A restaurant’s bread and butter can set the tone, and the flavour, for things to come. In Hong Kong, chefs at MICHELIN-starred establishments are taking their bread service to the next level with artisan breads baked in-house and served with creative butters and spreads.
Whether you prefer pillowy brioche buns or crusty sourdough breads, these five restaurants are making their bread and butter an integral part of the dining experience, rather than merely something to munch on before your meal.
One MICHELIN Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021
Bread can provide an entrance into cultures different to our own. For chef-owner Agustin Balbi, bread is an opportunity to share his Spanish-Italian heritage. "Bread is more than just food to us—it is a symbol of caring and sharing,” says the chef. “To give an idea, the word “companion” comes from the Latin words 'com-' (with) and 'panis' (bread) to signify togetherness. Beyond its cultural significance, bread also involves religion as it is considered a gift from God.”
At Ando, bread plays a vital role in dividing cold and raw foods from the hot dishes on the tasting menu. Cold dishes like raw fish and beef tartare are prefaced with sourdough bread freshly baked daily from local bakery Bakehouse by Grégoire Michaud—a good friend of Balbi who refers to him as "the best baker in town.” "We are very proud to be the only restaurant in Hong Kong to serve his bread,” says Balbi. “This also shows what bread is about—friendship.”
The bread service at Ando itself is a main event. The bread and butter is treated as a course on its own, served in a tray with the waiter patiently explaining each of the condiments. The butter selection consists of three rotating flavours, served whipped to give that extra fluffiness for a smooth spread. Even the extra virgin olive oil is thoughtfully selected from Spanish producer El Poaig, who extracts oils from millennia-old olive trees.
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau
It is no exaggeration to say that rye bread is a staple food in the Finnish culinary culture. "In Finland, bread is a big part of our lives. Basically, we start and end the day with bread, ” says chef-owner Eric Räty of his hometown.
Describing bread service as a "welcoming gesture”, Räty believes there are no set rules to when and how bread and butter should be served. "At Arbor, we serve bread and butter alone as well as dishes that are inspired by bread, like rye in tart shells—now filled with sea urchin, sushi rice and nori seaweed—and rye bread with various seeds combined with ayu (Japanese fish) or abalone,” he adds.
To complement Arbor’s innovative Nordic-Japanese cuisine, the bread and butter spotlights Japanese and Asian influences. The umami-packed white miso-nori brioche is currently served with homemade kombu seaweed butter, and mentaiko and koji chilli butter. Räty changes up the butter flavours based on his latest inspiration, which has previously included caramelised miso with Parmesan cheese, sashimi soy, and toasted kombu.
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau 2021
It’s fair to say bread holds particular importance in the land of baguette and croissant. Having grown up in France, chef Maxime Gilbert has fond memories of going to the bakery with his mother, and he would eat the warm baguettes on the way so by the time they arrived home almost half of them would be gone. "Without a doubt, bread is my favourite food and I can eat it all day,” says the French chef.
Much like how bread is an integral part of his life, Gilbert wants to share the comfort of homemade bread and “the same sensation I had at home with my family” with his guests at Écriture. Served at the beginning just after canapés, the bread basket and butter stays on the table until dessert, and is refilled throughout the meal. The intention is to let guests enjoy the bread at their own pace—with butter or sauces on the plate.
But it was only until March this year that the restaurant began to explore making bread in-house. A project spearheaded by pastry chef Cyrus Yan, the bread basket now comes with freshly baked sourdough bread made with premium flour from Les Moulins de Brasseuil, and brioche feuilletée, a buttery, flaky brioche-croissant pastry that will leave you wanting seconds.
The butter, served in a sharing portion with a wooden knife in the middle, is sourced from a farm in the Maine-et-Loire, Belle Miss'Terre, which uses milk from age-old cattle breeds to make high quality butter.
Two MICHELIN Stars, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau
It is safe to say that chef Olivier Elzer, who was born in Germany and raised in France, grew up in two of the biggest bread cultures in Europe. "To me, the day starts with a baguette or a croissant. No good meal starts without good bread,” says the culinary director of L’Envol.
Speaking of the art of serving bread, Elzer credits his know-how to his mentor, "Mr. (Joël) Robuchon”, whose bread basket is seen as "the elixir of Robuchon’s dining experience.” Aspired to continue the legacy of Robuchon, Elzer has given his own twists to the bread service at L’Envol, offering an artisan bread basket along with two types of homemade butter—caviar and champagne—of two contrasting flavours. The former yields an intense saltiness, while the latter is milder with a hint of tartness.
"We treat our bread basket as a course itself—it is a showcase of our team’s creativity and culinary capability,” says the chef.
One MICHELIN Star & Green Star, MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong Macau
Hailing from the UK, head chef Ashley Salmon feels that sandwiches are the most representative type of bread in his country. "Sandwiches are one of our most beloved quick bites,” says the British chef. “I don’t suppose there are too many homes that don’t enjoy a good bacon sandwich or butty where I come from.”
An equally famous bread from the region is the Irish soda bread, which was first served at Roganic London, where one of the Irish chefs baked his mother’s soda bread recipe for the staff. Shaped like a muffin, the soda bread is sprinkled with Demerara sugar and oats on top, lending crunchiness to contrast the soft texture and slightly salty flavour.
Instead of serving bread before the meal begins, Roagnic takes a different approach: the bread arrives at the table after the finger snacks and usually with a course. "The guest may want to mop up the sauce from the dish—for me it is something I love to do whilst eating out, and nothing beats bread that’s been soaked in a good sauce. Delicious!”
Embracing the humble loaf as a key element that completes the Roganic experience, Salmon believes that "a hand crafted and delicious piece of bread made with meticulous attention is no different to any other dish.” While he would encourage guests to enjoy the soda bread with certain dishes, it also comes with the restaurant’s whipped cultured brown sugar butter—a caramelised butter (beurre noisette) whipped with crème fraîche that balances with a nutty, sour and salty flavour.