Before 1957, when Australia’s first large-scale shopping centre emerged to capture our retail spend, suburban strip malls reigned supreme. Designed to cater to small residential areas, they were usually characterised by rather plain architecture and stores arranged in a single row. Fronted by just fifteen car spaces, Gordon West Shops punches above its weight for a tiny strip mall. Boundary changes mean it’s actually located in Duneba Avenue, West Pymble; a sleepy, tree-lined residential street that bucks the usual strip mall tradition of facing directly onto a major traffic arterial. What lifts this little strip mall into a suburban gem is the combined weight of three interesting businesses…
Taking care of your immediate eating needs, The Sawmill is the strip’s most recent addition.
With colour cycling bar lighting, recycled timber and exposed Edison bulbs, the slick fit-out might have you scoffing about inner city hipsters, but closer inspection will reveal they’ve used the timber tool design elements to connect the space to the area’s first post-indigenous land usage: logging.
Wood is also employed in the cooking, courtesy of an imported Italian gas and wood-fire pizza oven, turning out credible hand-made pizzas that sit nicely between thick and thin.
The burning logs help give the bases a smoky edge, which you can taste best against the simplicity of buffalo mozzarella, tomato and freshly torn basil on the Margherita ($20).
A colourful medley of cherry tomatoes, yellow capsicum, zucchini, eggplant and bright green spinach make the Vegetarian Pizza ($22) an eye-catching addition to your table.
However if it’s vegetables you want, consider hitting up the Haloumi Stack ($22) instead. Taken with a nicely balanced Bloody Mary ($14) this is one Sunday brunch that will pretty much take care of your daily plant-based requirements, leaving your afternoon free for naughtier things.
While for some that could mean dipping into Pancakes ($15) with maple syrup and fresh berries crowned with Salted Caramel Gelato ($3), for me it’s more likely to head down the path of an Espresso Martini ($17).
Made on locally (Central Coast) produced Mr Black Cold Drip Coffee Liqueur, this cocktail is a smooth way to slide into your Sunday afternoon. Of course if you prefer your coffee unadulterated, The Sawmill’s house-roasted Italian Street Collection scrubs up well in a Latte ($3.50) or Flat White ($3.50).
While The Sawmill’s pastry chef Rocco Speranza is certainly turning out a tempting array of sweets, I already had my beady eyes firmly set on Arthur’s Bavarian Bakehouse next door.
Well known to locals, this bakery has been a stalwart in the local area for nearly two decades.
I make a beeline straight to the basket of Pretzels ($2.70). Plump and baked to a rich brown, these rock salt-studded beauties are among the best I’ve tried.
Bemoaning a lack of freezer space, I take in the wide range of breads, from their ever-popular linseed sourdough to sour cherry sourdough, pumpkin Mischbrot, and fruit zopf (a plaited brioche studded with sultanas and currants).
I do snaffle up some Pretzel Sticks ($2.70/each) as well as two pretzel variations I’ve never tried: the Cheese and Bacon Pretzel ($3.30) and the Cheese and Pumpkin Pretzel ($3.30) with a topping of crunchy pumpkin seeds cleverly glued to it by golden cheese. They’ve also crossed the croissant with a pretzel to create the Cretzel ($1.90) – basically flaky, buttery croissant pastry they've dipped into their pretzel wash to add a more savoury bite.
It also comes in chocolate for those with a sweeter tooth, though you'd be hard pressed to find better looking Danishes ($4.40/each) if you're that way inclined.
I only gave the wide wurst selection in their deli a cursory glance for I again had my eyes fixed on the smallgoods next door. That's the beauty of a strip mall - everything it contains is presented right before your eyes.
Craig's Butchery caught my eye primarily because they're wood smoking their own bacon on the premises. I'm all about artisan Aussie bacon.
Craig's Smoked Bacon ($21.99/kg) is made on Australian pork, and took home third place in Australian Pork Limited's coveted annual Bacon Week Award one year for very good reason. It shows a good balance between porkiness and smoke.
What I also found inside this store was a charming local butcher with a strong customer focus, delivering highly personalised service. The proprietor, Craig, is happy to cut things to your specifications, even if that means deboning a duck while you wait. He's quick to offer cooking advice, and everything in his counter is nicely trimmed and well-presented. I leave with slices of a smoked leg ham he finished off the day before, and a gently smoked chicken breast, both of which I put to good use on a cheese platter later in the day.
7 Duneba Avenue, West Pymble
Ph: (02) 9498 6565
Arthur’s Bavarian Bakehouse
9 Duneba Avenue, West Pymble
Ph: (02) 9880 2242
11 Duneba Avenue, West Pymble
Ph: (02) 9498 3532