"It's funny, you know," says Johann Vanier. "Pavlova is the number one cake in Australia, but it's so hard to find a good one in Sydney."
Controversial words from a French-born pastry chef, but according to Vanier, most traditional pavlovas are too gooey inside, and "really, really sweet". They're also built too high. "Six centimetres of cream and meringue to one centimetre of fruit is not a great ratio," he says.
Rather than keep complaining about the current state of the Antipodean treat, Vanier launched online business La Pav in 2020, delivering a fresh take on the pavlova to Northern Beaches homes.
Cake purists may look away now: Vanier's pavs are meticulous creations featuring layers of compote and jam, sometimes with whipped ganache. Valrhona chocolate often makes an appearance and there's no shortage of nuts and chantilly.
Microherbs and flowers are common adornments and La Pav best-sellers include raspberry, rose and lychee, strawberry and pistachio, and a mojito-inspired number filled with rhum and lime-infused jelly.
"The other thing I don't understand is why people put so many fruits on the cake that don't go together," says Vanier. "I try really hard to keep all the flavours in balance."
Tuesday will be Vanier's first Australia Day service and he can barely keep up with demand in his Brookvale kitchen.
"Things have been crazy from the get-go," says the patissier, who moved to Australia six years ago after training in French Michelin-starred restaurants.
"My goal was to sell 10 or 20 pavlovas for Mother's Day when we launched, but after advertising on a Northern Beaches locals' Facebook group we ended up with orders for 200. There wasn't a lot of sleep that week."
After a few workplace enhancements, Vanier now makes around 2000 pavlovas a month, each one fresh the morning of delivery. Over the Christmas period, his production numbers surged to 1500 cakes weekly.
"My wife Benita works on the website, styling and marketing, but it's still only me in the kitchen. At least now I have a delivery driver!"
Vanier had the idea for a pavlova business two years ago while employed as the head chef of a high-end pastry wholesale company. When the pandemic hit, and a plan to open his own patisserie chain with a business partner was put on hold, the La Pav concept became a reality.
"We're now looking to expand the business into a site with a larger kitchen and a shopfront," he says. "I would love to have a little display counter. Regular delivery outside the Northern Beaches is coming soon too."
Once the business becomes more established, Vanier also wants to experiment with more left-field flavour combinations.
"Pairings such as apricot and rosemary," he says. "The kind of flavours you experience in desserts at fine-dining restaurants."
Visit lapav.com.au to order. Prices start at $12.50 for an individual serving, up to $70 for a large. Orders for Australia Day pick-up and delivery close at 7pm Monday or until sold out.
The best of the rest: other top pavs for Australia Day
Black Star Pastry
Sydney's watermelon cake specialists have kicked off the new year with a limited edition pavlova starring native ingredients. Available at its stores in Newtown, Rosebery, Moore Park and the city, Black Star's pav bursts with Davidson plum curd and lemon aspen chantilly. Topped with fresh berries and marigold petals, it's certainly worth putting the kettle on for. A $40 cake will serve six, with smaller sizes available. blackstarpastry.com.au
Dulwich Hill's favourite Sri Lankan-inspired cafe that also makes knock-out cakes is offering one heck of a pavlova for the long (long) weekend. It's so jam-packed, that one more bit of fruit on the thicket of strawberries, mango, blueberries and passionfruit may well defy physics and tear the space-time continuum. Featuring lemon curd and real deal Madagascan vanilla, it's yours to pre-order for $70. thefoldsrilankan.com.au
For a bloke fond of crowning cakes in a mountain of torched meringue and more caramel than a six-year-old's birthday party at Sizzler, chef Andy Bowdy's pavlova is a reasonably pared back affair. $8.50 buys an elegant bowl of textbook meringue you can hold in one hand, currently filled with baked lemon curd and vanilla chantilly. Candied lemon and fresh peach provide an adventure in texture. sagaenmore.com