Carmelli Bagel Bakery (London, UK)

While I try to keep much of my Offbeat Eating, well, “offbeat”, sometimes it’s good to go back to old favorites. And since a trip of our up to the RAF London museum had use out in the northwestern suburbs of London, that meant a side shopping trip for my brother to pick up bagels. You see, growing up in the Kaszeta household, one of the more holy culinary traditions is that Sunday mornings were typically celebrated with toasted bagels.

So when my brother moved off to London, he found himself with the occasional craving for a good toasted bagel. Which actually is a bit of a challenge in London. Sure, those that are somewhat aware of the culinary scene in London are already going, “But there is Beigel Bake on Brick Lane!”, but, just like the spelling of “beigel” differs from “bagel”, the product itself varies, mostly due to the different culinary adventures the baked good has had along its various Yiddish voyages to New York, Montreal, or London. Don’t get me wrong, I rather like a good salt beef beigel from Beigel Bake, loaded up with delicious beef and hot English mustard. But the beigel itself is a bit more bready and less chewy than my expectations for a “bagel”.

That’s where Golders Green comes in. Golders Green is a London suburb that pretty much developed in the late 1900s, and shortly thereafter became one of the more predominant Jewish neighborhoods of London. And, unlike Brick Lane, retains much of that character to this day, although it’s also interestingly more than a bit of an Islamic (Halal butchers line the streets as well, and more than a few storefronts share both Hebrew and Arabic signage) and Turkish enclave as well. But due to this Jewish population, Golders Green has at least four bagel bakeries I’m aware of: Carmelli, Daniels, M&D Grodzinski, and Paradise Bakery. But the word on the street, and that confirmed by my brother, is that Carmelli has the best New York style bagels. So armed with a few pound notes from my brother, we set off for a side trip to Golders Green for some bagels.

As far as the bakery itself goes? Well, Carmelli is basically what, in several other towns I’ve been in (Philly, New York City…) a fairly standard Jewish deli. The highlight here is bagels, of your standard varieties (well, at least before Einsteins and the like got everyone eating all sorts of abominations like gingerbread and chocolate chip bagels), as well challah, tarts, babka, and all sorts of other delicious treats. But we came for bagels, and soon found ourselves loaded up with an implausibly large number of bagels of the plain and sesame seed variety (enough to fill up my brother’s freezer, which I still find implausibly small by US standards).

So, how were the bagels? To me, the real standard that separates a good bagel from a poor bagel, or even “bagel-like bread”, is the chew. There’s a combination of crust and chewy interior texture that’s almost impossible to achieve with a proper boil-and-bake method, and Carmelli’s has this down pat. A nice glossy texture encloses a firm, chewy, and almost springy interior that’s just bursting with good bagel doughiness. Will it replace some of my favorites, like a good honest Ess-a-bagel from NYC, or a Fairmount Bagel from Montreal? No. But it’s still a quality bagel, and quite frankly, Carmelli makes a better bagel than the vast majority of American bakeries. It’s certaintly top tier.

So yes, if you are an expatriate looking for a good American-style bagel, it may well indeed be worth the trek up to Golders Green.

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