Thornbury’s Casa Nata has one speciality: crunchy, gooey pastéis de nata, or Portuguese tarts.
Co-owner Nelson Coutinho grew up in Hong Kong in the '90s, and his Portuguese tart story draws from weekend family trips to Macau. While firing “bang snaps” (small paper-wrapped gunpowder parcels let off during celebrations) at the ground, he and his brother would wolf down Portuguese tarts all day long.
Coutinho and fellow co-owner Ruben Bertolo, who are both of Portuguese descent, love hearing customers’ memories of eating Portuguese tarts on trips abroad. But they find it especially rewarding when someone from Melbourne’s Portuguese community gives their tarts the seal of approval. In 2017 they visited Portugal, where they learned tart-making techniques and ate as many tarts as they could in the name of research and development.
The ideal pastéis de nata is a tricky balance of flavour and texture – the pastry should be layered and flaky, and the custard filling should be silky and soft (but not too soft). Casa Nata’s tarts are made with just a few ingredients (milk, flour, eggs, sugar, Pepe Saya butter and a little cinnamon), the cases are hand-pressed into the trays, and sometimes as little as 10 seconds in the oven can make the difference between a good tart and one destined for the bin. Portuguese tarts are supposed to be moreish, and customers can order packs of six or 12 fresh from the oven to go, or choose to eat in.
Customers can watch Coutinho and Bertolo at work in the open kitchen through the shop’s large street-facing window or over the counter through a second window inside. The fit-out is simple, with marble benchtops, a mix of white-tiled and exposed-brick walls, and a white neon sign that reads “we love tarts”.
Casa Nata gets its coffee from nearby Atomica in Northcote, which happens to roast its beans using Portuguese machinery.