Sally Roxon, pastry chef and co-owner of Austro, wants to make one thing clear: she’s not claiming to be making authentic Austrian baked goods.
If you’re familiar with the complex layered cakes and sweets from Central Europe, you’ll definitely recognise them here but you might also be in for a surprise. “We have a very different climate here so it’s not appropriate to produce very heavy cake as it is in a colder climate. I feel strongly about that. It needs to be adapted without corrupting the original idea too much,” says Roxon, who favours the seasonal ingredients she finds at the neighbouring South Melbourne Market.
Roxon, who has Polish heritage, co-owns Austro with her husband, Austrian-born Christian Gattermayr. While they’ve been at the helm of a few cafés and a bakery together in the past, Roxon runs the show at Austro, while Gattermayr is in charge of their café, Haspburg Empire.
“I’m not a fan of just reproducing recipes that have been handed down over the years. My motivation is to bring a more modern, Australian, or personal twist to them,” she tells SBS Food.
What’s on offer changes often, but there are a few cakes you’ll find most of the time, like the Esterházy torte (a Hungarian cake layered with hazelnut dacquoise and crème pâtissière), Black Forest ripple, the Bee Sting cake and the linzer torte, which is considered to be the oldest known cake in the world. This torte made with hazelnuts is always filled with jam, but at Austro, there’s also rhubarb inside so the sweetness of the jam is balanced with tanginess.
The apple strudel is filled with Granny Smiths, walnuts and cinnamon. “Strudels are usually made with a hand-stretched strudel dough, but we use filo pastry to make it lighter. We go heavy on the apple; there’s no thickening agent in it so it’s full of concentrated slow-cooked apples,” says Roxon.
For a little something to go with your tea or coffee, try the sour cherry bublanina (an airy Czech cake) the poppy seed kugel (a pretty bundt cake covered with a lemon glaze and edible flowers), the rugelach (a rolled cream cheese biscuit with marmalade and walnuts), or krapfen (Austrian doughnuts filled with elderflower custard and glazed with toffee).
On the savoury side, your eyes will immediately be drawn to a big pile of pretzels behind the counter. You can get them dressed (baked with various toppings like ham, cheese, sauerkraut, sausage, egg and pickle), which has become a favourite among customers since Austro’s opening in July.
“I love pretzels, they lend themselves to quirky shapes. They’re funny and they remind me of beer gardens and good times,” says Roxon.
Her open sandwiches are inspired by those served at the Polish restaurants Tresniewski, in Vienna. “They have a long counter with open sandwiches, and they serve beer and Champagne, it’s all you can get,” she explains. “They concentrate on things like pickled herring, caviar and egg salad. We do those, but we had to intersperse with other things that people would like here.”
While everything is available to take away at Austro, you should take the time to sit down. The converted warehouse looks modern, very Melbourne, but the mural of the Austrian town of Hallstatt, all in shades of blue, subtly reminds you that you’re not just in any bakery.
147 Cecil St, South Melbourne, VIC
Wed – Sun: 8 am – 4 pm
I’ve eaten Bienenstich for years, not realising it’s really just brioche baked in a round cake tin with a caramel nut topping and custard in the middle!
The exact origin of the recipe for this layered chocolate, cherry and kirsch cake is unclear, but one thing is for sure: it's a culinary challenge everyone should try at least once. For a darker cake, you can use Dutch cocoa in the sponge, but it will give a slightly drier result.