Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Peter’s ham; my Portuguese tarts

I was once told a story about someone looking for some guy’s smoked, cured pork – Peter’s ham. Incidentally, they may also have been looking for an inner west suburb renowned for Portuguese culture and food.

We were at Petersham with one thing on our minds: pastéis de nata, or Portuguese custard tarts. Now, my first ever experience of these sweet cases of custard was in Macau; the tarts bought by a family friend and scoffed in our hotel room, with the creamy fillings still piping hot and dangerously tongue-burning. It was a rich and revelatory experience that ended in a sugary high.

Chickens on the char grill at Silvas, New Canterbury Road, Petersham
But before any sweets were had, lunch was deemed necessary – it’s just something about my upbringing, I think, that doesn’t allow me to have sweets before a meal, to the disappointment of some others.

The plethora of choice on New Canterbury Road in Petersham led us to busy corner shop, Silvas and directly to the rotating, splayed chickens on the warming char grill.

Pineapple Sumol soft drink
Silvas’ authenticity is bolstered with Portuguese soft drinks on offer too, this can of Sumol a sweet, artificial pineapple flavour.

A glass bottle of Sprite
With both takeaway and eat-in options at Silvas, it’s hard to go past the slowly spinning and browning chicken; although other choices around the casual dining space show that the Portuguese mains seem popular too.

Half a Portuguese charcoal chicken with chips and rice
We decide to share a half chicken, with both chips and rice proffered alongside on the large oval plate. The chips are, surprisingly, just as fabulous as the chicken – perfectly golden, crunchy and well seasoned with a flavoured salt. The rice, though, is like a very salty, lukewarm rendition of fried rice – quite skippable I thought.

Portuguese charcoal chicken
To the main event – the Portuguese charcoal chicken, ordered with the choice of garlic or chilli sauces – or both in this case – which are brushed over the chook after coming off the char grill.

The chicken is an attack on the senses. It looks irresistible with its black charred bits and rich colours, and smells as good as it looks, with the taste sending the palate into a tizz: savoury, lemony, mildly spicy. It’s impossibly juicy for something cooked over hot coals, even the breast section, and does well in the microwave for the next meal too.

Pasta salad
To further the carb fest, we also had a side order of a creamy pasta salad; also littered with (presumably) leftover charcoal chicken pieces. With so much food (and carbs) and sweet intentions to follow, a doggy bag was needed – which actually seemed a common thing for the restaurant and its generous servings.

Tarts from Sweet Belem, New Canterbury Road, Petersham
We crossed New Canterbury Road with our takeaway and stepped in through the welcoming doors of one of many nearby cake shops, Sweet Belem. The tray aside the ‘Sweet Belem Tarts’ sign was empty other than a few flaky crumbs, but there was only a second of two of distress before it was replaced with a full tray, piled high.

Tart base
These beauties were still warm but not capable of any burning. They were well done with dark spots and furnished with a great deal of cinnamon. The first tentative bite rained down a shower of flakes from the extremely crisp pastry base, which was probably my favourite part with its gorgeous and ornate delicacy.

Sweet Belem tarts
The warm custard inner was not too sweet and particularly egg-y; a little more than I like but that could be forgiven. It made for quite a rich snack and I couldn’t imagine having more than one (okay, maybe two with a cup of black earl grey tea) in a session.

They’re not quite as nice cold as the pastry loses its attractive crispness, but a stint in the oven or under the grill might be able to rectify that (although I haven’t tried that as yet).

There were loads of other cakes and delicacies in the cabinet at Sweet Belem.

Learning of the day: I don’t know where to find Peter’s ham, but I know where to find good charcoal chicken and pretty good pastéis de nata.

Silvas on Urbanspoon

Sweet Belem on Urbanspoon


chocolatesuze said...

ahahaha last time i tried taking photos in sweet belem i got told off! but damn their portuguese tarts are delish!

Richard Elliot said...

I was about to say the same as Suze, you did well to take some photos in Sweet Belem as they are not usually allowed!

It's been nearly a year since I headed out to Petersham, another trip is due soon....

Simon Food Favourites said...

a lethal combination of yummy :-)

foodieandthechef said...

They look beautiful... don't you love their little trademark carmelised spots on top ? I once made about 80 of these for a staff meal with my own puff pastry... laborious but totally worth it.

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

The pastry in these tarts in incredible. I'm in love with the sound they make when you crunch into them - as loud as eating a handful of potato chips!

Tina said...

Hi suze and Richard - Ooops, I may have just been lucky and got them on a good day... :)

Hi Simon - I can't decide which I like more - the chicken or the egg tarts...!

Hi foodieandthechef - You made them? Wow, impressive!

Hi Helen - Not to mention the flakey mess they make!


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