Buns & Buns – the bread-based brainchild of Alexandre Zibi – has opened its first UK venue in Covent Garden Market. We popped down to meet the founder and find out more about the simple yet unusual concept behind the restaurant.
A market décor within a market is nothing new, however, Buns & Buns has done a great job of creating an engaging and alluring spectacle within the already bustling North Hall of Covent Garden Market. Housed in a glass box, passers-by have full view of the busy open-kitchen at the heart of the restaurant, cocooned by marble-clad counters displaying all manner of fresh produce from lobster to legumes, and comprising a bar counter for diners wanting dinner and a show. The design is simple and modern with Art Deco touches and a fashionable feel.
We step inside and make our way passed a dry ice seafood display and stack of loaves to our seat at the bar where we can fully appreciate the precision of the dishing and smile at the good-humoured chorus of “yes, chef” that ripples through the kitchen team whenever Chef Vagner Matos calls for something.
As we take an initial glance at the menu we are struck by the fact that – whilst carbs are a key feature – the options seem surprisingly balanced, with minimal sandwiches and a somewhat international reach.
Alex Zibi comes over and introduces himself. Smiling and personable, he welcomes us to the newly opened restaurant and beams as he tells us that, they’re “doing pretty well so far. Knock on wood!”
He tells us that he came up with the concept three years ago I created the concept of pairing different breads with international foods three years ago.
“I realised that every single country pairs bread with everything. So I thought, why not do a restaurant that pairs everything with these breads, because who doesn’t like bread?! I wanted to cherry-pick my favourites and bring them to Buns & Buns, where we hope that every table will happily break bread together, something that people have been doing for thousands of years.”
Alex transplanted the concept of Buns & Buns over from Miami, where their first restaurant was based. “It was a big challenge to open here but we finally made it after a year and a half of hard work”, he explains. “Covent Garden came to us and it was such a good pace that we couldn’t say ‘no’ and decided to go for it straight away. I packed my luggage and came straight here from Miami.”
Seemingly unfazed by London’s obsession with “gluten-free”, he defends his decision with the logic that, brands like “Shack Shack and Five Guys are growing like mushrooms in London” so why not them. Of course, Buns & Buns does cater to those less fond of carbs than Alex with their main salads, as well as many of their veggie options, lighter dishes and mouthwatering Rotisserie Chicken.
After Alex takes us through the menu and gives us his recommendations, he leaves us to enjoy our meal. Taking his lead, we order a Mandarin Spritz – a deliciously flavoursome cocktail made with freshly squeezed mandarin juice that is stronger than your expected spritz with great natural colour and a juicy aroma. Our dishes arrive as they are ready and our eyes eagerly track the plates being handed to the servers (each checked over by chef Vagner before they depart his kitchen).
First to arrive is one of Buns & Buns’ most famous dishes – the Lobster Brioche Roll. Served with a mayonnaise-based Japanese dressing and matchstick fries, it is an indulgent treat. The lobster meat is tender and full of flavour and the bread is surprisingly soft and butter, surpassing our expectations for something that looks like an unassuming hot-dog-style bun.
Next up are the Truffle & Wild Mushrooms and the Chilli Thai Prawn bao buns. The vegetarian one blows our minds with its amazing mix of meaty and delicate textures. Girolles and chestnut mushrooms meet shiitake and shimeji, all brought together with powerful truffle within a plump and fluffy base.
The prawn bao is intensely garlicky, packing a citric, lime-driven punch that is appeased by a good dollop of mayonnaise. The prawns themselves are perfectly cooked and melt into the bun. After trying these we are not surprised that they are two of the most popular items on the menu, even if they appear a little steeply priced at £7.50 for a bun (but hey, this is Covent Garden after all).
One of the larger dishes on the menu is the Carbonara Clay Oven Pizza, which brings with in the welcome ceremony of tearing off chunks of warm pancetta and pecorino covered bread and dipping them into the runny yolk that sits in the centre of the pizza. A wonderful sharing dish that embraces the literal breaking of communal bread, at £17 this is one of the more reasonably prices options for those on the hungrier side.
The service is exceptionally speedy with a highly regimented system of checks and platings that is impressive to witness from our seats overlooking the kitchen. This fast turnaround means that Buns & Buns will be able to attract casual shoppers looking for a quick bite as well as those stopping by for a work-day lunch.
We round off proceedings with a Spicy Margarita (Tequila Ocho, agave syrup, chilli peppers, coriander, lime juice) and a Reserved Old Fashioned (Bourbon Bulleit Whiskey, maple syrup, Jerry Thomas bitters). Both are solid choices and sip away whilst nattering with the kitchen team before heading back off into Covent Garden.
Our evening was one of unexpected indulgence and easy merriment and, whilst the prices for some of the dishes may seem high, the quality of ingredients and – of course – the bread, makes them worthwhile.
Buns & Buns, 5c Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2E 8RA