Famously hailed as the most gratifying of all essential foods, good bread is hard to beat. It’s at the heart of every culture, from those humble slices of local Pullman loaf in Singapore’s favourite breakfast of kaya and butter on toast to the painstakingly made, naturally fermented sourdough that has come to define the tastes of countless millennials across the globe.
It’s also easy to see why our love affair with good bread remains but a flawed attempt to find the perfect one. Honestly, who’s to say what’s right when you’re in the mood for fluffy Hokkaido bread or even some fresh-out-of-the-tandoor Armenian lavash?
We can, however, affirm that even the quality variety of the once-trivialised dinner roll can have a profound effect on one’s perception of the overall dining experience. It’s the reason why the best restaurants take pride in being able to proffer an eclectic breadbasket selection that sets them apart from the rest.
At modern European establishments, these can range from crusty French baguettes, pillowy brioche and pain au lait, and buttery croissants, to more seasonal offers, such as cornbread and chestnut rolls. At top brass restaurants like Les Amis, for example, breads and pastries are baked twice daily for lunch and dinner—a toasty offering of up to a dozen varieties, no less.
Suffice it to say, the bread course has outgrown its role as mere padding between courses. And while it is then easy to appreciate why the wheeling in of the bread trolley at the likes of Vianney Massot Restaurant never fails to incite a chorus of oohs and aahs, other restaurants do surprisingly well with a singular variety.
Contemporary French restaurant Saint Pierre, for one, offers a house-made sourdough served with three kinds of butter. Others, like Preludio, have embraced the opportunity to feature a style of bread designed to complement its changing transborder cuisine. Inspired by a theme that changes every 12 months or so, last year’s dinner menu didn’t feature a bread course. This year, chef-owner Fernando Arévalo and his team decided to include a delicate yet moreish rye bread. Coated in a honey-bacon glaze, the bright flavours are given a subtle boost of umami with the addition of water from a process of fermenting cremini and portobello mushrooms. The bread is paired nicely with butter infused with the flavours of caramelised red onions.
“I think an essential part of our philosophy is to constantly question our own ideas and grow as we listen to our customers’ feedback and suggestions,” Arévalo admits, noting how they eventually decided on a roll that’s more “comforting”. It also needed to feature a mix of ingredients that reflects the restaurant’s current chapter, which is inspired by the concept of time.