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.
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2/119 Harbord Road, Freshwater
It’s the first day of spring! What better way to celebrate than by taking Canine Snot Block & Roll to a lovely dog park by the beach and following up with a trek to a new pie shop? My normal haunt on the northern beaches of Sydney is Fran and Sylvia’s Upper Crust at Collaroy, but today I searched Google Maps for something new not too far away. I spied Cherie’s Pies and Cakes, which is open until 14:30 on Sundays, so made for a perfect lunch stop after letting Canine Snot Block & Roll run around and chase tennis balls for a while. (That’s Canine Snot Block & Roll, front and centre in this photo:)
Cherie’s is on the moderately busy Harbord Road, and I was wondering where to find a parking spot as I approached, when lo! A small row of shops appeared, with 90° parking on the street right out front. There were a few spaces empty, so I grabbed one. The row consists of a generic take-away food and mixed grocery business, Cherie’s, a fruit shop, a butcher, a newsagent, a pharmacy, and a bottle shop nestled side by side in the one long building. There’s no seating inside Cherie’s, with just enough space for a counter and a drinks fridge, but there are four small tables on the footpath outside.
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85A Bay Road, Waverton, NSW
The Grumpy Baker is a small chain of artisan bakeries with a handful of locations scattered across Sydney. They specialise in a range of sourdough breads, but also have a small selection of sweets and savoury pastries. On recent expeditions in the car with my dog to our favourite dog park, we’ve driven past the Waverton shop each time, and for some time I thought I must try it. Then one day after the dog had had enough exercise we walked up the hill to check it out, buying a loaf of delicious bread and a couple of sweet slices for dessert that evening. I also noted a pie oven on the counter, with several delicious looking labels, but no pies as it was close to closing time. I vowed to return one day in good time to sample the hot savouries.
The Waverton shop is within a long walk of home, so one day while at home alone I took to the streets to get some exercise, climbing up and down the numerous hills of the North Sydney area. The exercise was well needed, because the end goal was The Grumpy Baker and an appointment with that pie oven for lunch. I planned to get a sausage roll and a pie, but when I arrived and saw the size of the pies and rolls, I quickly recalibrated and settled for just one sausage roll. The label said it was a “sausage roll with caramelised onions and dates”. And it looked huge. Plenty for a meal all by itself. I took the roll on the sky blue china plate and sought a seat at a table out the front, next to a large group of retiree-aged cyclists, who had stopped for a coffee break. As I sat down, one of the staff came out and chided the cyclists for rearranging the outdoor tables, pointing out a line on the footpath beyond which the cafe was not legally authorised to place furniture. The cyclists pushed the extra table in a bit, but the staff lady insisted they pull it completely inside the legal boundary.
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Rua dos Clérigos 64, Porto, Portugal
Continuing our trip around Portugal, Mrs Snot Block & Roll and I stopped next at Porto, home of port wine and, from 1990-1993, J. K. Rowling. While walking around and admiring the scenic sights of this lovely city, we passed a number of pastelerias, and saw in the window of one what looked like the most amazing vanilla slices. They were large cubical blocks, with about 98% filling in between two thin layers of pastry. But having eaten recently, I wasn’t up for trying one at the time.
But then late in the day we visited the Clérigos Church and tower. This is situated near the top of one of Porto’s many hills, so the tall bell tower is visible from all over the city. After checking it out, we had dinner nearby and the were walking down the road back to our hotel when we spotted the pasteleria O Forno dos Clérigos (“the oven of Clérigos”), with an amazing array of luscious looking sweets in the window and the display cases inside.
Continue reading O Forno dos Clérigos, Porto
Rua das Padarias 8, 2710-623, Sintra
Business meetings done, it was time to get on to the vacation part of my trip to Portugal. Rather than spend all the time in Lisbon, Mrs Snot Block & Roll and I took a 40 minute train ride out to the village of Sintra, just outside the sprawling suburbs of Lisbon. Sintra lies nestled in a range of hills where the old royal families of Portugal built their castles and palaces, so it’s both a natural scenery wonderland and a cultural and historical site worth visiting. The village has several steep pedestrian paths, often with steps required to climb up or down the hillside. At the top of one such street we found a cozy cafe to stop for lunch: Pasteleria Vila Velha.
We chose quiches for lunch, and for a sweet treat afterwards I got one of the mil folhas (Portuguese for mille feuille; i.e. a vanilla slice) sitting in the display.
