One of the saddest things about traveling to another country is that you’ll often fall in love with a local dish and not be able to find a decent alternative back home.

Pastel de nata, an egg pastry specialty originating from Belém in Portugal, is one of those items travelers often return to obsess over thanks to its dreamy combination of a sweet, creamy interior and a flaky, buttery exterior. .

That was certainly my experience having visited Lisbon a few years ago and given how many UK supermarkets now stock Portuguese custard tarts in their bakeries it seems to be the same for many other Brits .

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So when I was craving my favorite European dessert, I decided to test a few of my local versions to see if any could live up to what I had tried in Portugal.

As Sainsbury’s was full, these were Lidl, Tesco and M&S, alongside Café De Nata, an artisan bakery specializing in this particular pastry.

And while two of them were hugely disappointing, two of them definitely gave me confidence in my ability to get a decent pastel de nata in London.


Lidl’s cream pies had a good char on top

Lidl was my first stop and I felt good given how delicious its touch of cheese tasted when I tested it recently.

Upon arriving at the bakery, I was a bit alarmed to find all the pastel de natas scattered haphazardly around their pastry cage like an animal had come in and knocked them over.

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It made me nervous that someone was there before I touched them, but I persevered and saved one from that back which was still standing and hadn’t lost its aluminum bottom.

Fortunately, the tasting part went much more smoothly.

As expected from my past experience of Lidl’s pastries, the pastry itself was phenomenal – perfectly baked and wonderfully buttery and flaky.

The egg custard was also quite decent, nicely sweet but not too sickly.

My only criticism is that it went a little eggy on subsequent bites, although I might not have noticed it as much if I hadn’t tested it alongside other Portuguese pies.

Price: 49p

Evaluation: 4/5


The look of Nata's M&S Pastel didn't fill me with hope
The look of M&S pastel de nata didn’t fill me with hope

I could tell even by looking at the leftover pastel de natas in M&S that this pastry was probably not going to be enjoyable to eat.

They all looked oddly undercooked, with the majority lacking the browning on top that is distinctive of the humble Portuguese custard tart.

I grabbed the one that looked the crispiest and tried not to worry too much about the slightly off-putting yolk that looked a bit like cured cheese on one side.

I was completely unprepared for the tastes and textures to come – and no, most of them weren’t good.

As I bit into it, I was struck by the realization that it literally had nothing to do with a real pastel de nata – largely because, alarmingly, it was really, really salty.

After a few chews, I realized that it reminded me of half shortbread, half shortcrust pastry.

The interior, unfortunately, was even less appealing.

It had a much more solid and thick texture than the others, a bit like cottage cheese, and had an overwhelming taste of vanilla.

I also gave my friend a bite and they exclaimed ‘Ew, that tastes like quiche!’

It gets a point though because the slightly salty pastry was oddly more and I took another bite even after deciding I wasn’t a fan at all.

Price: 90p

Evaluation: 1/5


The inside of Tesco's cream pie was great but the patisserie seriously let it down
The inside of Tesco’s cream pie was great but the patisserie seriously let it down

Tesco looked more promising than M&S but sadly didn’t deliver either

The inside was really decent – a nice balance of flavors that wasn’t too egg heavy.

However, despite being picked up around lunch time, the pastry tasted very bland.

Like, really, really stale. So stale that I judged it wasn’t worth chewing on what looked like a large piece of map to get to the good part and docked it 2.5 points accordingly.

That said, I might give Tesco’s pastel de nata one more chance in case I receive a particularly fresh batch.

Price: 80p

Evaluation: 2.5/5

Cafe De Nata

Cafe de Nata's cream pie definitely looked the most appealing
Cafe de Nata’s cream pie definitely looked the most appealing

This pastel de nata was a last minute addition as I walked past Cafe de Nata on my way back from Tesco.

I’m happy about it because I found my new favorite place for Portuguese cream pies.

Probably no surprise considering this shop literally only sells one type of pastry – which you can even see being made in the back by an elderly chef – but this one was definitely the best.

Had Lidl’s fluffy pastry but with an even nicer creamy center and not at all too eggy.

It was also the only one where I could taste a hint of cinnamon, a basic ingredient in pastel de nata.

In short, it was pretty much exactly how I remembered the real pies I’d had in Portugal. All that was missing was that Mediterranean sun.

My only qualm is that maybe it was the burnt top that was a little too burnt on top in one place – however, I don’t consider this a big enough issue to deduct points.

They also had other versions incorporating coconut, raspberry and strawberry which I will definitely be returning to.

Price: £1.95

Evaluation: 5/5

The verdict

Overall it was much more mixed than I expected.

The pie that was the best was undoubtedly – and perhaps not too surprisingly – the Classic Pastel de Nata from Café de Nata.

Although more than double the price of any of the others and almost four times that of Lidl, I would pay £1.95 again to have my craving perfectly satisfied.

Lidl’s, however, came in second thanks to its delicious pastry. And at only 49p it would be 100% my choice if I served them to other people as dessert, or just a bit short on cash but still needed a decent pastry.

Tesco, meanwhile, came in a weak third place due to its surprisingly poor, oddly stale and papery patisserie. However, since the filling was really good, I would consider trying it again at another branch in case I have a batch that has been left out for too long.

On the other hand, the M&S version will never be eaten by me again, unless I am assured beforehand that they have completely changed the recipe.

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