161a Brick Lane
020 7613 2013
by Joyce Carol Oats
There are few things so stressful as taking a New Yorker to breakfast in London. These people can barely step outside their front doors without tripping over a pile of fresh bagels layered with cream cheese and gravadlax, fluffed stacks of blueberry pancakes, sixteen different varieties of omelettes.
‘You have to take the bus to breakfast?’ says New Yorker One, as we wait for one.
‘It’s raining,’ I say, defensively.
We get to Brick Lane, and I have to think fast: we are hungry, we have just taken a bus, there is a LHR-JFK flight to catch. Albion’s the obvious choice, but I can’t really go back there since the last time when they dropped a stealth prawn into my eggs and a big shellfish-allergy drama ensued. And then I clap eyes on Fika. It’s Swedish. I love Swedish food. I am all about smorgasbords.
‘Do you have Swedish breakfasts in New York?’ I ask my New Yorkers.
‘Not really,’ they say. Win.
The breakfast menu is handed to us by a friendly girl with a fake-looking blonde bob. It’s fake-looking, I realise, because when she turns around it is clear that she hasn’t done a very good job of tucking her perfectly nice brown hair into her blonde wig. This is confusing, and also not propitious: if you can’t make your blonde wig look convincing, will you be able to serve a convincing breakfast? No, you will not.
The choice is not extensive: there are waffles, with a small selection of both sweet and savoury toppings. There are eggs on toast. The bread, according to the menu, is likely to be sourdough. That sounds nice, I think. I like a likely sourdough.
The food comes. New Yorker Number Two ordered a waffle with strawberry jam and cream (£4.50); it is brown and flat and looks uninspiring and small, although it tastes OK. But only OK. New Yorker One and I both opted for the fried eggs. The bread, unlikely enough, is not sourdough at all: it is two halves of what seem to be a rather substantial bun that has been dipped in dishwater. Yes, that’s what I said: dishwater. One half of my bun is water-logged and bitter and soap-flavoured.
Is there any point in going on? Need I comment on the texture of the egg (not bad) the flavour of the reindeer sausage that New Yorker One ordered as a side dish (fine for a reindeer sausage, since I have nothing to compare it to), the quality of the coffee (so-so), the fact that the eggs and toast were served with margarine rather than butter (would be gross if I was not contending with dishwatery bread, which made it seem positively delicious by contrast). I think I need not.
But I do need to apologise to the New Yorkers.