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Avenida da Igreja 2, 1700-204, Lisbon, Portugal
On a combined business/vacation trip, I flew into Lisbon around lunchtime on my first ever trip to Portugal. Lisbon’s airport is very close to the city centre, and even closer to my hotel in the Entre Campos neighbourhood north of the city centre. So close that rather than take a taxi or the metro, I decided to walk from the airport to the hotel. The distance was not a problem, but the day was hot and sunny. Before we left, Mrs Snot Block & Roll had suggested that we could stop about half way and have a drink at a cafe. Checking on Google Maps, I had located a likely sounding cafe named Pau de Canela (“Cinnamon Stick” in Portuguese), with good reviews.
Portugal is famous for its traditional custard tarts, the pastéis de nata, but when we arrived at the cafe what caught my eye were some intriguing looking vanilla slices. They were labelled “mil folhas”, which is clearly the Portuguese equivalent of “mille feuille”, so that was a good start. Mrs SB&R ordered a coffee and grabbed a mil folhas for me. No sausage rolls in sight, alas, so it seems we still have a thing or two to teach the Portuguese about baking.
The slice has a traditional looking construction although it is quite flat and the custard is a thin single layer sandwiched between two very thick sheets of flaky pastry. The custard is a very dark yellow colour, darker than almost any other I’ve seen, and there’s not a lot of it. The pastry looks nice and flaky, and is topped with the traditional white icing with brown swirly pattern running across it diagonally. The slice is supplied on a plate with a knife and fork. Being in a foreign country, I’m a bit reluctant to commit a diplomatic faux pas by eating it wth my hands in front of a busy cafe crowd, so I rely on the cutlery.
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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.
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Last time I visited the Drummoyne Bakehouse, I reviewed the sausage roll and one of the two different vanilla slices available. Yes, they had two types: one with vanilla icing, and one with iced sugar on top. I chose the vanilla icing, and the slice earned the maximum 10/10 with its combination crisp shard-like pastry, rich vanilla custard, and extra vanilla and sweetness from the icing.
This time, I had to try the second option. After selecting a pie for the savoury part of lunch, I took it and my icing sugar slice over to Drummoyne Park, to sit in the shade of a tree and let our dog play in the grass while eating.
The slice is the same construction as the icing version, with the only difference being the dusting of powdered white sugar on top in lieu of the pale yellow icing. The three layers of pastry looks crisp and well baked, thick and biscuity, with lots of flakes evident. The custard is pale yellow and creamy looking.
As with the previous slice, the first bite threatens to demolish the slice, with shards of pastry going everywhere and soft custard oozing out from between the pastry pressure plates. Blobs of custard drip onto the paper bag and I have to manoeuvre the slice carefully through all three rotational axes to avoid more falling out. It’s a nibble and lick job, as biting the layers just squeezes more custard out.
Continue reading Drummoyne Bakehouse Cafe, Drummoyne, pt. 2
364 Pacific Highway, Lindfield, New South Wales
It’s been a long time between drinks here at Snot Block & Roll, mostly precipitated by the acquisition a few months ago of Scully, our toy poodle puppy. Raising a puppy limits time available for other activities, alas reviewing sausage rolls and vanilla slices among them! But happily Scully is growing into an adolescent dog and is becoming trained, so it’s easier to take her on trips and to find spare time once more.
On this fine spring day, partly cloudy so not too hot, we ventured forth on an expedition to a small local market at East Lindfield. It was indeed small, but pleasant because it wasn’t the same stallholders who travel around the north Sydney area and can be found at a different local market each weekend. There was a burger van and a stall selling Russian food like blinis and pirogies, but we decided to leave the market and seek out a bakery nearby: Christophe’s Pâtisserie Française at Lindfield proper, a short drive west.
Christophe’s is part of a row of old style narrow shop fronts directly facing the Pacific Highway in its role as the main artery through Lindfield. It’s noisy and there’s nothing but a strip of bitumen footpath between the highway and the shop fronts. But the patisserie invites with a display of delicious looking French pastries in the window and an impressively boastful array of certificates plastering one window with pictures of gold and silver medals. These turn out to be local business awards, so not an especially wide competition, but still, presumably it means there is something worth checking out here.
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463 Miller Street, Cammeray, New South Wales
The previously reviewed Cammeray Cakes has closed down, but just a few doors down the street now sits Maggio’s Italian Bakery. This is an establishment that was spawned out of the nearby Maggio’s Cafe, which has been an institution in Cammeray since 1998. The new bakery shopfront takes some of the strain from the always busy cafe, allowing people to buy loaves and take-away cakes and pastries without battling the sit-down clientele of the cafe.
Being an Italian bakery, they are heavy on cannoli, biscotti, bomboloni, and various tortes, but they didn’t have anything resembling a vanilla slice when I scoped the place out. They do however have a pork sausage roll, as well as a small selection of meat pies. I ordered a roll and retreated to a nearby wooden seat under a shady tree outside to inspect their take on the Australian classic.
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