Saturday, 16 April 2016

Le Pain Quotidien - finding a home in Wan Chai

Man, I really love crunchy fresh baguettes. 

There's something special about lathering a heap of room temperature hand churned salted butter on a fresh baguette that captivates me.  

Sometimes, when I go to a restaurant and there's a fresh crunchy baguette on offer, I make the mistake of filling up on bread and ruining my appetite for the pending meal!

As much as I love bread, it's nowhere near as much as Alain Coumont, the mastermind behind global phenomenon Le Pain Quotidien; "the daily bread".  Coumont opened his first Le Pain Quotidien in his home of Brussels in 1990, with his fanatical approach to producing the absolute best 'daily bread' leading to a global empire that as of today stands at more than 200 outlets, including a flagship bakery on Madison Avenue in New York City.

Coumont had always been around food, his grandparents owning a restaurant near Liege in Belgium and his father was a trained chef, so it seemed natural to continue in the same vein. After training at the same hotel school that his father attended, he eventually deviated slightly to become a baker as opposed to a chef.

And the rest, as they say, is history!

It's not completely surprising that Le Pain Quotidien would open in Hong Kong, after all, practically every major brand in the world can be found here.  What was surprising, was to find that the first HK Le Pain Quotidien would open at The Avenue in Wan Chai, a place that I will very shortly call home!

I'd been keeping a close eye on the developments at The Avenue, watching as Le Pain Quotidien slowly took shape, eventually to open under the tag of 'soft opening'.  A soft opening is a way for a new establishment to open up with a reduced menu, to get a feel for their operating rhythm and expose customers to the brand before the 'grand opening'.  When you go to a soft opening, you usually expect to encounter teething issues, in fact this is very normal.

I was lucky enough to get along to the early days of the soft opening and have lunch with Alain Coumont himself.

An unassuming man, there was a quite intensity about his demeanour and a look of quiet satisfaction as he surveyed the packed dining area and queues forming.  When I asked him where his drive and inspiration came from to develop a global brand, he simply smiled and recounted his desire to produce and share the bread that he remembered from his youth.

Le Pain Quotidien is much more than a bakery now,  much more than a global brand, it's a destination where you sit and enjoy a comprehensive menu that includes options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  There's no doubt though, that at heart Le Pain Quotidien is a bakery - fresh daily breads line up in baskets and croissants and other pastries abound.

On the day of my visit, I sampled some of the tasty options on the 'limited menu', the best of which were beef and veal meatballs in a rich and tasty sauce as well as some of the tartines that seem to be oh-so-trendy right now.

As good as they were, it was the simple crunchy baguette with lashings of wonderfully salted butter that really excited me most.  I'm absolutely certain that like the stereotypical French national, walking around with a crunchy golden baguette (a sight which was common on my recent trip to Paris), I too will be a regular at Le Pain Quotidien, securing my daily bread!

Le Pain Quotidien at The Avenu in Wanchai
The menu also has a distinctly Asian bent
One of the many Tartines on the menu
Bread's and Cheese would be great for a mid afternoon snack!
Amazing Croissant - light and fluffy
Ahhh, the Baguette - how I love you so!
Plenty of desserts on offer - this sweet waffle was served with a yoghurt cream
Bread, bread, everywhere!

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