The Bearded Baker


In the overall scheme of things driving around 100 miles simply to try a hand-made bagel is probably quite extreme. Especially when that 100 miles is punctuated by getting lost in Edinburgh, inadvertently parking slap-bang in a no-parking zone, rushing out and moving the car to an expensive parking zone and then discovering that when it comes to early afternoons I’m the only bagel customer in town.

But I’ve been emailed about this place from a reader and it is apparently the best bagel in Scotland. So here I am. Alone with my 100-mile bagel. Occasionally punctuating the silence by asking the woman behind the counter interesting questions such as: is it busier in the morning? Answer: yes and we’re open early. Is it OK to park out there? Answer: I don’t know. Do you use any chemicals when making these bagels? Answer: What? No! It’s not that outrageous a question.

In the States where they are somewhat obsessed with the art of bagel-making there’s a school of thought that says the only way to get that perfect bagel crust is to boil the bagel in lye or sodium hydroxide. Who knew?

Course, this substance is also used in cleaning materials and can be, if handled clumsily – more than a tad poisonous. Alternatively there’s simply boiling the dough in water and perhaps a little malt barley. Or, and this is not definitely seen as a good development, simply ditch the boiling and bake instead in a steam-injected oven.

In New York where they make a virtue out of a bagel the unique qualities of the famous native version are put down almost entirely to the properties of the local water. If that sounds a little like the Big Apple’s more famous flim-flam then consider this: in the journey from source to tap not only does their water apparently lie in pipes and storage pools for anything from three months to a year but it is, very unusually for the States, soft. Making it produce, apparently, a saltier and sloppier slack-gluten dough, resulting in NY water, so they say, being dubbed the Goldilocks of Water (for pizzas and bagels anyway). Again: who knew?

How is Edinburgh’s water? Ah, that’s one question I don’t get around to asking in here. The internet actually isn’t that good at answering either. Seems like it's generally labelled soft to moderate, but probe more deeply and it may not be soft at all but something called permanently hard. Ugh.

Joanna Blythman restaurant review: Kukina, Leith Walk in Edinburgh

More importantly, perhaps, how is Edinburgh’s bagel? Or the Bearded Baker’s? On this last subject I do see a man with a beard bustle in and out of a neat and tidy little baking area at the back of this clean little store-front cafe. When I scan a Twitter feed from the Edinburgh Restaurant Awards on my phone it looks like the same guy who was picking up the cafe of the year award. But you know beards. They can be deceptive. So I don’t chase after him.

Refreshingly perhaps there’s not a word of the usual self-promoting we-are-the-greatest literature to be seen in here. Therefore, it’s simply down to taste.

One final point. When it comes to bagels there’s no greater American insult than to describe one as being simply bread with a hole in it. Is this? That’s the question on my lips anyway as I heft, and frankly there is a bit of heft to this, my bagel upwards.

It’s a shiny brown on the outside, crusted with so many poppy seeds it almost has a blue sheen, it’s also unevenly round with the handmade feel that everyone seems to be looking for these days and with a bite it cracks and crunches and yields into a mild chewiness.

Is it technically flawless? I dunno. But sliced and filled with pastrami, gruyere, sauerkraut and mustard mayo it satisfies me. Though maybe not enough to warrant another 100-mile round trip.

Joanna Blythman restaurant review: Nanika, Glasgow

The Bearded Baker

46 Rodney Street


0131 281 9285

Menu: Bagels and doughnuts. I had a cinnamon bun, too, but mainly bagels. All made with that hand-crafted, wholly wholesome touch. 3/5

Service: There wasn’t anyone else in but me and the service was fine, though they could blow their own trumpet a bit more. 4/5

Price: A few pence short of a fiver for a fully-filled, hand-crafted, possibly the best in Scotland, bagel. On their own they’re considerably cheaper. 5/5

Atmosphere: It’s all go in the mornings and they open at the crack of dawn, well 7.30am, but way sleepy in the afternoon. 3/5

Food: A 100-mile return trip for a bagel is probably too far for me, but if in Edinburgh certainly worth a whirl. 6/10