Dish With A Difference

We’re talking about: the reinvention of bread

Restaurants where bread is the main act, new bakeries offering eats from around the world and a desire for healthy, artisan loaves are driving a rethink of this staple. 

14 November 2018
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image credit: Katie Hammond
  • The Dish: Bread, be it bao, brioche or blackened poulet roti
  • The Place: Buns & Buns
  • The Chef: Alexandre Zibi

What? For a long time, bread, as symbolised by the mass-manufactured sliced white, was demonised as an evil force that would spend a moment on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. But in the past few years the category has seen a renaissance, heralded by the unstoppable growth of sourdough, which is still on the rise and was singled out as one of the big trends this year by Waitrose.

In fact, Buns & Buns, which launches in London this month, is putting breads and buns at the centre of the table, bringing its take on the world’s best, from fluffy Taiwanese bao to palaromana, a crunchy Roman-style pizza bread.

At the restaurant, guests will be greeted by a towering bamboo steamer filled with pillowy bao, including Buns & Buns’ signature shiitake mushroom and a bourbon pork belly.

Bun lovers can take their pick from a roving dim sum trolley as it is wheeled around the tables, or opt for the more traditional way of ordering, i.e. the menu. Lobster rolls with skinny fries ride the cart alongside clams and mussels in white wine with sourdough.

A copper-clad rotisserie oven will slowly roast whole chickens marinated in yogurt and lime juice for another Buns & Buns signature: blackened poulet roti with pao de queijo, a Brazilian bread loaded with melted cheese.

To finish, the team will be dishing up bread-based desserts such as bread and chocolate pudding and seasonal doughnuts.

image credit: Katie Hammond

Where? Having first debuted Buns & Buns in Miami, founder Alexandre Zibi is throwing open the doors in the heart of London’s Covent Garden Market. His new space will feature an open-plan kitchen with low marble counter dining where visitors can interact with the chefs. The greenery-filled interior is decorated in warm, earthy tones with copper accents and strung with glowing filament bulbs.

 “I’ve travelled all over the world, and what struck me most was the huge variety of breads at the centre of every dinner table,” said Zibi.“I wanted to cherry-pick my favourites and bring them to Buns & Buns, where we hope that every table will happily break bread together, something that people have been doing for thousands of years.”

image credit: Katie Hammond

Why? Bread is no longer the bad guy. People are ditching the white loaf though and looking for healthy, artisan versions of bread.

Add to that concepts like Buns & Buns play into a trend where people are seeking food from around the world. Kantar Worldpanel predicted last year that speciality breads would undergo long-term growth, driven by consumer’s move away from the traditional.

Buns & Buns is in good company this year too. The team behind Gunpowder launched an Indian bakery earlier this year called Custard, selling Bombay sandwiches and baked goods, while Ceviche’s Martin Morales introduced London to the Peruvian version of brioche, along with sweet bread-based treats, at Andina Panaderia.

There’s also The Lebanese Bakery, which swept in with its Middle Eastern-style of pizzas, the Turkish bagels at Simit Sarayi and Jolene, a bakery-meets-restaurant that showcases slow-fermented dough in its sausages rolls, cinnamon buns, and dinner dishes like fresh pasta and stews.

The popularity of bread and other baked goods is backed by MCA research, which showed that the number of bakery visits rose from 1.1bn to 1.5bn in the last year, with snacking as the driving force.

But it’s not just bakeries that are getting in on this bread business. There’s the Cantonese-style buns from Bun House, which is launching its Chinatown site in February next year, while Taiwanese outfits have been popping up with their specialities, including Bao & Bing, Baby Boa, Flesh & Buns and Bao.

British buns are getting a look in with the opening of Bunshop at Market Hall Victoria, which started up this week.

Bread is also making its mark over in retail. There are start-ups like the Modern Baker, which makes premium, health-driven products, while also researching how to improve the quality of dietary carbohydrates in foods and deliver better ingredients to benefit the gut.

Its body-bolstering goodies join those of Gradz Bakery, which launched healthy artisan breads into Ocado with ingredients like spirulina and amaranth.

According to the Federation of Bakers, the average UK household buys just over 80 loaves per year and spends an average of £54.41, while the UK bakery market is worth almost £3.6bn. There are also 2.7bn wrapped bakery goods sold each year.

Time to break some bread.

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