22 | squaremeal.co.uk
hen I moved to London
in the late nineties, t he
words Brick Lane meant
only one thing: curry.
The nearest you would
get to eating breakfast on
the street was stumbling out of the 24-hour
Beigel Bake in the early hours of the morning.
But fast-forward to 2015 and breakfast has
become Brick Lane's most famous meal ever
since Cereal Killer Café was targeted by
anti-gentri cation protestors in September.
Personally, I nd it absurd that anyone
would pay for something they could
reproduce exactly at home without any skill.
The notion of handing over £3.50 for a large
bowl of Frosties breaks one of my golden
rules of restaurant-going - to never order
anything I could have knocked up myself.
(Porridge Café isn't on my to-do list either.)
It's easy to mock Cereal Killer's owners,
Alan and Gary Keery, twin brothers who look
straight out of an ad agency casting for a pair
of Shoreditch hipsters, from
their bushy beards and
lumberjack shirts to their
tattoos and tortoiseshell
glasses. It's also tempting
to indulge in some easy
moralism at their expense:
the brothers own a café
specialising in a basic foodstu
that you can buy in any supermarket
or corner shop and they sell it on at a huge
mark-up in a borough where 50 per cent
of children live in poverty.
Absurd Cereal Killer Café might be - and
decadent if you're feeling judgemental - but
the Keerys didn't deserve to have their
business and customers attacked, 'scum'
painted on their windows and death threats
left on their phones by a group called Class
War, whose rallying cry is 'we don't want
pop-up gin bars, we want community'.
I can't help feeling that Class War is missing
the point of the East End, where community
has always meant welcoming newcomers
such as the Keery brothers, who grew up
in Belfast. And newcomers bring their taste
in food with them. Brick Lane's Beigel Bake
recalls the area's Jewish history and its curry
houses are a reminder of the Bangladeshi
population who moved to east London in
the 1970s. Before Soho had its Chinatown,
Chinese restaurants set up shop in
Limehouse to feed sailors hungry for a
taste of home. Hipsters, the latest arrivals,
clearly have a taste for breakfast cereal.
It's sad that restaurants have become something
divisive. One of the joys of sitting down
to eat with other people is to feel nourished
emotionally as well as physically. And yet the
Class War protestors who feel shut out by the
gentri cation on their east London doorstep
have an equivalent in the many food lovers
for whom parts of central London are now an
eating-out no-go area thanks to restaurants
priced for the international super-rich.
In the same way that I nd it absurd that
anyone would queue to pay £3.50 to eat a
bowl of cereal, my eyebrows shoot up when
I see fried squid on a menu for £22 - as it is
at Estiatorio Milos, a new Greek restaurant
in St James's from a group with outposts in
other glitzy honeypots such as Miami and Las
Vegas. But when I visited on a Friday night
the place was packed with a globetrotting
clientele who have no problem paying that,
just as there are those happy to queue for
Cereal Killer. Neither restaurant is my cup
of tea - but they may very well be yours.
It's a mark of the success of the London
restaurant scene - and the prosperity of
the city - that groups such as Milos see
a presence here as not just attractive,
but essential. But whatever your price point,
you have to be good at what you do.
Le Chabanais, funded by Indian investors,
was a ¢ op because the rough edges of its
Paris parent Le Chateaubriand had been so
smoothed out that it felt like just another
upmarket Mayfair restaurant - and we have
enough of those already. In contrast, Cereal
Killer's clientele seems jolly pleased with it.
Like all the best ideas, it provides something
obvious that we had no idea we needed.
What's more, one person's gentri cation is
another's regeneration. The team who helped
make Dalston a foodie destination with Street
Feast, likewise put Lewisham on the map this
summer with Model Market:
never had a night out in SE13
seemed so alluring. Similarly,
the Kerb market at King's
Cross has given vibrancy to
what could have been a
sterile development, as well
as giving the area credibility
as a restaurant centre,
allowing the likes of Dishoom and Grain Store
to ¢ ourish. And Hackney Council has had an
explicit policy of improving east London by
welcoming restaurants, with the result that
the area is now the most exciting and
innovative place in the capital for eating out.
I suspect the Keerys may have the last
laugh: the brothers have already opened a
second branch in Camden and they may well
become as ubiquitous as Starbucks. I still
won't go if one opens at the end of my road,
but I'll be glad it's there all the same.
CLASS WAR IS MISSING THE POINT OF THE EAST
END, WHERE COMMUNITY MEANS WELCOMING
NEWCOMERS … AND THEIR TASTE IN FOOD
Paying over the odds in a restaurant, whether for corn� akes
or fried squid, is a personal choice and it certainly shouldn't
invoke the riot police, says Square Meal's editor WORDS BEN MCCORMACK
food for thought
ILLUSTRATION: GEO PARKIN