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Bagel quest: A two person carb crawl to find north west London's top bakery

Which bagel tastes the best? Daniel Sugarman found a friend on Twitter and set out on a quest.

    One bagel too many?
    One bagel too many? (Photo: Sarah Macintyre)

    Question: how do you find the best kosher bagel (or should that be beigel?) in North West London?

    Answer: with great difficulty, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, upon announcing my intention to set out on such a quest, The JC’s editor and deputy editor both assured me that there was no need, because they had already found the Chosen Bagel. (Astonishingly, their selections came from entirely different establishments) .

    This demonstrated the overwhelming need for a carefully calibrated scientific study (me going to a bunch of bakeries and eating bagels). It also indicated the passion the issue inspires within our community. Wars, it would appear, have been started over less.

    So I carefully chose nine bakeries within the north west London area (a tenth, the editor’s pick, closes early on a Sunday afternoon, which ruled itself out of the running, possibly luckily for me). I also appealed on Twitter for similarly-minded enthusiasts to take part in the Fellowship of the (bagel) Ring. Astonishingly, only one person took up this invitation.

    I’d never met Sarah McIntyre before, but she trekked from south to north London in search of Jewish soul food. She is an extremely talented illustrator, whose books include the aptly named Cakes in Space (OUP, co-written with Philip Reeve), and who is known for her exotic headgear. At one point she diverted from our quest and rushed into a bagel-free charity shop to snap up a snazzy navy straw hat.

    And so we started our carb-crawl, tweeting with the hashtag #bagelquest as we went (causing one colleague who knows us both completely separately to splutter her tea in surprise). As a Golders Green boy, I already rated the bagels from Carmelli and Grodzinski’s, each excellent in their own ways (Carmelli’s, more compact, with a crunchier surface, was given to us warm, and as Sarah put it “perfectly squidgy!” Grodzinski’s — a bit bigger and slightly chewier, was not warm but was fresh, and tasted wonderful). But bagels from Hendon and Finchley, previously untasted, opened my eyes to a whole new world. Bread in Temple Fortune and Sharon’s in Hendon impressed us both. In fact, of the nine stores we sampled, (the other five being Bonjour, Mr Baker and Hendon Bagel Bakery in Hendon, Daniels in Temple Fortune and Kings in Hampstead) only one offered a bagel I would not particularly want to eat again.

    (Photo: Sarah Macintyre)

    We each ended up giving the top slot in our rankings to Carmelli, but this could have been influenced by the fact that it was the only warm bagel we received.

    Of course, as the editor may well point out, we cannot truly be said to have found the bagel which will provide the answer to life, the universe and everything, unless we also sample one from his favourite bakery. To which I can only say, I’d be more than happy to conduct another round of experiments. And you are welcome to come along: Sarah endorses this, tweeting: “If Daniel ever invites you to participate in food-based journalism, don’t hesitate, this is an opportunity of a lifetime!”

    Photo: Sarah Macintyre

    Next time, let’s raise the stakes — if people are fiercely devoted fans of a specific bagel, just imagine what their feelings will be when it comes to challah.

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