The new addition to the bouquet of informal restaurants at Colaba is something that I shied from pronouncing for a long time. But finally I managed to get myself to a table at Le Pain Quotidien, an international bakery and café chain famed for its large (oakwood) communal tables meant to be shared by diners.
Le Pain Quotidien (French for Daily Bread) was started in Brussels, Belgium, by chef Alain Coumont. The café chain was born two decades ago because Coumont was unhappy with the breads available in the city. Furnished with tables, chairs and cabinets from the local flea market, the first Le Pain Quotidien saw Coumont whip up organic breads and the menu revolved around the pain (or bread).
Twenty-one years later, Coumont has opened the first Le Pain Quotidien in Mumbai, a city that has opened up to international cuisines over the past few years. The location is strategic. Apollo Bunder sees tourists, businessmen, ladies who lunch, etc. Rather cockily, the new eatery is nestled bang opposite the famed Indigo Deli and Moshe Coffee Shop. It is ironic, though, that the reason why this chain was started is the very reason that our experience at the bakery chain went from below average to horrendous.
On a quiet Sunday evening, Le Pain Quotidien’s signboard looks tranquil with its yellow lights and the bougainvillea around it looks inviting. We walk in through the glass doors and the sight of pink frosted cupcakes fills our heart with delight. The breakfast menu looks so sumptuous that we almost contemplate lounging around until the next morning. The tummy makes a rumbling noise in protest and the mozzarella di bufala and plum tomato salad (Insalata Caprese) are ordered along with a platter of bruschetta.
As we wait for our food, a basketful of bread arrives. The assortment of breads is chewy, the crusts almost hurt my gums, but knowing that the bakery is named ‘daily bread’, I just blame poor dental hygiene and resolve to brush four times a day. The bruschetta platter arrives, and the bread is phenomenally better than the pieces served in the basket. The salad is delicious, but how could any restaurant possibly go wrong with the caprese?
We decide to go for a Parma ham, mozzarella tartine (open sandwich) with a black olive tapenade complete with sun-dried tomatoes. The tartine takes our breath away with its perfect melange of flavours and texture. Also, it is pretty impressive that the bakery serves fresh sun-dried tomatoes. By now, we are convinced that the bread at LPQ is best served toasted. The tartine leaves a smile on our lips, but that vanishes quickly.
The bread basket, now half empty, has an ecosystem living in it. Since the bakery café believes in organic food and recycling, it serves breads in a cane basket lined with a cloth stitched on to it. This white cloth, we notice, has a pattern of disgusting stains and a lace of fungus adorns the bottom of the basket, visible only after you have eaten the bread it holds. Our appetite dies instantly and the rest of the tartine is abandoned.
We are offered dessert to make up for the horrible experience, but we politely decline. A tweet telling us to try the lemon tart persuades us to order it and, true to the tweet, the tart is impressive with the lemon curd filling at the right wobbly consistency and a pie crust that crumbles in our mouths.
Overall, however, the quality of the bread in a place named for bread leaves a lot to be desired. The service is decent; the menu has interesting options; but with bread being at the heart of the menu, it needs fixing. The website states that their breads contain no additives and hence have a shorter shelf life. My guess is that the humidity in Mumbai further shortens the shelf life (the breads are on display) and by 9pm the day’s breads are stale, but the staff served those to us without checking if they were fit enough.
But why does the bruschetta taste so good? We all know that bruschetta has to be made with stale bread (preferably a baguette) because the reheating makes the stale bread crusty and fit for holding a topping.
The fungus incident completely ruined the average experience we’d had. Le Pain ended up being le disgusting. What’s more, it sets us back by Rs1600.
Le Pain Quotidien is open 8am-11:30pm and is located at Dhanraj Mahal, Colaba, Mumbai 400039