Words and Pictures: Alfie Venner Woodcock
Since arriving in Portsmouth four years ago, Nikola Ondrouskova and Ladislav Adamek had found real bread hard to come by.
The bread they longed for was fermented day and night before being baked on hot bricks, to give it a substantial crust and a springy crumb. When such bread is abundant in their home village, and when you can buy a pint for less than £1, you wonder why they ever left the Czech Republic.
However, it is clear that Niki and Ladi have become attached to their adopted Southsea, so much so that they have given the city an invaluable gift; The Czech couple packed in their day jobs and opened Portsmouth’s first sourdough bakery, introducing the city to some of the healthiest, tastiest bread known to humankind.
From Cats and Dogs to Bacteria and Yeast
After taking on a dilapidated pet shop on Elm Grove, an up-and-coming street for independent businesses, Niki and Ladi had their work cut out. First they got rid of the fish tanks and birdcages, replacing them with the pastry brake and the proofers, the dough mixer and the stone-floor deck oven.
In September 2014 the first sourdough loaves came out of the oven and, for six days a week since then, production has churned on. Brown and white loaves, loaves with seeds and fruit and tinned rye loaves are all made traditionally using organic flour, sourdough starter, salt and water; their only concession to active yeast being found in the semi-sourdough baguette and, of course, the pastries.
They called the bakery Bread Addiction because of their inability to live in a city without sourdough bread.
After this real-bread establishment sprung up on the south coast, locals were drawn to the enticing smells drifting out into the early morning air. Delegates from cafes and restaurants around the area starting arriving to strike a deal – those who care about sourcing locally produced bread to bolster their menus. Gluten intolerants, who had researched the elusive sourdough loaf, appeared in the shop, their apprehension turning to delight as they chewed a sourdough crust with no adverse effects on their digestion.
The first apprentice from Training Vision arrived from Italy – 18 year old pastry chef Mara, who soon fell in love with the routines of the bakery. Bread Addiction has also given this author the chance to continue learning the intricate process of sourdough baking. Having gathered the rudiments of slow fermentation at my parents’ bakery, Tracebridge Sourdough, the challenge for me now is to master the ideal conditions required by sourdough during the many stages between mixing and baking.
The Community Provides
Customers are not just buying the bread and leaving either – they sit and chat over a coffee and a pain au chocolat. The locals have given endless advice, hands to sell bread and wash dishes, even crates of locally brewed porter to be crafted into an enticing beer and barley bread. Adam Lawrie developed the recipe while he apprenticed at Tracebridge Sourdough in the summer. It is made with a mix of wholemeal and white flour, a sourdough leaven and a porridge made from flaked barley, plus local brewer Joe Ross’ Post-impact Winter Darkness. Co-owner of Staggeringly Good, Joe is another local producer – brewing his IPAs in the Brewhouse & Kitchen in the city centre.
Southsea Village Bakery
The city of Portsmouth is made up of several localities, crammed together on Portsea Island like sardines in a tin. Although Cosham, Fratton and Old Portsmouth all have their own unique feel, it is the southernmost part that is given the affectionate nickname ‘Southsea Village’. With the quirky shops on Albert Road, the common by the sea and the Kings Theatre, the sense of community in Southsea is clear to behold. And, thanks to Ladislav and Nikola, a real independent bakery selling proper bread now completes the picture.