My first experience at Fox & Obel was kind of horrible. I went during my lunch break from work one day to poke around and perhaps buy something unique. I'm all for shelling out too much money for something that I have never seen before and that looks like an exciting kitchen addition, however I was disappointed to see that Fox & Obel simply sells mass marketed gourmet mustards that you can find in any foofy coffee shop and your standard imported British cookies---at about twice the price. I'm sure if I spent more time in there I could find something intriguing and there is something to be said for having all of those items in one store, but I was still over-all unimpressed.
On this first day I tried their bread, a baguette, and the female employee helping me was impossibly rude and the baguette was impossibly rock-hard. I wouldn't have gone back so soon except that Rob at Vital Information convinced me to give them a second chance.
Harold and I drove up last Sunday and spent a large amount of time looking for parking. Reader be savvy: Fox & Obel will validate your parking ticket if you park across the street in the lot. Harold and I took a gander around the store and then decided coffee was highly in order. We got in line behind 7 or so people in the back cafe area and proceeded to wait for nearly 30 min to even order our coffee! There was a collection about 5 employees behind the counter arranging bagels and chatting while one astoundingly slow woman took orders.
Finally with some caffeine in hand and running low on leisure time we went to select some bread from again, not the most friendly woman. Overall, the experience with the haughty clientele and the bizarre employees was less than great the second time around as well. I did manage to find some excellent fage Greek yogurt and some fancy mineral water that didn't break the bank. Let's see how the bread compared. . .
We ate a pretty tasty brioche on the way home because we were very hungry. Upon our arrival at my place we started with the semolina loaf. In the above picture (beginning at the top left and turning clockwise) we have the semolina loaf, a half eaten mini-baguette (ok, so we started on that in the car too), our 1/4 of the peasant sour, an olive ciabatta pillow, and the ciderhouse dark rye. The semolina didn't seem to have much semolina in it. It was basically a fancy white bread which tasted a bit like a gas oven when you breathed out of your nose as you ate. That sounds pretty awful, but I would say it was a generally inoffensive bread without much going for it. However it did have a decent crust with a soft crumb which had a very nice hole structure.
Above you can see the interiors of (l-r) the baguette, the semolina loaf, and the olive ciabatta. The baguette was much better than the one I had on my solo trip. Though, it still wasn't spectacular. It was a little flavourless and was too airy. It had a very soft and squishy crumb and a hard yet thin and flaky crust. This baguette was a little too delicate too take seriously.
We then moved to the peasant sour. This was a gorgeous bread. You can see the browned/charred, floured crust in the first picture. Just beautiful. It had a soft and very moist crumb that was dense and springy. I am fairly certain they use a real sourdough starter (thank god), though it had a mild aroma. We used some butter on our last pieces and it did great things for the flavour. This was a good bread in a style I had not seen before.
(l-r) the semolina loaf and the olive ciabatta again, the peasant sour, and the ciderhouse dark rye. The ciderhouse dark rye was billed as a rye bread made with hard cider. An interesting idea, though the cider flavors were not that pronounced they certainly did add something to the flavor. The exterior of this bread was seeded with caraway. It had a good crust and a moist, soft crumb. The crumb was a very pretty mousy grey-brown and the taste was slightly sweet. This bread went great with cheddar. This was also a wonderful and unique bread.
Lastly, we tried the olive ciabatta pillow. This ciabatta had nice holes (much nicer than some of the other bakeries we have been too), a traditional crusty-crust with a glossy crumb. The crumb had a lovely cool, creamy texture. Oddly, the first bite of the crust I took tasted like slightly burnt popcorn. . In any event, the ciabatta was filled with many kinds of superb whole olives, much more delicious than the typical one type-diced. I thought this was delicious and it went great with chevre.
Overall, I still can't really stand Fox & Obel, but their breads have improved greatly in my mind. Stay away from the baguettes and the semolina loaf and go instead for the unique, rustic, darker breads like the peasant sour and the ciderhouse dark rye. The olive ciabatta pillow would be a tasty and quick lunch if you are in the area (and probably much cheaper than actually using their lunch counter).