At the northern end of Brick Lane stand two bagel shops–actually, “beigel” shops–one next to the other. They are more or less the same (and both are open 24 hours, almost uniquely in the London food scene) (why are there so few 24-hour food places in London? Beats me), except that the one on the left has a yellow sign instead of white and will put herring in your bagel if you ask. Nevertheless, customers only ever use one or the other, and are strictly loyal, not because of any significant difference but because, like sports teams, you choose a bagel shop and then it’s yours.
So when I say that the Brick Lane Beigel Bake–the one on the right–is clearly the better one, you must keep in mind that it is in this irrationally competitive spirit. That said, The One on the Right does have some spunk. There are take-no-baloney cashiers and beigel ladies with manifestly no patience for the indecisive, drunk, or stupid. Once when I was there a homeless guy tried to sell stuff to the staff and got shouted out. Tough crowd.
The Brick Lane beigel doesn’t stack up to good old New York bagels, or so I am told by a Real Actual New York Jew. The stuff they put in it, though, is more or less unique in the bagelverse: hot salt beef. Hot, juicy, salted beef, in gigantic tender chunks, the closest England gets to brisket. And it’s all slathered with impossibly spicy Colman’s mustard, which has the same action as good wasabi and which therefore creates a sensation not unlike a black hole opening in your sinuses and collapsing the bone structure of your nose.
This is a Brick Lane Beigel:
Notice, in the picture, that the mustard level in the upper right quadrant is near-lethal. The idea is to merely feel mild pain with each bite; it’s exhilarating and slightly draining, but it leaves your respiratory system feeling refreshed and by the end of the bagel you feel like you’ve had a nice workout. The cool-down ideally comes in the form of a smoked salmon and cream cheese bage…uh…beigel.
I’m going to leave the last word to my friend Tim, who crashed in London for a night while traveling and got to experience the hot salt beef beigel first hand. We took our first bites; there was a long silence punctuated by more eating; finally, after about a half-minute, came his verdict.
“Oh, man. Transcendent.”