Carlos Torcato and Stephanie Agnew opened Royal Bakery mid-2018 in Rose Bay, but it’s flown under the radar the past year. Those in the know say the tarts, known in Portuguese as pastel de nata, are just like kind you find in Lisbon: crumbly, brittle, custardy, not overly sweet, slightly blistered and charred on top, and just viscous enough – you can cut one in half and the custard won’t spill out like an ice-cream sandwich on a hot day.
Torcato puts in a staggering amount of work to make the tarts. Rather than buying frozen sheets of pastry, every layer of the flaky dough is shaped, lathered in butter and folded by him or his assistant Ricardo Rodrigues (who owned his own patisserie in Portugal before coming to Australia). It’s then rolled into a spiralled log like an unbaked swiss roll, but with twice the lamination.
The logs are then cut into medallions, which are dexterously caressed into tart shells. We watch the bakers as they work, their thumbs like pairs of miniature flamenco dancers gracefully stomping out all the creases in an undulating carpet. Inside goes a sweet eggy custard, one slightly lighter in colour and flavour than the rich yellow tarts at Belem and Tuga. “It’s a homemade custard like the ones created by monks 500 years ago,” says Torcato.
In Portugal he worked in sales for the country’s biggest pastel de nata exporter. “They might do 200,000 a week. All frozen stuff,” he says. When he arrived in 2014 he did a similar job at a baked-goods wholesaler. “I wanted to see how the market was. It’s very different from Europe. To be honest, you eat a lot of shit. We’re talking about having muffins frozen for weeks; brioche for months. It’s really bad food but people eat it. That’s why I wanted to open something European-style, where I cook every day [and] everything is amazing and fresh.”
During the week that means pastel de nata, bola de Berlim (fluffy doughnuts with custard fillings), coconut brioche rolls and a range of more locally inspired goodies, pies and sausage rolls. Visit on the weekend and you’ll find the full Portuguese range: jesuitas (triangles of puff pastry layered with cinnamon and sweet cream), chorizo rolls, almond tarts and flaky palmiers.
“Everything is house-made. You won’t see anything industrialised,”says Torcato. “It’s all old-fashioned stuff, like what your grandma makes. This is what Portuguese people want.”
Royal Bakery also has various pop-up locations. Check their Instagram for more details.
1/791 New South Head Road, Rose Bay
(02) 9371 2080
Mon to Wed 6.30am–4pm
Thu & Fri 6.30am– 4pm
Sat & Sun 7.30am–3pm
This is another edition of Broadsheet’s Local Knowledge weekly series, where Nick Jordan explores the eateries at the heart of Sydney’s different cultural communities. Read more here.
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on July 16, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.