Renovation and Redemption; Case file: Hobnob Bakery

Have the changes made it worthy of a revisit?

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Hobnob bakery reminds me of my high school days. The most coveted fudge cake there could be- every birthday absolutely had to be celebrated with the dense fudginess that was associated with the bakery. My pocket money would be tucked away in school and on the way home, I’d invariably stop at the closest branch to my house and get myself a huge chocolate chip fudge cookie. Divine would be one word to describe it. And over-indulgent, yes; I’d eat one half right away and save the other half to dip in a cold glass of milk later.

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We had a particular out-of-town guest, who would want a coffee crunch cake waiting for her before she arrived home. Don’t even get me started on the Baked Alaska trend. Point being, Hobnob was king and the arrival of the signature orange box got us excited like nothing else- except may be Bombay Bakery.

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So whatever happened to the bakery that made Oreo Cheesecake so commercial? It suddenly started losing its charm. The cookies didn’t taste so fantastic anymore; the fudge cake became too dense and the orange box generated a mere ‘meh’ of acknowledgment. My analysis comes in two parts:

  1. Too much of one thing. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition, which meant there was way too much of Hobnob
  2. When the competition started entering the market- Pie In The Sky, most notably- there was finally variation and a bit of fresh air
  3. Hobnob did not alter itself or its menu, as it should have

UNTIL NOW.

The reason I got to writing this is due to a random visit to the recently renovated bakery, which I found out is due to ownership changing hands. Over the last year or so, we had been witnessing a change in all the branches of Hobnob. Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention- it was a simple change of presentation, insignificant.

I could not be more wrong.

My daughter was tugging at my shirt and being very consistent with her manners “pleeeeease, mama, pleeeeeeease. Can I have a brownie?” So naturally, after saying “NO, after lunch” a dozen times, we walked into the closest bakery to our vantage point. This just happened to be the Hobnob located in Khadda Market.

Color me impressed with the new Hobnob and all the bells and whistles. The first look at the interior had me taken aback. Out with the old, and in with the modern. The bakery speaks chic and trendy yet maintains warmth.

 

While the little one was carefully assessing the selection of brownies and how to get the most bang (read: chocolate) for her buck (read: carefully defined boundary of only ONE brownie), I was being carried off by the chin, much like cartoon depictions of irresistible aromas, to the further end of the shop.

They had just gotten a couple of mini pizzas out of the oven. The server (extremely polite from the moment we stepped in) was quick to tell me that they bake their goods in small batches at regular intervals to ensure maximum freshness. And sure enough, a small oven has been installed right there in the bakery acting for the dual purpose of providing fresh goods and that heavenly ‘fresh baked’ aroma. I got one cheese pizza and one chicken pizza. Needless to say I burnt my tongue due to my keenness. My daughter, who doesn’t actually enjoy pizza (I will never know how that happened, its alien to me), asked for more after having a taste! After the initial reaction of a selfless mother “NO, it’s mine. You wanted a brownie”, I gave her the second pizza. Only because the Snickers brownie was a bit of a disappointment and I kind of felt bad for her.

I also got their famous French Hearts. 3 days after getting them, the leftovers are still crispy.

What caught my eye was the fact that amidst all the new additions: pulled beef chimichurri sandwiches, the cutest mini-cupcakes, etc; they maintained the classics that make Hobnob what it is. The fudge cake stands proud as their signature cake, the carrot cupcake (another childhood favorite) stayed, the lemon tarts that most bakeries use as a ‘filler’ item looked glorious with an abundant swirl, and of course- a solo coffee crunch cake, that I personally hold dear, was nestled humbly among the first choice team members.

Did I go back?

Yes. Thrice. I wanted to try another branch to see whether the quality was the same all across. The first time I got a variety of biscuits for tea: I’ve had better chocolate biscuits- this one didn’t absorb as much chai as I would have preferred and the others were perfectly nice (nothing off, nothing extravagant; reliably good).

I also got some of the warm patties: chicken, tandoori chicken and cheese and vegetable. The puff pastry is buttery, crumbly and melts in your mouth- the filling, although generous, could use a bit of work. The tandoori chicken and cheese filling is a complete miss- too much spice, very little cheese. The vegetable patties are large, make no mistake, and the filling really surprises you- it isn’t the typical potato masala that we are used to.

Éclairs are making a comeback at many bakeries; we have been used to soggy choux pastries filled simply with whipped cream as an excuse for éclairs. Now, everyone is stepping up their game, so naturally I wanted to have a taste of the coconut éclair calling my name. It was definitely better than good, just a touch under great, but my 1 year old was turning over boxes looking for a follow-up bite. Sugar will do that to kids.

The next time, I got a bunch of mini cupcakes and boy, was I disappointed. The carrot mini-cupcake was cardboard dry (I had to toss it), the chocolate cupcake was alright, and the mocha’s frosting was dry and crumbly. But I can write that off as a bad day.

The brown bread loaf was a great buy. I have now switched from my standard Slice of Life multigrain loaf to the Hobnob brown bread- even though the taste is good, I switched more so due to the perfect size of the loaf- nice and petite. I spoke to the head of marketing, Rizwan Umer, and head of product excellence, Marylou Andrew, at Hobnob, and they were very proud to say that their brown bread is one of the only in the market that is color and preservative free. Bonus points!

Out of my own curiosity, I wanted to meet with the people behind the change. So I did.

A few major changes in the bakery are:

  • The biscuit counter is not behind the salesperson anymore but in front of the customer’s eye
  • Live baking
  • Seasonal items are constantly being added: anaar cheesecake, for example.
  • The addition of cupcakes to the menu
  • Variations of flavors: cut down the cream cakes (from 30 to 4!), diversify the brownies, amp up the flavor of the classic cakes (e.g. coffee crunch cake now has more coffee and lesser crunch)
  • Innovation in the menu- testing items like the salted caramel popcorn cake and the coconut éclair
  • The tagline is now “Baking It Better” to signal their desire to consistently step up their game
  • No premixes are used
  • New breads: One of the only all butter croissants in commercial bakeries, multi grain and brown breads, focaccia, ciabatta
  • A promise to use quality ingredients that are worth the price

All-in-all, has Hobnob achieved redemption with their renovations? I would say yes. Just the fact that I had written it off for the past few years, and they have me excited enough to go back and try more of their savory items speaks volumes.

Have you been to the new Hobnob yet? Let us know what you think!

Which other renovated bakeries/restaurants have you visited recently and would like us to cover?

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