Federal Cafe team opens Portuguese custard tart stall inside Arndale Market

Anyone who has been on holiday to Lisbon knows the pure joy of spending a lazy day wandering through the streets, powered purely by hourly breaks for espresso and a pastel de nata.

And, even if you’ve never stepped onto Portguese shores, these flaky, cinnamon-dusted, golden cups of sunshine-yellow custard have made quite the name for themselves in the UK in recent years.

So popular are Portuguese custard tarts, or pastéis de nata, that one Manchester trader has decided to devote their entire menu to this humble pastry.

Just Natas has opened in Manchester Arndale market, joining the ever-growing list of great food traders set up in the market.

Selling only pasteis de nata and espresso, the stall is open from 10am to 5pm (or until they sell out).

The stall is open from 10am to 5pm (or until they sell out).

Much more than a simple custard tart, there really is something special about the pastel de nata, and Just Natas’ version is as close as you’ll get to the real thing this side of Lisbon.

Layers of impossibly crisp pastry encase a thick shiny custard, bright yellow from rich egg yolks, which caramelises beautifully with dark splodges across its surface when baked.

Just Natas is a concept from the brains behind the ever-popular Australian brunch spot Federal Cafe Bar, where pasteis de nata have been on the menu since opening.

Federal owners Claudio and Emily have had the Arndale market stall where Just Natas is now situated for a year and half, but it had previously been occupied by another trader.

With the stall being empty since the start of the pandemic and, seeing how popular the natas had been at Federal, Claudio, who was born in Portugal, decided to take the opportunity to focus purely on this traditional pastry from his home country. 

Claudio said: “I thought of a few different things to put in there, like a fish and chip stall, which the market doesn’t have. I thought of something else Portuguese, but I just thought, these custard tarts are really good and they’re so popular at Federal that it made sense just to do that and try to do the best ones I could.”

The tarts are baked fresh daily and are available until they sell out.

Official opening hours are from 10am to 5pm; however, Just Natas has not yet reached closing time without selling out of all their stock. So why is this humble custard tart so popular?

The Just Natas stall in the Arndale Market and their box of 6 Natas

“It’s a difficult one for us. Why is it so popular, you know?” says Claudio.

He speaks of the original Pastéis de Nata bakery in Belém, a district of Lisbon and traditional home of the Portuguese custard tart.

In Belém, “the queue around the corner, if you go and ask why people are waiting for it … it’d be difficult to tell you why.”

“The pastry around it is so flaky that, together with the eggs and the sugar, it makes it so soft and also crunchy. The fact that it’s quite toasted on top, with that almost burnt taste.”

The power of the pastel de natas shows no signs of slowing down and we could even see another Just Natas soon if the right space comes up.

“I know it’s early days, we’ve only been open for a week, but if we see another space in the city as small as that, we might push it for a second place to sell them from. Because they’ve been very very popular, more than I thought so.

“I will not stop selling them at Federal but I think there’s a potential there to show the Portuguese cakes to more of Manchester, for sure.”

So, why add a little Portuguese flair to your mid-morning pick-me-up with a custard tart or two? Screw it, actually, we’ll have a whole box.

Just Natas in Manchester Arndale is open 10am to 5pm daily. For more information and updates, head to the Just Natas Instagram page.

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