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Mumbai's little luxuries of baked goodness

Why are the city's premium dining restaurants opening bakeries, balancing everyday staples with indulgent treats?

Assorted treats from TwentySeven Bakehouse

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These are the best of times for bread lovers in Mumbai, with multiple tempting options for buttery croissants, high-quality sourdoughs and light-as-air puff pastries. The bakery space, especially the premium segment, has been expanding and evolving, with restaurants entering the space too. This weekend marks the arrival of the latest entrant: Aditi Dugar, founder of the fine-dining Masque, is launching a baking venture, the delivery-focused TwentySeven Bakehouse.

Apart from everyday breads, it will have alfajores (an Argentinian cookie sandwiched with dulce de leche), Goan chorizo pot pies and za’atar croissants.  

So far, the premium bakery space in Mumbai had been defined by brands like Le15 and Theobroma, and, more recently, cafés such as Subko. Now, stand-alone restaurants—like Masque—are joining the party, with products priced at an average of 250-300.

To some extent, the rise in popularity of baked products can be traced to the pandemic: People hemmed in by fear and disease took refuge in small luxuries. Sourdough went viral, breads from around the world found a firm footing. Home bakers took over the conversation, with the Israeli babka emerging as a hot favourite.

Restaurants began moving into this space, premium hospitality groups set up delivery-only bakeries and cafés. It makes business sense. For, in the case of stand-alone institutions with limited access, especially in the premium dining space, a delivery-only format enables a wider audience while keeping the brand ethos intact.

Today, Mumbai is home to the delivery-only Mag St Bread Co. from the founders of The Table, a fine-dining restaurant; last year, they also set up a café, Mag St Cafe. The Oberoi Group has marked its presence with the premium restaurant-cum-café Cou Cou and Seefah, one of the city’s most popular Asian restaurants, has launched the delivery-only Seefah Bakery.

Almost all of them offer breads from different corners of the world—from pithivier (an enclosed French pie) to kouign amman (a sweet, sticky and buttery Breton cake) and alfajores. Customers are gobbling it up.

Also read | The Delhi bakeries of our childhood

“I think we have reached a point where we want these small luxuries once or twice a week. A lot of people have moved away from that one big holiday a year, and, because of social media influence, international trends quickly catch on. Moreover, Instagram has aesthetic value, and that’s how one justifies spending 300 for a croissant and sharing it on social media,” argues Mumbai-based freelance writer Aatish Nath, whose Instagram posts on sourdough instantly trigger a craving.

One of the most popular products at Mag St Bread Co. is the Korean cream cheese garlic bun. At Seefah Bakery, which recreates breads from 7-Eleven stores, the best-sellers include the shokupan (a pillowy soft Japanese bread) and char siu buns. These are not necessarily “healthy breads”; they are not vegan, sugar-free or gluten-free. But they are fresh from the oven. And they come with a stamp of quality. “These are pick-me-ups; foods that one can enjoy maybe once a week or fortnight,” says Nath, adding that they make for great gifts too. A box of Viennoiseries lasts longer than a cake. And brings joy.

For stand-alone restaurants, it’s all about accessibility and scale. Gauri Devidayal, founder of Mag St Kitchen, started The Table in 2011; a few years later, she launched a B2B (business-to-business) bakery venture. In 2016, they opened a large kitchen in Mumbai’s Byculla area for workshops, pop-ups and shoots, even catering to cafés, like those run by Blue Tokai. In 2020, the first lockdown forced them to think on their feet and enter the B2C (business-to-consumer) space.

“The orders were crazy. Every morning, we would have 60-70 Scootsy guys waiting for pickups,” says Devidayal. Encouraged, they opened the Mag St Cafe in 2021.

The newest entrant to this field, TwentySeven Bakehouse, has a similar approach. It’s catering to B2B as well as B2C from a central kitchen. There’s another similarity too—baker Rachelle Andrade, who was with Mag St Kitchen, has joined TwentySeven Bakehouse. They plan to supply high-quality burger buns, bagels and bánh mì breads to businesses and regular buyers in Mumbai.

“One can be an amazing chef, but they need the support of a baker to complete their dishes. That’s where we come in,” maintains Dugar.

Bakery products are easier to scale—but they come with their own challenges of quality control and freshness. Seefah Ketchaiyo, who started Seefah Bakery, has in fact had to scale down operations. When her first business, the Asian restaurant Seefah, picked up after the lockdown restrictions were lifted, there was no kitchen space or manpower for a full-fledged bakery. For the moment, she takes pre-orders in small batches and remains closed on weekends. But demand from consumers as well as businesses is “a lot”, she says, and she may look at opening a “shop” next year.

For Dugar, who runs the multiple-award winning Masque, it’s about “democratising luxury”. She explains: “Take the case of macarons that everyone would post on Instagram if they went to Paris. But Pooja Dhingra (who started the bakery chain Le15) made it accessible in India with her brand. I am starting to look at my businesses from a fresh perspective. With Masque, I understood what luxury means, but now I am thinking how to make those ideas available to a wider audience. In food, democratising luxury will become a trend moving forward.”

Also read | A piece of cake for these home bakers from the North-East

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