142 Malabar Rd, South Coogee, New South Wales
A sunny late autumn morning is perfect for a morning tea, and for exploring new bakeries. We took a drive over to Coogee and continued south to the Bakehouse South Coogee, which sits on a traditional corner store site surrounded by residential properties, and right across the street form the sprawling old Randwick Cemetery, which is situated on a gentle hillside with wonderful views.
The bakehouse is busy, with plenty of locals popping in for a coffee and a croissant or something a bit more substantial. Besides bread and pasties, the bakers do an impressive line in cakes, with a couple of dozen mouth-watering varieties all on display. One is an amazing looking multi-colour iced rainbow cake, which is also available by the slice, sitting right next to the huge vanilla slices.
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930 Old Northern Rd, Glenorie NSW
Glenorie sits an hour or so’s drive from Sydney, in the rural northwestern region that seems to have escaped rampant suburbanisation and remains a haven for people who prefer a slower pace of life, wide open fields, and properties large enough to raise horses on. Amidst the small clusters of villages that exist to support this lifestyle sits the shopping region of Glenorie, with a supermarket and a handful of small stores selling scented soaps, hand made rag dolls, and antiques. And amongst these is the Glenorie Bakery, which seems to be a modern building but constructed in the style of a century old woolshed.
Walking inside reveals an expansive interior space, filled with all manner of antique farming, baking, and retail equipment. The decor is “1900s farmhouse”, and rust appears to be the decorating material of choice. There’s an old… plough or something hanging from the ceiling, wooden wagon wheels reclining against the walls, and sheafs of wheat decorating large rustic wooden shelves containing enough knick-knacks to stock a large antique shop or rural museum. There are some large dough mixing machines which look like they were retired some time before the Second World War.
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Avenue 16 Septembre 1947, Tende, France
Continuing our driving journey through Europe, we found ourselves passing through the lovely Parc National du Mercantour, hugging the Italian border in the south-east corner of France. We stopped at the small village of Tende, deep in the heart of the park, for a few hours to look at the museum, which houses displays of stone age people who lived in the region thousands of years ago, as well as to have a walk around and to get some lunch.
After sightseeing for a while, it was time to eat. Not much was open, but we found a cafe called La Merenda on the main street running through the village. It looked a little run down and not particularly promising in the food stakes, but there wasn’t much choice. They did have some quiches and a tart des legumes, but also in a small sweet pastry section there were lurking a few mille-feuilles, the French version of the humble vanilla slice. Well, this was an opportunity not to be missed.
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Via S. Gottardo, 6780 Airolo, Switzerland
Driving through the Alps from Switzerland to Italy, we passed through a number of small towns. As lunch time loomed, we stopped at the town of Airolo to look for some food. Not much was open, but we found a panetteria and pasticceria called Beffa. Being southern Switzerland, this was an Italian-speaking region. After some halting words with a young lady who didn’t speak any English, we managed to get some panini, freshly made in a back room. And sitting in the pastry display was a set of millefoglie, the Italian version of a vanilla slice.
We got a small round table in the dimly lit cafe section of the pasticceria. An adjacent table held five elderly men who were drinking espressos and having an animated discussion in Italian. This was the sort of place where old men gather to while away the hours gossiping with their friends. After eating our sandwiches, I turned my attention to the millefoglie presented on a similarly aged plate.
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Via Basilea 28, Lugano, Switzerland
On a driving holiday in Europe, we found ourselves checked into the Continental Parkhotel in Lugano, a lovely lakeside city in southern Switzerland. The hotel overlooks the old town, across a railway line, and consists of a grand old building, plus a newer annex where the cheaper rooms are.
Normally the breakfast buffets at hotels in this part of the world have a selection of hot food, bread, cold meats, cheeses, and fruit. Sometimes they have cakes or tarts. But as I surveyed the offerings on this fine morning, I spied, lurking between a row of doughnuts and muffins, a procession of vanilla slices! Having the luxury of taking whatever I wanted for breakfast, I first filled up on healthy things like muesli and fruit, before returning to the buffet to grab a vanilla slice.
