Being drunk is not an excuse to eat crap

Brick Lane Beigel BakeWhen I’ve put London food obsessives in the position of defending their high praise for the rubbery salt beef at the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane they’ve invariably blamed their lapse in good taste on drunkenness. It’s open 24 hours. It’s quick. It’s cheap. It’s filling. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Likewise, discriminating young Londoners who, when within three Chardonnays of sober, wouldn’t be caught dead with a Tesco tomato in their organic jute carrier bags can be seen stuffing their reddened faces with questionable kebabs from an Upper Street shop that recycles its moulded and fully cooked meat, unrefrigerated and unprotected, for hours at a time.

At the risk of sounding like a drunken pensioner, things aren’t what they used to be, at least not for me.

In my younger & foodish days, when I got smashed with much greater frequency and far more dedication than I do now, I always tried to finish off a night of binge drinking by stuffing my face with trash food of the highest quality. As a student in Montreal I looked forward to being booted from my local, Taverne Henri Richard, so my drinking buddies and I could rush off to Schwartz’s for its incomparable smoked meat, Le Chalet for succulent rotisserie chicken, an all-night Polish social club for handmade potato pierogi, Arahova Souvlaki for juice-dripping gyro sandwiches or St-Viateur for sesame bagels fresh and hot from a wood-burning brick oven. From these experiences grew a straight C student – and eventually a professional food critic.

Back in my native New York we would hobble if necessary to Katz’s Deli for world-class pastrami, the Market Diner for a copious burger deluxe, Florent for steak frites, Junior’s for its famous cheesecake, Wo Hop for the greasiest subterranean chow fun noodles in Chinatown or, on one particular Saturday night bender, three of the aforementioned.

Living in Paris years later we would crawl on our knees to L’As du Falafel for its amazing spécial, Au Pied du Cochon for gelatinous pig’s trotters and golden onion soup gratinée or the last Vietnamese open in Belleville for a crusty banh mi.

In fairness to London’s late-night, liquored-up foragers, their city is lacking in 24-hour eateries worthy of their loyalty. If London imagines itself a – or even the – gastronomic capital it will have to improve in this category.

To this end I have a suggestion to underground, pop-up restaurateurs, existing as well as aspiring: Why don’t you serve high-quality impulse food in your flat on weekends from midnight to 4 am? Think of all the advantages: You wouldn’t be competing with licensed restaurants. You’d be performing a public service while enhancing London’s status as a great dining city. Were your soufflés to fall it’s unlikely that anyone would notice, much less give you grief. And given the likelihood that someone will purge the food you spent hours preparing you would not be expected to put out fancy linens.

About Daniel

Food critic and events leader Daniel Young is the "Young" behind young&foodish


  1. Hmmm, good idea – pop up kebabs… The rather high risk of vomit or glass breakage is putting me off starting it though!

  2. Having a dig at me by any chance there?! Your first paragraph is highlighting my exact response to your comment on my recent sandwich post. Oh, except I don’t think I said ‘blah blah blah’ – sorry to hear it sounds like that to you. I really don’t see how Beigel Bake is that bad a choice when you are drunk. It could be Chicken Cottage or KFC or McDonald’s for goodness sake! This to me just comes across as judgemental. Everyone enjoys a guilty pleasure every now and again, why don’t you just let them get on with it? Or are you Mr. I-only-eat-the-best-of-everything-all-the-time-and-am-therefore-perfect’?

  3. I love the salt-beef beigels from Beigel Bake and don’t consider them to be crap at all. Admittedly it’s a little while since I’ve had one but I don’t remember them being chewy at all – and that’s when sober.

  4. Helen – You were only the latest of several observers to suggest to me that one’s judgement about the Beigel Bake’s salt beef might be impaired not only by alcohol but, just as significantly, the shortage of good 24-hour eating options in London.

    Kerri – Yours is a view shared by many. I can only base my opinion on personal experience. During a mid-August visit my teeth could not cut all the way through the tough meat and thereby break down the sandwich into manageable bites. I found myself dragging entire slices out of the bagel.

  5. I’ve been to Katz’s deli, and didn’t get it at all. Rather overpriced, boring food, in atmospheric but incredibly stressful environs.

