Subiaco’s bakeries are as individual as the bakers who make all those delicious pastries and breads rise like magic. Gail Williams rolls up her sleeves to meet them.
Something’s definitely on the rise in Subiaco. And it’s not just the towering One Subiaco building which has residents constantly gazing skywards.
On the ground, early risers are breathing in the wafting aromas of baking artisan bread as they walk through Subi streets and get a romantic whiff of the olden days when the Brown and Burns bakery in Hay Street, circa 1897, delivered by horse and cart.
The wheel has turned full circle since then, as a whole new league of passionate bakers discover the ancient craft of hand-moulding artisan bread as they toil away through the night to bring residents their daily loaves. These days, though, the breads in question are organic sourdough, baguettes, brioche, bun mi and rye – all making a huge comeback as small family-owned bakeries pop up through the suburb.
Of course, these hardworking, passionate artisans churning out hand-moulded bread to satisfy an increasingly sophisticated breadloving market are not the first wave of bakers in the suburb since Brown and Burns to discover that it takes talent, passion and plain hard work.
Leading the Perth sourdough renaissance in the 1990s was New Norcia Bakeries, which had an outlet in Bagot Road until 2018. Also Jean Claude Sterchi opened his charming Swiss patisserie in 1997 to provide customers with his amazing variety of breads, cakes and pastries. Originally, baking was done in Subiaco but production has now moved to West Leederville, but the charming Rokeby Road patisserie continues to attract daily queues for baguettes, pretzels, brioche and sourdough and yeasted loaves. As they steered locals away from the “white sliced bread” syndrome, the attitude towards this universally loved food became anything but bland, boring and flavourless. Here we meet a handful of today’s kneaders and shapers adding richness to our suburb with their versions of the staff of life.
Layers Bakery, 10/29 Station Street, Subiaco
Ooh, la la! Bertrand is the charming Frenchman who is just itching to share his culture with anyone who stops by his bakery in Subi Centro for a little taste of Parisian decadence. They usually leave with a crusty sourdough under their arm, fresh from the oven. The former fine-dining chef uses traditional artisan methods to also churn out almond croissants, chicken truffle pies and chocolate coffee brownies, with customers making like they do in France – taking a bite before they’re even out the door.
Sorganic Bakery & Cafe
273 Rokeby Rd, Subiaco
Like many Vietnamese-born Aussie residents, Jason knows a thing or two about hard work, having put in 17-hour days to establish a firm following for his organic sourdough baked every day at Sorganic, the recently refurbished and extended Rokeby Road outlet. There is a daily treasure trove of house-baked goods to entice a regular crew of customers hankering after the seven types of loaves, including their signatuare fruit loaf, ciabatta, multi-grain and rye.
There’s also huge demand for house-baked muffins, brownies, cookies, pork-filled baguettes, custard Danishes, carrot cake and scones.
The fan club extends to several IGA outlets and the Boatshed market, which stocks the sourdough handcrafted over 72 hours and made from chemical-free, stone-milled flour imported from New South Wales.
Jason and his wife, Tiffany Nguyen, took over the bakery and cafe two weeks before COVID lockdown and had to do a quick rethink about what take-away foods they could serve through the cafe window.
“I had done a hospitality course when I arrived here from Ho Chi Minh in 2008,” he says. “I had worked at my relatives’ restaurants like Viet Hoa as a chef. So I began doing take-away here and my chicken and rice was so popular, I still can’t take it off the menu.”
When it came to baking bread, he had inherited a team of bakers who worked through the night, teaching him the skill of kneading, folding and clawing the dough.
That’s where the sweat and some tears came in. The organic starter, which has pride of place in the cool room and which needs to be fed daily, is named Chelsea, after the couple’s baby daughter who died during childbirth five years ago.
“It is something to remember her,” says Jason, who has two other daughters now, Caitlyn and Celine.
Tiffany, an accountant, works in the cafe and looks after the management side of things. Having learnt the difficult art of baking bread Jason has an easier workload now, popping in to oversee the team churning out 200 loaves a day and helping with deliveries or manning the coffee machine.
He shrugs off the baking talent but admits it is definitely an acquired skill and says his “happy place” is when he has his hands in dough.
“There are so many variables,” he says. “It can be the starter, it can be the mixing (electric) or the skill of the baker. Some days you get a feeling about it. Dough is a very tactile thing. You need to know exactly how much stretch it has and how fast or slow you can go”.
Nila Khautama and Winny Phylicia
Raisin’ Bakery & Café
4a/155 Onslow Road, Shenton Park
Baking bread might sound like the simple science of combining four basic ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. But, as every home baker knows, it is a little more complicated than that. That’s where the talents of two clever sisters come into their own in the Shenton Park bakery. Nila says the customers are like Pavlov’s dogs . . . they start salivating over mini lemon meringue tartlets just at the mention of his name. Bread? Yes, of course he does that. You name it – bagels, pretzels, brioche, sourdough, yeasted loaves, dinner rolls.
Jenny Braithwaite Holten
Strange Grains Gluten Free Bakery
197 Onslow Rd, Shenton Park
Chewy crust. Soft middle. Proper bread. That’s not strange, that’s how a lot of regular customers describe the gluten-free champion sourdough from this artisan bakery tucked away in Shenton Park next door to Galileo. The incredible former anthropologist behind it is responsible for putting the Holten name on the map. Years ago, Jenny was the owner of the go-to restaurant of the 70s. When she sold Holten’s in 2000, she looked into starting up her own gluten-free bakery, and Strange Grains was born. The product range – which weighs in at just under a ton of bread a day – includes yeastfree buckwheat sourdough, French sticks, burger buns, bagels and pizza bases, all baked on-site. She’s also doing a gluten-free pasta now. And the 75-year-old grandmother also still works six days a week. “I’m the standover merchant, making sure everything goes OK,” she laughs.
Daragh and Trish Grier
Subi Farmers Markets
Their home might be in South Fremantle, but you can catch this remarkable duo at the Subi Farmers Markets every Saturday, plying their wholesome trade while extolling the virtues of wild fermentation and authentic flavours. The country-style Hannah Loaf was the one that started their journey, and – with a raw weight of 1.8kg – it is quite a hefty number. It’s their signature loaf and will keep for days. But there’s more – pork and fennel sausage rolls, escargot, Turkish orange cake, and a weekly variety of quiche. But be quick – regulars snap up their favourites at the market early.