The BSG’s favourite place to indulge after we have, erm, indulged in a little too much wine of an evening (it has been known…) is a magical and very reasonable place on Upper Street called Tortilla. It does a quarterback of a burrito, with a choice of pulled slow-cooked pork, chicken, beef or veggies, different rices, glossy black beans, salsas and guacamole, not to mention the various dairy hits; sour cream, cheese…. Wow.
Everything is heaped onto a deceptively flimsy-looking flour tortilla, then neatly but firmly rolled (I don’t know where these people train, but they are pros) into a bundle of pure joy. With all the food groups literally rolled into one, we skip (run) the four minutes home, unwrap the foil and special paper, (which for some reason makes it even more delightful), and inhale it. It is a great treat, inevitably eaten too fast every time, and there are two branches in London, which has come over all Mexican of late. I suppose that this is more California-Mex, but it’s worth a try all the same.
The only problem with Tortilla is that it closes at 11pm – how very wise of them, keeping the rabble out - so when we missed it the other night, the BSG alarmingly close to tears, there was one solution: Spaghetti Aglio e Olio.
It is called aliolio in our house as there is usually no time to waste, and this is the quickest homemade fix imaginable (and far less expensive than the kebab you’ll find trailing up to your front door in the morning). This was just one of the joys that the Captain - a real-life aviator - brought into our lives while he was living with us. Apart from a good braai - he’s South African, they win at barbeques - other fine lessons he taught us include; what the many peculiar noises in planes are (I hated flying before), not to be scared of biltong, and that men can be chocoholics too. This recipe is brilliant for when you come home and there is nothing in the fridge. All you need is a clove of garlic, some chilli, dried or fresh, some olive oil and some spaghetti. We put chopped parsley in it too for a nod to greenery, and some grated parmesan at the end. When the pasta is cooked, drain it, leaving it to slick in a bit of its cooking water, whilst in a pan you heat up the chopped garlic and chilli in the olive oil to break out the flavours. Then throw in the pasta and parsley, mix up and serve. The flavours are intense – so perhaps not one for a romantic first date.
“So is that how you spell it then?” the BSG asked me, scratching his head as we gazed up at the white plastic fascia. I must admit, I thought I was on the verge of one of those epiphanies of long-held ignorance, like the flush one feels at discovering that after many years you have been singing the wrong words to a favourite pop song. Surely not, I had seen it spelt otherwise, pretty much everywhere else. B-A-G-E-L. Not here, here on Brick Lane it is beigel, and apparently has been since they started selling them in the vicinity in the mid 19th century. Cool.
We had shuffled along the bricks on the idle tide of Sunday strollers, weaving our way past stalls selling some lovely things, juxtaposed with the latest stolen bikes, and what looked to be the contents of peoples’ houses. 24 Hour Beigel Bake does not look like much from the outside, but if queues are anything to go by, this was going to be as memorable as the BSG had told me it would. Don’t be daunted by the snake of people out of the door (and round the shop), it moves fast; the uber-efficient team make sure that the orders fly out. While we waited, we watched men carry slatted wooden trays of the doughy rings to and fro between boiler and oven in the busy back room. You can buy them plain to take home, with smoked salmon and cream cheese, tuna, salt-beef and other fillings. Before we knew it we were back out and blinking in the bright sunshine, paper parcels in hand. Packed with warm slabs of salt beef, gargantuan crunchy gherkins and the must-have slick of mustard these beigels made a delicious lunch on the go. They were wonderfully dense, chewy from their boiling, a little crisp on the outside from their baking – the gnashers really had to work. The glutton in me was screaming out for a second.
Off we trotted happily for a velvety coffee in a small yard off Columbia Road, surrounded by lovely materials and antiques, all at peace with the world. Little prepared were we for the tragic scene that was about to unfold. A contented tourist (and shouldn’t we be encouraging them to come back time and time again?), eager for his late breakfast after a busy morning negotiating the flower stalls had ordered scrambled eggs on toast, a fantastic choice I hear you say, high in soul-filling protein. SCRAMBLED EGGS – a choice of champions. Some mornings they sing with yellow joy atop crunchy buttered toast, others you know that, like a good friend, a good dollop of these will see you through until lunch at least…
Stop right there: this was something very different. A dry insipid mass, overcooked, pale alien-green – the pain in the man’s expression was palpable as he attempted to keep it down. I am not sure what those eggs had been through to get to the plate, but the ‘chef’ could have done with the same treatment. Collectively we gaped in horror as he soldiered on, having rashly refused both ketchup and brown sauce, which would no doubt have aided him in his ordeal. We left, so I never did see if he made it to the other side, but I should think that he took a taxi straight to the nearest airport.