There’s a young woman sleeping rough against the bagel house’s outside wall. She’s sloped off against its face, like the small hand of a watch at two o’clock, and wrapped in an uncertain number of layers against the cold. At her feet she has an upturned hat with approximately nothing at all in it. As we get close, a companion, the scruffy type with a dog, walks across Brick Lane toward her, then jangles her awake by picking up the hat and peering hopefully into it.
“Fancy a smoked salmon one?” she asks him drowsily as he sits down next to her, “I’ve got two here and I can’t stand the fvcking stuff.”
It’s pushing midnight on a Friday evening, and its cold. The clientele’s the same all year round — bewildered adults and apparently comfortable hipsters. As my fellow reviewer and I wait in line we pass the time by discussing whether it’d be worse for the world to end by nukes, militant communism or resurgent swine flu. The smell of baking bagels is overpowering.
Outside, a seamless flow of kids in their early twenties goes by; their individual features erased in the smoke from roll-ups and the cold, whetted air that forms on their breath. Guys clutch cans of Polish beer (it’s effectively BYOB, this place, though you may need to hide the hooch up your hoodie’s wizard sleeve) and chat themselves around into happy little knots by the door.
When our time at the counter came my buddy ordered the classic; two plain bagels with butter. I did the same. The dish lacked the attention-grabbing, rousing quality that some readers may expect in a bagel, but don’t let that fool you into ordering anything different — the chefs here understand that a warm, plain bagel should make the customer feel like a ginger stepchild receiving its first hug from the man they’re learning to call daddy.
That’s the supremacy of their food.
Dinner for two came to £1.20.