BreadTalk seems to be one of Colombo’s great dividers. Our Original YAMU review of the Singaporean chain’s enormous Lipton Circus outlet sparked fierce debate. Who’d have thought bakery products could stir such passions?
Partisans swear by the well presented pastries, ultra clean interior and ‘open kitchen’ while skeptics – sneer at the high prices, marked synthetic taste and lack of flavor. To put an end to the increasingly bitter debate on our pages we thought we’d track this multinational behemoth to its lair in the Lion City and deliver our final verdict.
We found a classic incarnation of the 400 (worldwide) strong chain in its natural habitat: one of Singapore’s ubiquitous food courts. Here it was just one of the dozens of stalls at the bottom of a fairly generic East Asian mall (Bugis Junction) and the 5m2 premise was a far cry from the palatial Bread Talks that seem to have taken root in Colombo.
On closer inspection though we did find display cases stacked with an attractive assortment of pastries and even in this little space, there was a trademark open kitchen producing various golden brown baked confections. The selection was vast and, for a Colombar, rather unfamiliar – ikan biliss triangles, Bul gogi rolls, pork floss buns? but after careful deliberation we made our choices and wandered out to the food court to do what we do best – review.
Here’s the verdict:
There’s really nothing remotely upscale or refined about BreadTalk. It’s a successful, middle of the road chain – the Perera & Sons of Singapore. Its mass produced, mass market and I found myself cringing as various Singporeans laughed heartily at the fact that something so pedestrian as BreadTalk could cause excitement amongst our backwards natives.
More important than where the chain fits in the social pecking order is the quality of the food it produces. We tried a pork floss bun, a clay pot chicken bun, and a custard Fuji.
Pork Floss bun (SGD 1.70, Rs 170): Pork floss is actually a traditional Chinese dried meat preparation and BreadTalk’s signature item is basically a generous amount of floss rubbed on a sweetish, mayonnaise filled roll. It was fine – the floss has an interesting texture and provides a bit of savory sweetness while the mayo lends tartness. Wrapped in BreadTalks trademark soft, sweet bread it’s a fairly substantial snack. Though I think, for a lot of Sri Lankans and non-east Asians in general, the sweet, cotton wool textured bread might be a problem and the sweet bread with the sweet pork, slightly sweet and somewhat synthetic mayo is a little too much.
Clay Pot Chicken bun (SGD, 2 Rs 200): Suckered by the advertising I insisted on getting one of these. Cutely presented with the bread dyed black and shaped to simulate a clay pot it’s filled with some sort of lightly curried chicken. I was expecting something more exotic. It’s basically a mas paan but the curry, while fine, lacks spice and well it’s that cotton wool bread again…
Custard Fuji (SGD 1.70 Rs 170): A classic sweet pastry – some split puff pastry filled with a good lug of crème patissiere/whipped cream. Less cloying than our local butter cream filling and with light flaky pastry this was a star performer – huge and not over sweet. I might be tempted to pick one of these up if they are available in Colombo.
So after all the fuss is it worth it?
The average BreadTalk pastry goes for SGD 1.70, so the Colombo outlets average Rs. 150 are actually cheaper. However compared to say a pastry out of say Klassy, or Sponge you’re paying a premium for mass-produced and mediocre food. Interestingly even in Singapore where the average wage is more than 10x what it is here I heard complaints about BredTalk’s value for money.
Most local foodies prefer to pick up cheaper and often tastier curry puffs – curry filled pastries, from small local kades/corner shops. A lot of BreadTalks current success seems to boil down to sheer scale – its everywhere so you’re bound to wander in at some point.
Anyway if Singaporeans earning 10x (wow that hurts) more than we do complain about its value the fact that we’re paying almost the same just doesn’t make sense. I mean it’s perfectly ok food but even in its home market its not synoymous with high quality. The kitchens might be open but all they do in the outlets is assemble – the dough, the floss and the fillings are made elsewhere and with additives they won’t reveal.
At the end of the day it’s a matter of personal taste but I paid $5.40 for my three items and for that price, in Singapore, I can get some delicious, classic hawker food – oyster omlette, black carrot cake, or even a sea food laksa. So on future trips to the city state I don’t think I’ll feel the need to visit BreadTalk again and I’m not sure why anyone feels the need to fuss over the place in Colombo.