239a Victoria Road, Gladesville, New South Wales
I was passing through Gladesville late one morning when I felt the need to stop and have a break, and a snack. After parking the car, I used Google Maps to search for a bakery in the strip of shops that runs along the main artery of Victoria Road. It showed Baker’s Delight (a bread bakery chain – no hot food or cakes), Sunny Vi Huong Hot Bread, and Art of Baking. I tried Art of Baking first, but discovered it to be a super fancy wedding cake place, with no actual cakes for sale – just a door leading to a tiny room with enough space for maybe three people to stand, with a counter where you sign up to place an order for a $1000 cake. I clearly wasn’t going to get a sausage roll here.
So I walked down a block to Sunny Vi Huong Hot Bread, nestled on a corner spot by a narrow laneway. Now I’m not one to judge a book by its cover, but I was not particularly surprised to find that this was a Vietnamese bakery, almost indistinguishable from the dozens of others that populate suburbs all across Sydney. They usually do a good range of French style breads, plus the odd pastries. The better ones use the bread and fresh ingredients to assemble banh mi pork rolls, as this one offered from a display case at the front of the shop.
I peered in and saw that the display of pastries included one “French vanilla slice”, but I couldn’t see any evidence of pies or sausage rolls until after I decided to get the slice and strode deep into the shadowy recesses of the shop. Once inside, I spotted a tired looking bain-marie display with four compartments containing pies, quiches, rolls, and a few other hot savoury pastries. Now this is not your normal way to keep savouries hot and I was a little bit put off by it, but I figured in for a penny, in for a pound, and ordered a sausage roll and vanilla slice.
The lady behind the counter turned to the back of the shop and went over to a far wall, where following her with my curious gaze I spotted a proper pie warmer, full of pies and sausage rolls. Aha! Well that was more promising, I must say. I guess the ones in the front counter are just for display so that customers can see what’s available. She also grabbed the last vanilla slice and presented both items contained in individual white paper bags. The total cost was a reasonable $6.50.
Taking them outside, I looked for a place to sit and consume my catch. Victoria Road is dirty and noisy with traffic, so I turned down the laneway and walked half a block to where there was a stone wall protecting an elevated lawn, offering a convenient sitting spot. There I sat and inspected the goods.
The sausage roll looked decent enough, although the pastry showed signs of being a bit thick and not puffed up a lot in the inner regions. The outside surface had a nice golden brown egg wash sheen, with a bit of flakiness, but not as delicate and light in texture as it could be. The filling looked promising, with a generous amount showing at each end, nicely crisped from baking, and obvious large chunks of onion for flavour plus hints of green herbs. I could see the flaw in the pastry, but otherwise this looked pretty decent, and I was looking forward to taking my first bite.
It was luke warm. The pastry outer layer was the best thing about it, with the inner layers undercooked and doughy. The meat was not off-puttingly raw or anything, it had obviously been cooked at some point. It just wasn’t anywhere near hot enough for serving. The texture was a bit bland – that mince mixed with breadcrumbs effect. The flavour was not bad – it was sufficiently seasoned and had hints of pepper and herbs, and the onion chunks were great. Well, I can put up with luke-warm. But bite two was cold. They’d obviously just chucked this in the pie warmer from the fridge and it hadn’t had time to warm up. I returned the remainder of the roll to its white paper shroud for a decent burial later on. This roll could have been okay, maybe, if served hot. But we’ll never know, as I’m not buying another one here ever again.
Put off by this horrible disappointment, I turned to the vanilla slice, now the only thing standing between me and starvation. And it didn’t look promising. The shape was thin and long and tall, and the pastry was puffed up and very thick, three layers sandwiching two thinnish layers of suspiciously bright yellow custard. The top was dusted with icing sugar – never my favourite topping. On the plus side, it looked pretty fresh and obviously hand made one piece at a time (rather than cut from a slab), with the custard showing dab marks from a pastry knife all over. So it might be delicate and light – I suppose that’s where the “French” bit comes in.
The first bite showed that it wasn’t quite fresh enough, with the pastry partway to being soggy. It had no crunch at all, but more of an al dente pasta tooth feel. It could have been soggier, but this was definitely not a great start. The custard, on the other hand, was surprisingly good. Rich and creamy and smooth, with enough vanilla that I could definitely taste it. Not gelatinous at all, spreading out squishily with the pressure of biting through the pastry sheets, and with a good amount of sweetness. The custard was totally fine, and would have been great with decent pastry. Overall though the pastry definitely let this down, as well as the slightly under-generous portion size and custard:pastry ratio.
Sausage roll: 1/10 – the body was placed in a garbage skip down the back alley behind the shop
French vanilla slice: 4/10