Lemon tart lemon tart
The three contenders.

Stephanie Clifford-Smith

The classic lemon tart is a French invention, sitting confidently in the tradition of patisserie rather than the more homely practice of baking.

There are two main approaches to it: lemon curd filling a fully blind-baked pastry case; or a lemon custard poured into a par-cooked pastry case, then baked until just set.

The former technique is the one we've focused on and has been championed by celebrity pastry chef Pierre Herme. Working with two separately cooked solid elements means there's no risk of leaking pastry cases, a handy advantage to a perennial favourite.

1. C'est Si Bon

It would be folly to think this unassuming little cafe was just a place for pedestrian baked goods and instant coffee. Step inside and the smells of buttery pastry and cheesy quiches register. The ultra-crisp shortcrust pastry in the individual lemon tart ($4.50) is thin but ably supports the distinctly tangy curd. Whole eggs rather than yolks alone lend a lighter result to the filling - a good thing, given the lavish quantities of softened butter incorporated at the end.

C'est Si Bon, 14 Dover Road, Rose Bay, 9388 3567

2. Sweetness the Patisserie

Tarte au citron meets lemon meringue pie at this busy patisserie best known for its marshmallows. Almond shortcrust gives a tender crumb to the base of the lemon meringue tartlets ($4) and the curd has a mousse-like lightness, thanks to being whipped before it's piped into the case. The topping of fresh, unbaked meringue is feather-light and glossy.

Sweetness the Patisserie, 38 Oxford Street, Epping, 9869 3800

3. Sugaroom

Lemon tart ($16) is a dressed-up dessert at this smart waterfront restaurant and the embellishments enhance, rather than detract from, the essence of the thing. The pastry is a fragile, soft-crumbed affair based on pine nut and almond meal. The curd, a blend of whole eggs plus yolks, is tangy with a crisp, torched-toffee middle. A whipped-cream quenelle with honey and vanilla seeds adds a layer of fragrance and there's a strip of toasted macadamia nut rubble for crunch.

Sugaroom, 1 Harris Street, Pyrmont, 9571 5055