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Grand Arcade, 7 Bong Bong St, Bowral, New South Wales
On a leisurely weekend drive through New South Wales’ Southern Highlands region, we stopped for lunch in Bowral, the town where Don Bradman grew up, and famous for the Bradman Oval and Bradman Museum. But in recent years, Bowral has become notable for a different, and culinarily oriented reason.
It is the home of the Gumnut Patisserie, established in 1995, and quick to win an impressive list of honours. It won the Baking Association of Australia award for best patisserie in New South Wales in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2012, and 2013. And as the comma at the end of the list on their window shows, they seem determined to win it again in the future. Not only this, but in 2015 they won the grand prize at the Sydney Royal Easter Agricultural Show for Best Vanilla Slice. Clearly this is a place we cannot ignore.
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9 Oaks Avenue, Dee Why, New South Wales
On a leisurely weekend drive to the beach suburb of Dee Why, we popped into Oaks Patisserie for an afternoon snack and cuppa. This is a small bakery on a somewhat dingy old retail strip just around the corner from the busy Pittwater Road, so the ambience is not great. Inside, however, is a mouth-watering array of cakes and pastries, which look colourful and artfully assembled. I ordered a sausage roll and vanilla slice and they were delivered by staff to one of the two outside tables for us to contemplate.
The sausage roll looks promising enough at first sight, with golden flaky pastry and ever so slightly burnt bits on the ends. However, on the first bite a different experience is revealed. The pastry is a little on the dry side, not greasy or buttery at all. The pastry case has pulled away from the meat filling, leaving a hollow space in between, but pastry is actually middling to okay.
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318 Chiswick High Street, Chiswick, London, UK
On a business trip to London, I was staying in the Chiswick area for a few days. My explorations of the Chiswick High Street on foot uncovered the delicious looking Valerie Patisserie, which enticed with a window display full of luscious cakes and pastries, crowned by a huge piece of decorative frilliness rendered in dark and white chocolate. Amongst the mouth-watering cakes and slices in the window was a neat row of milles-feuilles, looking for all the world like classic Aussie vanilla slices, complete with the traditional drawn brown icing lines on a top of white icing.
I discovered this early in the day, on a post-breakfast walk before a day full of business meetings, and had already bought a more robust scone from a nearby bakery to serve as morning tea. So I filed the shop away in memory, to return that evening after the work had been completed for the day and buy one of the slices to take back to my hotel after dinner for dessert. The price was £2.95, and for that the lady behind the counter, rather than tossing it in a brown paper bag as would happen back home, placed it in a neat cardboard box emblazoned with the logo of the patisserie, using no less than three logo stickers to seal the box. This was then carefully lowered into a paper carry bag with handles, again decorated with the shop’s logo.
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3/1A The Corso, Manly, New South Wales
After filling up on the amazing sausage roll around the corner at Infinity Bakery, I had to make a bit of a trek in search of a vanilla slice for dessert. Not too far, fortunately, for on the western end of The Corso lies The Corso Bakehouse, a typical old style Aussie bakery with a store front and a counter, selling cakes, slices, pies, and freshly baked bread, as well as drinks from a fridge emblazoned with a Coca Cola logo. No cafe seating here, but they do have a line in fresh sandwiches to take away, with an Asian twist that includes pork rolls.
In the large glass-fronted display is a huge tray of classic looking vanilla slices, nestled amidst other tempting looking sweets. The slices have a slightly rustic look, with the white icing scribbled with some very hasty and rudimentary looking brown markings, as though someone knew the classic parenthesis shape that they were supposed to have, but had done it at rapid speed in between checking the ovens.
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150 Lyons Rd, Drummoyne, New South Wales
The focus of my ongoing quest turned from chasing reports of the “best vanilla slice” in Sydney to seeking alleged sighting of the “best sausage roll”. One of these sightings was at the Drummoyne Bakehouse Cafe, which seemed a good excuse to go for a lazy Saturday lunchtime drive during a brief sunny respite from the rainy winter weather of late.
The bakehouse sits on the busy but narrow Lyons Road, running down the centre of the Drummoyne peninsula on the south side of Sydney Harbour. It has a distinctive green, yellow, and brown striped awning and signage visible from the road, and sits next door to Ocean Foods, which also has conspicuous signage, proclaiming it to be the home of the “Best fish and chips in the Universe”. They certainly don’t do things by halves in Drummoyne!
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