Remo’s in Mount Edgecombe, KZN, where the bread is from heaven
At last Durban has bread that tastes like real bread should - thanks to Remo's, writes Shelley Seid
At the back of the big and busy space that is Remo's restaurant sits a bakery, a modest little space that produces the best artisanal breads Durban has seen in a very long time. The ciabatta is chewy and moist, the seed bread sweet and dense; even the plain brown loaf is distinctive, probably a result of rubbing the baking pans with olive oil so the flavour is drawn into the bread while it bakes.
Remo's Italian café and restaurant opened five years ago in Mount Edgecombe just beyond Umhlanga. It's the brainchild of Renzo Scribante, who decided to live his dream of running a European-style café.
Two years into the business, Scribante's father, "an old-style Italian", voiced his complaints about the quality of bread in Durban. Scribante didn't think twice. "I decided we had to learn to make a decent loaf of bread," he said.
"Decent" meant bread the old-fashioned way with stoneground flour, purified water and natural fermentation; bread with no preservatives, proved in canvas trolleys and made by hand.
Scribante got hold of "Captain Bread", aka Jason Lilley of Jason Bakery in Cape Town, who agreed to spend three weekends in Durban teaching Scribante, his executive chef Clifford Barratt and staff member Bongani Mabuyakhulu the art of breadmaking.
"Cooking is an art," says Barratt. "But baking is a science. While you can add something here and chuck something in there when you cook, that attitude is not good when you are working with chemical reactions." Humidity, temperature, softness or hardness of the water, the time the dough has to prove - a degree out in any of these can affect an entire batch of bread.
But once you have mastered the technique, something else comes into play. "It's 80% science and 20% flair," says Scribante. "Bongani, for example, was born a baker. He can take a look at his dough and tell you if it's going to be a good batch. He has the touch." For the two years following their training, Scribante and Mabuyakhulu arrived at the restaurant at 4am every morning to bake bread, lifting containers, massaging dough, loading trays into ovens and watching the time. "It's exhausting. You can understand why bakers are generally not chatty people."
Mabuyakhulu is now head baker, and under his watch Remo's Bakery produces ciabatta, baguettes, seedloaf, 50% rye, 100% rye, sourdough and basic white and brown; exotic breads like the French epi, Turkish flat breads and miche; and handmade, buttery croissants.
Artisanal breads don't come cheap. "Many people cut corners but we don't and we won't," says Scribante. "I'd rather close shop."
That's unlikely to happen. People travel across town to buy their weekly loaves, and a number of restaurants around Durban use only Remo's bread. "I love the products," says Scribante. "But more than that, I love seeing people eating and enjoying. That's my passion."
REMO'S, SHOP 21, FLANDERS MALL, MOUNT EDGECOMBE, KZN
REMO'S SEED LOAF
60g (½ cup) white bread flour
175g brown bread flour
5ml (1 tsp) fine salt
250ml (1 cup) milk
1 large egg
20ml (4 tsp) olive oil
20ml (4 tsp) honey
10g fresh yeast
40g white sesame seeds, plus extra for sprinkling
40g poppy seeds
40g pumpkin seeds
In a large mixing bowl, combine the white flour, brown flour and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk the milk and egg together, then add the oil, honey and yeast, stirring until the yeast dissolves.
Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and pour in the milk mixture, stirring until absorbed. Mix in the seeds and transfer the dough to a clean surface. Knead until smooth, then roll the dough into a ball, flatten it out, fold in half and roll into a rectangular shape.
Brush a bread tin with olive oil and place the dough inside. Lightly pat or spray the top of the dough with a little water and sprinkle with the extra sesame seeds.
Cover the tin with a damp cloth and allow the dough to prove in a warm place for an hour. Once the dough has risen, score the top with a long single line across the length of the loaf.
Bake the bread in a preheated oven at 200°C for 30-35 minutes, on the lowest shelf in the oven to prevent the top from going too dark. Use a knife to test that the centre is cooked.
Cool on a wire rack before slicing.