Potato and sea-salt scrolls, bacon-maple scrolls, and almond-vanilla cream croissants have been selling out early on weekend mornings at Home Croissanterie’s new bakehouse in Balmain. Owner and head chef Ben Lai set up stumps in early March, after selling his meticulously handcrafted pastries online for three years and developing a loyal following along the way.
“The idea to open a physical space was always in the back of my head, but seemed so far in the future,” Lai tells Broadsheet. “As incremental progress happened, the idea slowly turned into a possible reality.”
As online, Home Croissanterie’s physical space is dedicated entirely to viennoiserie – that is, French-style pastries, made by laminating each layer of dough with butter, then folding one on another to create a “honeycomb” effect. “It took me three years to learn,” says Lai, who taught himself to bake during uni holidays, while studying computer science. He also did training stints at Noma in Copenhagen, and Quay.
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Among Lai’s most popular creations is the bacon maple. It’s a scroll made of pastry layered with streaky bacon from Emilio’s in Rozelle, then glazed on both sides with maple and sprinkled with Olsson’s red gum-smoked salt. Another stand-out is the potato and sea salt scroll lined with potato “petals” (thin slices of potato), brushed with extra virgin olive oil and flaky sea salt. It looks like a rose but tastes like hot chips.
The most decadent of the sweet pastries is the almond vanilla cream. Crème brulee (based on a Quay recipe) dotted with slivered roasted almonds oozes over the top, while a muscovado frangipane sweetens the inside, and a honey syrup is drizzled over the outside.
Finding the right coffee to match his beautiful creations was essential. “I did coffee tasting for three weeks, and went to every roastery around Sydney,” says Lai. Ultimately, he decided on Single O, which has been a pioneer in Sydney’s coffee scene since 2003, for both its high quality and “supportive” people. The house brew is Single O’s signature Reservoir, a stonefruity-citrusy-passionfruity blend sourced in small batches via the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. Rotating single origins are available, too.
Before settling on Home Croissanterie’s new home, Lai “looked at heaps of shops, all over Sydney”. He landed on a tranquil, cave-like spot, between Balmain and Rozelle, a couple of doors down from Mr H Cafe, and, with the help of Guru Projects, transformed it with a Nordic design, inspired by Lai’s time in Copenhagen. Centre stage are the pastries, in a glass display, atop a curved bar. A halloumi-coloured lime wash covers the walls and ceiling, creating a bright feel. There’s outdoor seating beneath white umbrellas for around 20 people, well warmed by afternoon sunshine. Laidback, jazzy tunes provide the soundtrack.
“I think locals like the atmosphere,” says Lai. “Opening a shop is about more than just the food. It’s also about the design, the music, the friendliness of the staff. My hope is that people enjoy themselves and come back.”
Shop 1/418 Darling Street, Balmain
Tue to Fri 7.30am–2pm
Sat & Sun 8.30am–2pm