Corner of Pacific Hwy and Masonite Rd, Heatherbrae NSW 2324
Note: This is a new review of a place visited in 2015 by my co-contributor.
I recently took a long overdue holiday trip – not overseas because of COVID, but rather a road trip up the coast north of Sydney. Driving north along the highway, there are various towns and rest stops along the way. One of them, about 170 km (or two hours driving) north of Sydney, is renowned for its pies and sausage rolls. Although I’ve passed this way a few times, I’ve never stopped here before: Heatherbrae’s Pies.
The place is right beside the highway, accessed by a roundabout intersection. It’s hard to miss, as there are multiple roadside billboards announcing its presence, starting from about 10 km away. We arrived in the middle of the lunch rush, about 12:30, and it was clear that this place is very popular. We had trouble finding a spot in the car park, and then there was a queue of about 25 people in front of us to order pies.
Of course, I was here to try the sausage roll and vanilla slice, but for a travelling lunch the addition of one of the famous pies was necessary. The range is moderately broad, but avoids going too exotic. Instead it sticks with traditional style classics such as steak & onion, pepper steak, steak & mushroom, and shepherd’s pie. The most exotic thing on the menu was a generic “curry steak”. None of your fancy city-style Thai green curry or chicken korma pies here.
They also had a variety of traditional baked sweets, with the vanilla slice heading the list, followed by custard tarts, apple pies, lamingtons, and so on. Again, solidly Aussie and not particularly influenced by our more recent expansion into multicultural influences. The vanilla slices look popular, as there is space for a huge tray of them, which has been whittled down to just a few remaining as I put in my order. I also ask for a pepper steak pie, but they are sold out and the next batch will take 20 minutes, so I opt for the “pie of the week” special instead: beef and Guinness.
Sitting down at a table on the veranda, I examine the sausage roll. It’s very small, almost bite sized, but was relatively cheap at $2.40 compared to the more normal sized cheese and spinach roll on the menu for $4.20. I guess most people get two or more of these? The pastry is crisp and golden with a shiny glaze, and very neatly wrapped around the filling which protrudes slightly from the ends. Clearly they have a production line process to cater to the large customer demand, rather than a finely hand-crafted approach.
The pastry is decent but not great. It has a bit of flakiness to it and isn’t greasy at all. It’s more kind of serviceable as a wrapper for the filling than something to enjoy in itself. The filling is spicy and peppery with nicely juicy meat that tastes like pork mince (rather than beef). There are tiny hints of what might be finely chopped onion, and specks of black pepper. It has a good texture and feels like a high quality meat filling, without any bulking agent like breadcrumbs. Overall, the result is pretty good, just disappointingly small.
The vanilla slice is also on the small side, but not nearly as oddly petite. It has a single layer of thick pale yellow custard sandwiched between very thin layers of crisp looking pastry, topped with icing sugar. The custard is ragged along the cut edges, which indicates a creaminess rather than gelatinousness, so that’s promising. It looks fresh, but the overall construction is not pretty, and the heavy custard to pastry ratio bodes for a texture contrast mismatch and a sloppy experience.
The pastry is crisp and flaky, but not solidly crunchy, and indeed there’s not nearly enough of it with just the two thin layers. The filling is creamy and sweet but with only a vague hint of vanilla. It has a good texture, but really needs more pastry for constrast, and to hold the thing together – it oozes custard uncontrollably in all directions under the pressure of bites. Overall the whole composition is somewhat disappointing – a passable sweet treat to round out a meal, and there are certainly worse examples out there, but nothing to get too excited about.
Sausage roll: 7/10
Vanilla slice: 6/10