If there’s one thing every Portuguese person in Sydney knows, it’s where to get a good pastel de nata, or as everyone else calls them, Portuguese tarts. These flaky pastries with sweet, cinnamon-dusted custard centres are a centrepiece of Portugal’s snack culture, served with a shot of espresso in almost every cafe in the country.
In Sydney there are three main contenders for Best in Show: Petersham’s Sweet Belem, Lisbon Love in Panania and Clovelly’s Tuga Pastries. If you did a poll, Sweet Belem would likely take the cake, no doubt getting a few extra votes for its 15-year history and the simple fact that it’s right in the middle of Little Portugal. What a lot of opinionated tart-voters may not know is that the family behind Tuga Pastries has a significant Sydney history of its own.
Owner, head baker and tart-maker Diogo is the son of Agostinho and Lucia Ferreira, some of the first people to bring Portuguese tarts to Australia. The Ferreiras moved to Australia from Lisbon and first sold the tarts at Honeymoon bakery in Petersham in 1992. Agostinho and Lucia then opened their own bakery, Fleur De Lys, in Bondi in 1994. The bakery was famous for a variety of Portuguese cakes, but particularly the pastel de nata, with some local Portuguese people claiming the tarts were just like the real deal from Lisbon’s famous Santa Maria de Belem. The pastel de nata is the only traditional Portuguese pastry on the menu – the cafe also sells cracker croissants, pies and cakes too.
Agostinho died in 2014. Diogo wanted to continue the tradition and keep making pastel de nata, but he’d never learned how to do it from his father. He spent two years testing, reading blogs and old recipes, and trying to find out what he could from relatives.
The result is a pastry that’s loudly brittle, layered like the edge of a croissant, and buttery but without an unctuous aftertaste. The egg-custard inside is the texture of just-molten chocolate and tastes like caramelised custard and Christmas. And like his dad before him, Diogo is the only one who knows how to make it.
He’s been making tarts for years now – first for his cafe Village on Cloey, also in Clovelly, and then out of Tuga, his tiny, counter-only bakery down the road. These days, most of the tart-making takes place in Tuga’s large Alexandria bakery, which also serves Portuguese-style breakfasts and a house coffee blend roasted right around the corner.