18 Gymea Bay Road, Gymea
Mrs Snot Block & Roll suggested an excursion to the southern suburbs of Sydney on a cool spring Sunday to check out the Art & Design Market at the Hazelhurst Art Centre in Gymea.
After browsing around the stalls for a while, we decided to go to a nearby bakery we’d scoped out earlier, helpfully named “The Portuguese Bakery” so that you know exactly what sort of bakery it is. The idea of some lunch finished off with a fresh Portuguese tart was appealing. As we approached, we could see a few tables out on the footpath, perfect for us and Canine Snot Block & Roll, but they looked pretty busy – a good sign, but tricky if we wanted to sit. Fortunately, there was an empty table hidden in a corner and we settled in.
The bakery was small and very busy inside, with people queued up at the counter to make their orders either for sit-in or take-away. The place had a nice range of bakes goods, from loaves of delicious looking bread, to muffins and small cakes, some French looking Viennoiserie, a few types of meat pies and savoury pastries, and as expected a large display full of the classic Portuguese egg custard tarts. An effusive and ebullient guy who may have been the owner was directing staff from behind the coffee machine, organising all the orders and chatting with the customers.
Everything looked delicious. We selected some savouries to start, and Mrs SB&R got a coffee, while I checked out the tarts. Now here’s the cool thing. We travelled to Portugal earlier this year, and of course tried many custard tarts while over there. They were all the very traditional sort – small tarts of ultra crispy and flaky pastry, filled with the just barely set sweet egg custard, baked with a golden brown film on top. They were great, but they were very similar everywhere.
But when a traditional baker emigrates to a country like Australia, they adapt their business to the local conditions. Most of the tarts were the traditional sort, but this Portuguese baker had incorporated Australian dishes (the meat pies) and flavours into their repertoire. And so they also had passionfruit, orange, raspberry, and fig custard tarts. Passionfruit is one of the most Aussie flavours there is, so I ordered a traditional tart, sprinkled with cinnamon please, plus a passionfruit tart. They did not have any sausage rolls, but the chicken and vegetable pie I had was very good, and showed how well this baker had adapted to the local market. The traditional tart was delightful, but the passionfruit was truly wonderful. It had a layer of fresh passionfruit pulp in the bottom of the pastry shell, underneath the custard. The fruity tang was the perfect complement to the sweet and creamy custard, adding a whole new dimension of deliciousness. I don’t know if this baker had invented this particular combination (Google suggests probably not), but this combo is quite possibly even better than a traditional Portuguese tart.
Hidden in a lower corner of the display, I had overlooked a tray of vanilla slices! Thankfully Mrs SB&R was on the ball and pointed them out, so I added one of those to my order as well. In fact, they had not only large sized ones, but also ultra-petite bite-sized micro-vanilla-slices, making cute petit-fours with a selection of other teeny pastries.
But the large ones weren’t all that large – this being probably the smallest vanilla slice to have been reviewed on this site. It was presented on a shiny silver tray, with knife and fork, but there was no need for those as it was easy to pick up and bite. The slice has thick biscuity-looking pastry, an appealing light mid-brown in colour, and was topped with the traditional brown and white “matchstick” icing pattern. Visually the most interesting part was the ultra-thin layers of custard – two of them between three pastry sheets. The custard could not have been more than a couple of millimetres thick, and the whole slice only about 30 mm tall, which is very much on the flat side.
The first bite revealed that the pastry was flaky but had no real crunch to it. It wasn’t truly soggy and still had some bite to it, as if it had just lost that crispness, which was a shame. The custard is thick and eggy with just a faint hint of vanilla – it’s not at all like the soft creamy custard of the Portuguese tarts, but rather a much more Australian firm set custard. The matchstick icing has more of a vanilla flavour, which is actually nice rather than just plain sugar sweetness, and it’s pleasantly thin and not overpowering. It balances the flavours pretty well. Taste-wise, this is a perfectly fine vanilla slice, but it’s let down by the soft pastry and simply not enough custard. A fresh, crisp one would probably be pretty good, but the pastry let-down means this barely gets a passing grade.
Vanilla slice: 5/10