(Read: Anorexic gold-digger on the loose... not.)
I LURVE bread, and all manner of carbs for that matter. Who can resist a perfect, steaming bowl of Japanese rice, a plate of hand-made pasta, or an excellent loaf of sourdough? (All can be hideously expensive) I don't know about you, but I can't anyway. They call these things 'staples' for a reason, you know. If I had to go on the Atkins diet, I think I'd rather be obese. Besides, there are so many different diets out there. Maybe an all-carb diet would work too?
Anyhoo, this post isn't about dieting. (None of my posts will ever be about dieting or pro-dieting at least. Bomb me if I ever do it.) It's about my recent bread-hunt. It just so happens I found out that there are two reputedly good bakeries within walking distance of my office. Both names take inspiration from French, which is appropriate I suppose, since the French do indeed eat a lot of bread and thus make plenty of it, but by no means are they the only leading baking nation. Italy, Germany, India, China even, has their own bread-making history. I guess people in this city too often associate good food with French culture. The owners probably went to France and fell in love with the bread there. If they'd gone to Italy instead, I'm sure they would have loved the bread there too. One place is called Le Vélo (The Bicycle) and the second is called Tufei Painpain (tufei = burglar in Mandarin, pain = bread in French). Both are bakeries (i.e. bake on site) and have a café on the same premises.
Le Vélo's café of about 25 seats was absolutely packed when I wanted to go in (around 1330) - I came at this time on purpose, thinking that all the nearby office people would have left by then - so I took a stroll around the neighbourhood (very uninteresting - Le Vélo shares the street with old lightbox (advertising) manufacturers and plastics wholesalers - typical old Sheung Wan, of the non-tourist variety) and went back at 1400, by which time about half the customers had left. They offer set lunches other than sandwiches, but since I was there for the bread...
The sandwich options weren't very interesting - smoked salmon bagel, salami foccaccia, egg salad baguette (ew!) etc. I settled on a roast beef baguette. The set includes a starter of soup and a coffee/tea. All pretty standard. The layout of the café is pretty standard too. I wasn't expecting a place that screams "wonton noodle place". I'm exaggerating a little, but the cleanliness of the tables, floors and visible counter areas really have to be looked at. The soup comes with several slices of bread - I got one slice of baguette and two rye-looking ones with specks of candied orange peel worked into it. All were very chewy and slightly dry and stringy- I kept thinking they might have microwaved it because the outer surface of the slices seemed like they were beginning to dry. I even left a piece out for longer to see if it would harden. But it didn't, so the bread proves itself very chewy with abnormally strong strands of gluten. *ponders* The baguette that became my sandwich was much better. Although its exterior wasn't exactly crispy, it exuded a character more similar to a country-style loaf (campagnard) - doughy, dense, and bouncy without being tough. What I hate most about some baguettes is that you have to wrestle it to secure each bite. Coffee at the end wasn't too bad either, and their lattes are cheap in Hong Kong standards ($19 - stand-alone).
Tufei Painpain seems much less popular at lunchtime despite the fact that they also have lunch sets. IMO, there are two reasons. Firstly, it's way up on Caine Rd. in the highly residential mid-levels, up past the heart of SoHo. Secondly, it seems like it hardly ever opens. Their website says they're only open Wednesday through Saturday or something lazy like that. They must have picked that up in France... (j/k, no offense - artisans need their rest and time for creative thought haha)
No time for a sit down lunch today though (I'd spent too much time walking up the hill and buying coffee - a very good one, nonetheless - from Lime Organics on the way), so I bought a pain au levain and ate it on my walk back. It wins, hands down, as my pick for the bestEST bread in Hong Kong. For the time being, anyway. I know Lime Organics has bread every Saturday and there's a Chinese place called Gourmet Kitchen (I don't even know if it's still in existence...) that apparently houses an avid baker. But for now, I'm happy.
9 Jervois St. **MOVED**
58 Caine Road **MOVED**
Open: Tues-Sun (so the website says...)
Lime Organics **CLOSED**
2 Elgin St