I’ve been trying to arrange an all-purpose wedding and interview suit for a few weeks now, a process that has involved several trips into the city, with at least one more to come. On my first trip into the big smoke I wanted to try one of Yeongjin Park’s (ex-Lode) famous pastries at Picco Leo, however arrived there only to find that he had left the previous week, with his specialties off the menu and probably never to return. It was a dark period for the pastry community, with us adherents left in limbo as he moved his operation from the CBD to his new Darlinghurst digs, Tenacious Bakehouse.
I was able to visit Tenacious Bakehouse as a bit of a sidequest from my second of three attendances at SuitSupply. Incredibly small and nondescript, I actually walked past it and around the block through some garbage-smelling alleys before I was able to find what I was looking for.
This Portuguese Tart ($12) was the only thing that I knew I wanted before I went. I’m generally someone who enjoys a Portuguese tart, and this had come highly recommended by some of the city’s top pastryheads (though not the top pastryhead, who I believe is yet to go). Tenacious Bakehouse’s Portuguese Tart has a super-crispy multi-layered pastry, with a deep cup accommodating a huge mass of runny eggy custard. The egg custard filling was softer and runnier than your usual pastel de nata, but not to its detriment, just different. It was not too sweet, one of the defining positive characteristics of any Asian-influenced dessert or pastry. While I enjoyed the unexpected crispiness of the pastry, I did feel that the pastry got a bit bitter towards the edges. It’s certainly baked to a dark brown, as you can see from the photos, and I think probably a little darker than most normal food is baked. Was the pastry a bit burnt? Was it a bit of over-enthusiastic caramelisation? Was it completely intentional? I don’t know, I’m not an expert. Either way, it was easily overlookable, and didn’t really detract from the overall positive experience.
The Pork Mandu ($10) was actually very good. It was like a three-way cross between a croissant, one of those Maltese pastizzi things filled with ricotta and spinach from the freezer aisle at the supermarket, and a Chinese pork bun. (Understanding totally that this is a Korean bakery with Korean staff and literally told to be to be Korean in inspiration by the very nice Korean woman manning the counter, I just haven’t had that many mandus in my time to reference back to, and none that have tasted like this). The pastry here was absolutely top tier, soft, flaky, delicate, oily, and buttery. There was no suspicion of burning, only a sense of suspicion about how they managed to make bread and butter into something so good. The filling was delicious mix of pork and vegetables, with plenty of moistness and rich and savoury umami flavour. Officially/unofficially it was described as a big dumpling, and I love dumplings. I approve of this message.
Next was the extremely unassuming and unattractive Red Bean Pandoro ($10), also recommended to me because I look like I enjoy a good Asian snack. I think the majority of disfigurement comes from the surface layer dusting of yellow powder (I think it might be soy based, I have asked for further clarification – EDIT: Scarlett replied, it is injeolmi based, a Korean rice cake covered in red or mung or azuki or other bean powder), which fills in the Viennoiserie’s natural crevasses. Never having had a pandoro in my life and knowing what they are only from a quick Google, I think I would describe this more as a filled cronutuffin than anything else, with buttery laminated croissant pastry, custard cream filling reminiscent of a filled donut, and in the shape of a muffin. Shape analysis aside, I again quite enjoyed the richness and velvetiness of the internal pastry, which was complimented by this time a sweeter combination of custard cream and red bean paste. The custard cream was surprisingly light and not very viscous, while the red bean paste was more substantial, both in flavour and in texture. The red bean tasted a little bit different to what I had imagined from just looking at it – I wonder if this is because Korean red bean paste is different to Chinese red bean paste, or just because I haven’t had red bean in years because my partner refuses to have it. Either way this dessert as a whole was a little bit sweeter than the Portuguese tart, but very good, possibly better. I couldn’t tell you. I liked all three.
SECOND VISIT, OCTOBER 2022
I found myself back in the area, this time with my partner in tow, and took the opportunity to go back. We had this blueberry tart ($12), laminated pastry with a frangipane filling topped with pastry cream and plump and juicy blueberries. Interestingly the frangipane was a bit herbaceous, kind of
basilly, though I am yet to get confirmation. Confirmation received, it was mint.
The other thing we had on our second visit was this banana tiramisu tart ($11). This was pretty good, essentially banoffee, I don’t know what the difference would be between something you’d call banoffee and something you’d call banana tiramisu. It was only whilst looking at my card transaction summary later on at home that I realised that I spent $11-12 a piece on a couple of pastries. I think that it’s easy to ignore the price when you’re there and buying it and then outside and munching it, but that actually is a bit of money, and perhaps why half a decade in the workforce and making a liveable wage (though not by the standards of for example someone even a couple of years into certain fields of finance) we have nothing to really show for it.
All in all, I think you should go. I think there’s probably a bit of a renaissance of Korean-run Viennoiserie on the East Coast at the moment. Maybe it’s my own personal bias as an Asian person, but from Bakemono in Melbourne to Tenacious here in Sydney, some of the highest quality and most interesting pastries are coming from Korean bakers who are able to create both excellent renditions of classics, as well as top-notch fusion offerings.
I’m going to recommend Tenacious Bakehouse to my friend, housemate, and colleague who works down the street at the local faith-based healing service, but he’ll probably tell me he’s had better tarts at some monastery somewhere. Can’t please that guy.
101 Oxford St, Darlinghurst NSW 2010