In the heart of Little Italy that is Haberfield sits the renowned Papa Pasticceria. Walking through its doors, we are greeted by a bustling café operating non-stop with a queue that sprawled its way towards me. The customers are relentless in their pursuit of their baked delicacies as the staff is frantically trying to meet the orders. It’s busy here and one look at the many counters of biscuits, shortbreads, pastries, cakes, tarts, cannoli, pizzas and gelato, it’s not hard to figure out why.
With such a bewildering selection like the cockpit of the DeLorean in Back to the Future, it’s hard to pick out what’s worth stuffing into my pork belly so I’ve enlisted one of the waitresses to help me sample their offering. My waitress recommended the Torta Di Ricotta, Cannoli Alla Ricotta, Bigne Al Cioccolato, Mandorla Al Cioccolato, the Pistachio flower, and a pizza slice. Though I was treated like anything but a number, I was given one and told to get a table and wait for my order.
As busy as it seems, there’s always a table available and shortly enough my baked goodies arrive plated together ready for some serious munching. Wasting no time, I start with the familiar bite-sized Cannoli Alla Ricotta sitting there almost oozing out its ricotta filling. Crunchy like a good biscuit and lusciously creamy on the inside, the ricotta was subtle and seductive, enchanting me with every bite.
Next up, I tried the Mandorla Al Cioccolato, a chocolate and almond biscuit covered in powdered sugar like snow. It was delicate and crumbling in my mouth enthusing its Herculean almond flavour on my tongue. As the marzipan-like flavour lingers, the chocolate decided to play hide and seek with me like kids did back in the day, which makes for a very nostalgic tasting.
Giving up on trying to find my chocolate chip friend, I give the Bigne Al Cioccolato a try. This is Italian for chocolate profiterole and tastes every bit so. Inside the glistening dumpling is the continental chocolate custard greeting me with a familiar yet foreign subtle sweetness like a first-time family relative. I love a profiterole that can charm the pants off me, and this isn’t one of them. The dark chocolate glaze never really melts in my mouth. Papa should have known better.
Awaiting for its time to shine is the Pistachio flower. Frosted sugar covers its surface for buds with crushed pistachio as its nectar. Unlike the mandorla, the flower has bite in its biscuit, spreading flourishes of salt and rosé aroma with soft sweet undertones. At times, this felt like being at a family gathering and being offered a cherished delicacy as a child only to squirm out of politeness. An acquired taste for sure, one that maybe in my later years (if ever) I’ll appreciate.
Occupying a plate of its own like a queen on her throne is the Torta Di Ricotta, a cake so infamous that foodies from all over Sydney flock like seagulls to chips. My first bite of this cheesecake delicacy felt like I was curling up in bed in a thick blanket of velour as it was milky, rich, and delicate in its sweetness and texture. The delicious pastry is partly tender and crumbly, melding so well with the creamy filling and sprinkles of cinnamon. The whipped cream on the side moistens the cake further – adding an extra level of bliss. To be lactose-intolerant is to be forever deprived of this culinary wonder Sydney has to offer.
Finally, there’s the pizza slice. Now, don’t be deceived by the familiar sight of this rectangular slice as it’s unlike any other pizza I’ve eaten in Sydney unless perhaps if you hail from Sicily. The very bottom of the base is crisp while the rest is a little doughy just barely clinging onto the topping. I adore the sweetness given off by the peas, the salty tomato chunks, the peppery punch from the minced pork and veal dotting the surface, and the rustic taste that only a boiled egg can add to a slice of pizza Nona would make for her grandkids. I’m humbled to trot down memory lane.
By the time I’ve finished lunch, the queue has snaked beyond to the exteriors and the pace of the waitresses show no signs of slowing down. Like a forgotten art, everyone awaits for their turn to taste the treat that transports them back in time. To enjoy Papa is to embrace the past, surrendering your tastebuds to the old world like the one Nona lived in.
~ Jambon Cochon