Ever since I took the decision to attempt a healthier lifestyle, I’ve developed a sort of superpower that allows me to spot pastry shops from as many as four blocks away. Fortunately for me, the state of pastry in Australia is rather deplorable and generally keeps me from entering the shop. (I almost went straight to the heart of the matter and stated, “There are no good pastries in Australia,” but my partner has reprimanded me more than once for make such damning blanket statements about Australia.) I’d like to tell you otherwise, dear Reader, but I’ve done the research and I cannot tell a lie.
There’s one shop that I had desperately hoped would buck the trend. It’s a sweet little shop over which hands a lovely awning with scrolly lettering. I pass by every morning on the way to work and I’ve always thought what it would be like to go inside. It’s called François’ Patisserie. I was sure this François was a French ex-pat bent on restoring some dignity to the delicate art of pastry-making in the southern hemispere. In my morning daydream, I walk in cheeks cold and red and say to François, “Aah! Mon cher pâtissier, quelle plaisir de trouver une vraie pâtisserie ici en Australie! Je prends vos deux meilleurs croissants.” (In a place like that, you would never order just one).
His first French-speaking customer in years! François would be so delighted. In addition to my butter-but-not-oily, crispy-but-not-crunchy, feather-light croissant(s), he would sneak a palmier into my paper bag (my first since quitting the home country) at no extra charge, so delighted with this plump, red-cheeked Canadian. (It doesn’t actually get cold enough for red cheeks in Sydney, but it’s my fantasy so cut the criticism.) I would savour the crunchy treat over lunch. In the coming weeks, I would return from time to time and François and I would develop a joyful rapport. Every week we would jabber on in French for as many as five whole minutes, then he would laugh and joke and dole out free pastries like a fat, French, pastry-making Santa Claus.
You see my expectations were very high, so you can imagine my disappointment when I finally visited François’ shop only to find him nowhere in evidence! In his stead was a team of attractive, Asian women pulling shots of espresso and pedalling extravagant, shiny cakes that appeared to be made of rubber. (It’s not that I am racially insensitive, but when you’re expecting a simple display of delicate French pastries, the sight of these women and their wares nearly knocked the wind from me). So I did the only thing one can do when one finds oneself in such circumstances, I ordered the most ridiculous thing on the menu: a vegetarian sausage roll. It was stuffed with mashed leek, maybe a spot of potato, and possibly deep-fried. The paper bag was bleeding oil before I even made it out the door. It was delicious.
For shame, François. For shame.