Bagels & Oysters

March 21, 2007

The highly controversial Oyster card – or Big Brother badge as some may say – is indispensable and, at only £1 for a multi-zone bus journey, is also one of the best values to be had around London.

Armed with our Oysters, my friend Caroline and I settled in for the long ride on the top deck of the 328 up to Golders Green in search of a real bagel.  I had heard so much about Carmelli – the Mr. Popularity of the appallingly small London bagel scene – that we carried on right past Roni’s unassuming bakery in Hampstead without pushing the stop button.  About ten northern-bound minutes later, we jumped off and made our excited trek past the Polish shops and, hold on, was that a Baskin Robbins?

We couldn’t wait to get our paws on Carmelli’s buns.  I mean bagels.  Finally, it came into view: larger than life and on show like a real stud.  The place felt a bit aloof and unfriendly; but who cares – we were about to try the hottest bagel in town!

Knowing we would give underdog Roni a sympathy taste test later, we ordered a single sesame bagel with cream cheese and hurried to Caffè Nero to unwrap this baby.

Imagine our surprise when Carmelli turned out to be too tough for its own good.  The bagel was dry and hardly filling; even the cream cheese was a bland disappointment.  “Hot stuff” Carmelli left us cold.  All talk and no show!  We’d been taken for such a ride.  How could we ever trust a bakery again?

It was hard, but we got back on that horse – the 328.  After all, a girl has got to eat, and these two still had an appetite – Carmelli or not.  We were doubtful, though.  How exciting could shy-guy Roni’s bagels really be?

Once inside the cozy shop, we immediately felt at ease.  It was welcoming and warm; and within two minutes they brought out a tray of fresh, hot bagels.  We bought a half dozen and ran to Costa Coffee.  Despite the artic winds on the way, our bagels managed to stay steamy.  The delicate balance of density and sweetness was ever present in this bagel – the closest I’ve come since those New York days.  Roni had won us over with his hidden charms.

It’s comforting to know that a fine specimen of a bagel is only an Oyster away – poppy, sesame, onion, or plain.  Yet the everything bagel evades me still.  Does that elusive pearl of style and substance – bagel and beyond – exist in this town?

The case continues.