An early morning concert at the Gateway left me with a fast to break. Just was we were trying to get into the new Moshe next to Indigo Deli, crowds across the road attracted me to a sign hanging off the newly painted Dhanraj Mahal. Wonder of wonders, Le Pain Quotidien – a one-time favourite from New York - was now occupying the former Henry Tham space.
Now Le Pain Quotidien may have started in Belgium, but their original New York outlet at Madison & 85th was a regular stopover of mine. The communal bench meant there was usually free a place to sit, then there were lots of people to chat up, newspapers, good coffee, great food. The simple, modern decor was appealing, the breads outstanding and the menu simple, unfussy and light on the pocket but satisfyingly delicious. In short, Le Pain was a particular favourite of mine – sort of a perfect neighbourhood place (though it was some distance from my actual neighbourhood). It had already started expanding when I left New York, and is now everyone’s neighbourhood boulangerie with a generous 27 outlets in that city alone. Yet, of Le Pain Quotidien’s 100+ outlets, a mere two are in Asia. There’s one in Tokyo, and Mumbai is graced with the only other one there is.
I’m quite a fan of combining breakfast and bread (as at least one of my earlier posts will tell you). I rarely have bread for breakfast at home (primarily to avoid getting chubbier than I am) but every once in a while, given the right encouragement, I’ll plunge into a bread-orgy for breakfast. As you can well make out from the title - there’s a good reason for me to be excited. The awkward name (even they admit its easier in Belgian) does nothing to disguise the place’s focus on bread. Pain (pronounced ‘pan’ for the unfrenched) means bread, and the chain was started by a baker of note. Le Pan Quotidien means ‘the daily bread’ and Mumbai’s outlet is no different – large boules of bread are displayed all over the front glass and back wall. Other bakery products such as muffins and cupcakes are everywhere. An open kneading station and a nice large wood communal table makes the whole thing resemble a baker’s kitchen; it is an elaborately constructed and effective illusion.
The bread-omlette-tartine-salad menu is what I remember from NY, but there are some Indian flourishes – a polenta upma, a tea-flavoured lassi, a masala omlette. The bread basket comes with five very European-style breads in it – particularly a a pleasing walnut and apricot and a very fine crusty but not crumbly baguette. This is easily the best hard-crust in the city. The other breads are also excellent, though Mumbai’s breads have improved too and Moshe or Theobroma can hold its own on the soft wheat bread.
The last bit of surprise was the outstanding lemon tart. This is also the best in the city; a buttery, zesty, sweet lemon curd filling resting on an unobtrusive tart base. My previous winner was Le 15, but this has easily supplanted it.
Give us today our pain quotidien… Amen…