I’m pulled into the atrium from the cold by the warming aroma of stone-baked and steamed loaves. The kitchen that sits open at the centre of the restaurant, hums and whirs like one great machine, flames flying from every corner. The place is packed, yet it feels spacious under the glass ceiling.
Once seated at the marble counter top facing into the kitchen, I turn to the menu and find that it’s a rich tapestry of treats, as even the salads are woven through with crispy fried calamari and truffle burrata. I’m momentarily lost somewhere between memories of warm doughy evening meals in Italy and sticky summer nights eating bao buns under Taiwan’s neon city lights. Returning to the present, I decide that a wintry chai Moscow mule feels justified in light of the cold weather – the perfect aperitif.
The starters I order provide proof that variety is the spice of life. The salty focaccia doused in olive oil with a generous side of houmous caters to the traditional antipasto lovers; tahini and roasted cauliflower with pomegranate seeds hits the Ottolenghi spot, and of course there is an obligation to opt for a choice of bao buns. One arrives stuffed with wild mushrooms, chestnuts and truffles while the other is packed with bourbon glazed pork belly and apple coleslaw. They melt in the mouth like candyfloss – it’s incredibly moreish.
I enjoy a raspberry spritzer at the interval while preparing myself for one of Mr Zibi’s favourite dishes on the menu: the lobster filled brioche buns, alongside the clay oven pizza caked in carbonara. The lightness of these buns loaded with perfectly cooked lobster meat make them easy to finish in only a couple of bites – but by far the best mouthfuls of the meal. I’ve still got some room left for one more dish, a rich and filling pizza. It’s a mystery to me that a pizza topped with pancetta, pecorino cheese cream and a baked egg doesn’t feature more often on Italian menus.
From the Taiwense bao to Roman-style pizza bread, Alex hopes that Buns & Buns will “create a place where people can come together and enjoy breads from around the world.” I believe he’s achieved just that. Buns & Buns offers a wonderful doughy escape in a London destination famous for its food. I roll out of the restaurant, knowing I’ll return to this Covent Garden gem.