Careel Shopping Village, 1 Careel Head Rd, Avalon Beach, New South Wales
Oliver’s Pies is one shop in a tiny “shopping village” consisting of this pie shop, a pizza place, and a chicken and burger joint, on Barrenjoey Road as you head north in Sydney towards Palm Beach. I pulled into the tiny car park (holding about a dozen cars) around 11 am and found that Oliver’s not only makes a wide selection of pies and sausage rolls, but also several sweet treats, including chocolate eclairs, custard tarts, apple pies, and vanilla slices! So naturally the choice from the menu was dictated.
The place was rather popular, even at 11am with plenty of customers pulling up in the car park and picking up a pie. The pie of the day was smoked fish, which sounded intriguing, and I would have tried it had I not been moderately full already from a large breakfast.
The shop is small, with just a counter for serving, but outside the shop under the verandah roof are a couple of long bench counters with stools, where you can sit and observe the traffic as you eat. The sausage roll comes in a nostalgic brown paper bag, as does the vanilla slice, though the slice is also placed in a pristine white cardboard cake tray to keep it structurally sound while carrying it. I grab a seat and inspect the goods.
The sausage roll is smoothly glazed, long and thinnish in shape, with delicately cut diagonal vents in the pastry on top. As I pull it out and place it on the paper bag for photographing, it leaves a big greasy stain on the brown paper.
The pastry turns out to be soft, with just a tiny bit of crisp flake to it. Nothing to write home about, I’m afraid, but I’ve had worse. The filling is meaty and very spicy: salty and peppery. It tastes very much like the “sausage mince” you can buy to make rissoles. There is some trace evidence of herbs, with what might be an odd fleck of tarragon and maybe half a fennel seed stuck in there. It’s decently juicy meat, and has a fairly good texture, and is certainly seasoned enough. As I eat, my fingers get slippery from the pastry, which is okay but a bit soft and quite greasy. Overall, about average.
Turning to the vanilla slice, I pull it out of its bag and open up the neat cake tray to lie flat so I can get a good view. The slice is an astonishingly perfect rectangular prism with immaculate straight edges. You could put this vanilla slice under a temperature and humidity controlled glass dome in Paris and use it to define a Cartesian coordinate system using it as a reference. I wouldn’t be surprised if the dimensions were in the ratio of three consecutive Fibonacci numbers. It’s two thin layers of pastry flanking a single large block of very pale yellow custard, all topped with a ripple-finished layer of what looks like buttercream icing, which has a few passionfruit seeds in it. An unusual choice for the icing, but it can be good if it works. The slice wobbles stiffly, betraying perhaps a bit of gelatine in the mixture.
It’s easy to pick up and bite with no mess as the pastry is thin and a bit soft, with just a touch of biscuity bite, almost like al dente pasta. It doesn’t shatter into flaky shards, but merely forms a withholding edge to the custard, like a row of agapanthus along the side of a lawn. The custard is disappointingly bland and jelly-like, it’s almost more like coconut jelly served at a Chinese restaurant. There’s no hint of vanilla whatsoever. The most flavourful part is the icing, sweet and sugary with hints of lemon and passionfruit. It is a buttercream but a fairly stiff one and the fingers don’t sink into it much. Overall the balance is really off, with large chunks of flavourless gelatinous custard offset by thin bits of limp pastry and the intense sugar sweetness of the icing. Avoid.
Sausage roll: 5/10.
Vanilla slice: 2/10.