Bondi locals need no introduction to the iconic Wellington Cake Shop. This old-school patisserie also has many loyal followers who eagerly travel across Sydney for a bite of its Austro-Hungarian cakes and tortes.
While the shop has been run by Lesley Brull and his family for over three decades, its rich history dates back one hundred years. Brull was born into a family of bakers in Budapest, Hungary. Both his great-grandfather and grandfather were bread bakers, as was tradition for Jewish families pre-World War II. Brull's father, Bela, however, decided to follow his own path and took up an apprenticeship with a well-known pâtissier.
After surviving the Nazi occupation and once Hungary had liberated from the Communist Regime in the 1950s, Bela opened his first bakery. This shop sold mostly coffee, ice-cream and cakes made from recipes learnt during his apprenticeship and that had been handed down to him.
Brull was actively involved in the day-to-day running of his father's bakery growing up, and worked weekends and after school to learn the tricks of the trade.
"The bakery was the residence as well, so I was just born into it," Brull says. "By 10 years old or maybe younger, I was already behind the counter and helping my parents serve the customers."
Brull loved spending time in the bakery and was inspired to follow in his father's footsteps. He completed a pastry apprenticeship while working at his dad's cake shop, with the hopes of one day opening his own business.
In 1977, Lesley married his wife Georgina. A year later, the couple migrated to Australia with their nine-month-old daughter. He had extended family who were living in Sydney at the time and helped them find their feet in this unfamiliar country. With their support, Brull secured a job making pastries at a Hungarian gelato bar at Bondi Beach. He worked there for 18 months before the opportunity to purchase a small nearby bakery arose.
"When I purchased it, this was an Australian cake shop," Brull recalls. "There was the sausage roll, pie, finger bun, cream bun, butter cake and bread roll."
Brull had dreams to phase out these standard cakes and introduce continental specialties.
By the time Wellington Cake Shop opened in 1979, the Eastern Suburbs was home to a strong Hungarian-Jewish community. Many of these families had escaped after the Hungarian revolution in 1956, in search of the freedom that Brull and his wife had also sought. They were now looking for a taste of the traditional food that they'd been somewhat starved of since leaving Hungary.
With business picking up, Brull began filling his cabinet with more of the specialty pastries for which the Hungarian community were calling.
"When we started, it was maybe 5 per cent continental and now it's changed to 95 per cent continental," Brull says.
All Wellington Cake Shop's pastries and cakes are made in house from scratch, using the finest ingredients. They're baked fresh daily with preparations beginning at around 2:30am on weekdays and 11pm on weekends. While his business initially catered for the Eastern European community, locals have also come to love Wellington's authentic Austro-Hungarian cakes and tortes.
"When we started, it was maybe 5 per cent continental and now it's changed to 95 per cent continental."
Whether plain, poppy seed or raisin, the shop's bagels have developed a cult following.
"This area is a Jewish population, so we specialise in bagels and the challah and hamantaschen," Brull explains. "We try to make everybody happy."
Brull's cherry, cheese and poppy seed strudels also walk themselves out the door, along with modern specialties, such as a gluten-free Hungarian tiramisu torte.
On weekends you'll be lucky to snap up one of Wellington's cheese pockets, made using a fourth-generation recipe. However, there's one cake of which Sydneysiders can't get enough.
"What is very unique is our chocolate kuglóf," Brull says. "People worldwide know it, and nobody does it like we do it."
This house specialty is a dense yeast cake filled with runny chocolate. The kuglóf, along with the chocolate ganache slice, are Lesley's personal favourites. He believes the authentic recipes and purity of the ingredients make his products hard to replicate.
"I grew up in this profession. I always worked, and I learned from the good, professional people," Lesley says. "I'm also always using the good quality ingredients...so no premix or anything like that. Everything we're working with is butter, cocoa, chocolate."
Brull takes pride not only in the food he creates but in the community of customers he has developed over the years.
"The shop was built 120 or 130 years ago and was always a cake shop, so there was a strong back up around this area which supported me," Brull says. "Thankfully they are still coming and that is the most important actually, the local suburb. The rest is just a bonus."
The once large Hungarian-Jewish community residing around Bondi is slowly dispersing, but his loyal customers still drop by for special occasions.
"Over the 40 years there is a lot of people moving and coming," Brull says. "Some of the customers are asking for us to post to Queensland or Canberra. The other people in the Christmas time or for big celebrations are willing to travel across Sydney just to get these kinds of specialties."
Some of his original customers even bring their great-grandchildren, whom Brull now considers part of his extended family.
"This is one of the countries where you have so many different nations' foods together, and the people benefit from this big variety."
Brull is proud of how his cake shop has evolved into the Bondi icon it is today. He plans to continue providing Eastern-European Australians with an authentic taste of home and giving other Australians the food he knows how to make best.
"I think this is one of the countries where you have so many different nations' foods together, and the people benefit from this big variety," Brull says. "I am very proud I am a part of it, and I really try to work very hard to help please the customer and please the nation."
Brull has passed his love for baking and pastry down to the next generation. All three of his children work alongside him at the shop. He is content with the life that he and his family have created in Sydney and the opportunity to meet the diverse range of customers who walk through his doors each day.
"Australia gives me what I was dreaming of all my life," Lesley says. "Peace, freedom and opportunity. I still every day am grateful I can be here."
Photographs supplied by Georgina Brull. Love the story? Follow the author Melissa Woodley here: Instagram @sporkdiaries.