Beigel Bake, Brick Lane Bakery, 159 Brick Ln, London E1 6SB
Beigel Bake: Moreishly Unceremonious
Placing the carving knife firmly on the board with quiet frustration, the lady takes a brief pause from slicing slabs of salt beef to sigh and look toward the heavens. “Don’t just stand there, tell me what you want”. Caught totally off-guard somehow, the hovering customer goes on to fumble a request for pickles and not too much mustard in their beigel. Elsewhere, a customer is returning theirs with a tut, saying that she asked for a sandwich and not a beigel. The reply from across the counter comes like a glorious volley from a gilded sawn-off: ‘if you’d asked for a sandwich, that’s what you’d have- but you didn’t, so you don’t- I’ll happily do that for you, though’.
The lack of pandering for fear of a catty Yelp review or social media post is expressed so frankly, it nearly brings a tear to your eye. The prevailing idea that the customer is always right does not exist within these walls and so I light a joss stick there and then. This is my temple. And it's packed to the rafters with these slightly sweet beigels, each one an addictive mix of squidge and chew.
With a queue out the door coiling around itself like the late stages of a game of Snakes (3310 gang rise up) Beigel Bake in Brick Lane is yet another London institution that I’ve only recently gotten around to (sorry entrenched, embittered Londoners- I can hear your eyes rolling but also imagine me caring). Pass the shop's typically bustling 24-hour threshold and you’ve no excuse for indecision once at the counter, but not just because there’s a huge illuminated menu all across the back wall or that every single product is on display. The pressure to get your ducks in a row comes from the sheer weight and volume of people waiting behind you. Somehow, Beigel Bake has managed to transplant a piece of inner-city New York atmosphere directly into their premises. There’s no time (or space, usually) for dithering.
Rosy, fibrous slabs of tender salt beef unceremoniously shoved into a fresh, tacky-topped beigel are laced with English mustard that scales your airways with its heated cleats and pick axe, whilst chubby lengths of pickles find room to balance the raucousness. There’s also cream cheese of course, with the requisite smoked salmon if you’d like, amongst many others. All around, people are delving into their little brown bags of joy as if it’s Prohibition, some swaying and staring into the middle distance, others keen to secure the bag and scuttle home to demolish in privacy.
Then there are the pastries. Eclairs bulging with cream and thick with tempered chocolate remind me of a Simpsons episode where Homer is almost assassinated by a similar thing- even if they are a little overbaked. Millionaire slices exhibit strict but generously layered cross-sections of chocolate and smooth caramel, all shouldered by a shortbread that bursts into buttery dust on the tongue. You softly bite your lip just laying eyes on them. Turnovers with chunks of apple softened in a cinnamon glaze with an al dente centre, emit the white noise of crispness throughout your skull. The strudels are a similar triumph with the added intermittent pops of plump sultanas.
The only thing that dropped a bollock is the brownie, which seems unbelievable, I know. Painted with something that’s chocolate only in appearance, it’s still fudgy beneath but completely lacking the bitter throttle of cocoa and cracked-earth top that I personally look for in a brownie. By no means are the pastries meticulous works of art, but that's sort of not the point. There’s a fine, almost Blue-Collar balance struck between quality and quantity here. Still working my way through my final bite of beigel, I rejoin the queue for another- I am at work, after all.
Beigel Bake, open all hours and with no door staff, truly is for the people. It's as if there's an understanding to be on your best behaviour, lest this place be taken away from us. Yes, dear Londoners, I am aware that there are perhaps 'better places for beigels' or indeed, bagels, because that's always the case in the bloody city, isn't it?