellence. The second thing I notice is that it has really thick icing. Really thick. it’s a traditional white icing with the parenthesis-shaped brown lines on it, and its layered on like pancake make-up. Below the icing, there is an equally thick layer of pastry, which shows many fine layers separated by thin air gaps, which promises to be seriously flaky if it’s crisp. Underneath this is a single solid block of custard, a mid-yellow colour, and with very smooth and straight knife-cut edges that betray a hint of gelatinous nature. It looks like this could be a good old wobbly snot block, rather than a more refined and creamy custard. And finally all this rests on a second layer fo the thick and multifariously layered pastry.
Picking it up and taking a bite, it yields surprisingly easily, not disintegrating into the sticky explosion that I was half expecting. The pastry gives way after a modicum of resistance, with a snappy bite that doesn’t exert so much pressure on the custard block that it oozes uncontrollably. The custard maintains a good amount of structural integrity, helped by its slightly rubbery nature, and despite the pastry crunching into many delightful layers, there is virtually no mess generated. The icing has a hard sugary layer on top that protects my fingers from digging into its sticky interior, and the whole thing is easy to eat without requiring monkey-like agility.
The pastry is the best bit. It’s firm and crisp, but gives nicely to the bite, then presents a good crunchy texture to contrast with the custard. The custard has a subtle to medium vanilla flavour – enough to know it’s definitely there, but not a big kick in the face that brings to mind visions of vanilla orchids ripening under a canopy of tropical trees. The texture is a bit on the gelatinous side, but not too far gone so as to be unpleasant. I like my custard a bit creamier, but this would suit a less discerning palate just fine, I think. The worst part is the icing. There’s just too darn much of it. It’s sugary and sickly sweet, with no particular flavour to add other than sweetness, and the rest of it doesn’t need that much. If you’d scraped the icing to half or maybe a third of this thickness, it would have been a much better balance of flavours melding in the mouth.
Overall, it’s not terrible. It’s actually pretty decent – the crunch and flavours are mostly good, let down by the slightly rubbery custard and just way too much icing.
Vanilla slice: 6/10