David Adamson takes a journey to the centre of the Chinatown cafe
What: The Bagelry
Where: 42 Nelson Street, Chinatown
Food/drink type: Bagels
When: Mon - Fri: 9am - 4pm // Sat and Sun: 9am - 3pm
Independent or chain: Independent
Back in the days when I used to write about food in only the loosest sense, lunchtime was a daily ordeal.
Soup for the fourth day on the trot? Another go around the Greggs carousel? Those dreaded words, 'Meal Deal'. That way madness lies.
In fact, before I was tasked with tasting all the variety that the North West's food scene has to offer, I was positively communist about the whole thing.
What I would call 'the tyranny of choice' terrorised my every lunchtime, to the point where I would've been happy to be told what to eat. Especially if it was a salt beef bagel. Yes, even every day.
It seems I'm not alone, as a swell of interest has built around The Bagelry, a cafe on Nelson Street whose popularity has already led to a visit from three Liverpool footballers (that famously free-thinking species).
The Bagelry very much has the feel of a neighbourhood cafe, the sort where the windows mist up early on from the endless steam of the coffee machine and the body heat of the brunch club.
The layout is very caffish, low tables topped with plastic sauce bottles and kitchen roll, a glass-fronted counter to gaze into, and a slightly shabby charm. All that but, you know, hip. Sonic Youth posters and a Black Panther call to arms adorn the walls. This isn't just lunch you know. This means more.
The Main Event
Obviously I went for the pastrami melt (£9.85) on a sesame bagel. Made up of pastrami, sauerkraut, pickles, cheese sauce and mustard mayo, it veers just enough away from the cast-iron quartet of salt beef, melted emmental, gherkins and mustard.
But it veers in a dangerous direction. The bagel, while liberally topped with sesame, was somehow dry and slightly soggy at the same time. The sauerkraut strangely not very sauer, the pickles lacked punch and the sauces brought very little of the mustard smack that collides with salt beef so well. Meanwhile the pastrami, properly carved from a large cut with fat still on the side of the beef, was encouraging, but salt beef should be, well, a bit salty.
Shoot me, but the likes of Bagel Factory do it better. And for nearly half the price. I'd always prefer an independent prosper over a faceless, many-tentacled corporate entity, but you've got to deliver the goods. It was a perfectly serviceable bagel, but at nearly a tenner you want something to rival the best, or at least be warm.
As a regular neighbourhood spot The Bagelry is obviously popular for a reason, and any day I'd rather somewhere like this sprung up and not, for instance, a Bagel Factory. But I keep returning to that faceless corporate bagel because every time it satisfies what's been whirring in my mind all morning.
The Bagelry could still do that, but not just yet. There's always tomorrow lunchtime.
The Bagelry, 42 Nelson St, Chinatown, L1 5DN
Pastrami melt bagel 7, Flat white 7