    The Brick Lane Beigel is brilliant, and VERY cheap, and its enjoyment nothing to do with being drunk. I used to pop down for lunch there at work. It’s just really good salt beef, in a nice fresh beigel, for about £2.50.

  6. Chris – Last I heard a salt beef beigel at Beigel Bake was £2.90, so your view might be slightly dated – or hazy. I’m sorry you didn’t get Katz’s. I was last there in June and admittedly can’t vouch for much beyond the pastrami, the snappy naturally encased frankfurters, the crunchy sour pickles and the atmosphere. Here’s the link to an article I wrote about Katz’s in 1997.

  7. I was last at the BB about 3/4 months ago, so I don’t think my recollection is hazy at all. Take your point on the price, but I think £2.90 qualifies as being “about” £2.50.

    I Still say the BB salt beef is better than what I was served at Katz:

  8. Chris – Pardon me for having my tongue, or, rather, my salt beef in cheek.

  9. More late night eateries in London? Hear Hear!!
    I went to Chinatown last week for a 3am feed and got served WonTons with nothing in them – replaced by barely edible prawn on toast when we complaned.
    I can recommend Edgeware Road for late night eats tho – never been disappointed there.

  10. What an annoying post. I’m a veggie so I wouldn’t eat the salt beef, anyway, but your snobbery is appalling.

  11. Beigel Bake is one of the few bastions of London’s Jewish cultural history in that end of town. It’s awesome.

    Your general idea however, is ok. What scholarship were you on at university to afford so much top quality late night snackage?

  12. I don’t think London has any illusions about being a “gastronomical capital” and I will continue going to Beigel Bake for lunch whilst 100% sober and love it! 😛

  13. Nathan Hamer says:

    Your opinion of Gaby’s at Leicester Square? My view of their fine salt beef is almost always coloured by booze.

  14. they’re £3.30, was there last wk. Its basically drunk food, this is not stuff you’d eat any other time

  15. OK so it was a dig at several people and not just me. The rest of my comment still stands though. I don’t understand why you are so judgemental about what other people enjoy eating? So what if others like going to Beigel Bake? Anyone is allowed to enjoy a guilty pleasure and it isn’t for you to judge whether it is right or not. Food snobbery is a terrible thing. The enjoyment of food is sometimes about more than the quality of the ingredients, you must know that, surely?

  16. Nathan – I like Gaby’s salt beef. I believe they brine their own briskets, which few salt beef bars do. Home recipe or not, the salt beef is not as acutely salty as it can be elsewhere. What bothers me is that after hand-carving the meat and assembling your sandwich they (re)heat it in a microwave, which makes the rye bread soggy.

  17. Julia – You’re right to remind us that the Beigel Bake is one of the few surviving bastions of the Jewish East End. In an earlier post I referred to it as a revered relic and a London institution. For that very reason I wish the salt beef were better.

    While a hungry student at McGill University in Montreal I benefited from a favourable exchange rate. A buttery croissant at La Patisserie Belge cost the equivalent of 5p.

  18. Good article – it is a sorry state of affairs.

    I was moved to comment on this one:

    for its inability to even recommend 5 places where you can order after midnight in an article about 5 places to eat after hours!

  19. Drew – Thanks. Your comment to the Evening Standard list of after-hours restos is spot on.

  20. Going to have to sample Beigel Bake – intrigued by a place that can cause such debate. Have never tried salt-beef though (criminal!) so might be difficult to form a balanced view.

  21. Foodrambler – If you do try Beigel Bake’s salt beef I’d be curious to know what you think. Maybe you can compare it to one from my list of the top 5 hot salt beef sandwiches in London.

  22. Hi, only just saw this. I think for an underground restaurateur it depends whether you want drunk people round your house all night.
    also the nature of the beast is secrecy and pre-booking…how do you know in advance that you are going to need a late night kebab after drinking?
    but if you are not too precious about your space and safety maybe it could work

  23. My Londoner friends think I am insane for my dislike of the bagels and beef at Brick Lane Beigel….I know they are wrong

  24. Jen – As you can tell I agree with you. The question of preferring New York-style bagels and deli meat to their London counterparts (or vice versa) is almost irrelevant: there are far better places for London bagels and London salt beef than Brick Lane.

Speak Your Mind