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There's these three Jewish guys in a bakery . . .

Published 25 April 2010
News Review
875th article

Michael outside the Beigel Bake with Amnon Cohen, the co-owner (Geraldine Lynton-Edwards)

A line of dialogue offered in New York on the first day of shooting for The Sentinel, my cult horror movie, impressed me greatly. My young assistant, whose job was to carry cigars, matches and script, get coffee etc, greeted me at 7am with, "How do you feel about bagels, sir?"

"Like them," I replied.

My assistant had a much-loved bagel place near his residence. He brought me some each morning. I can't say bagels have featured prominently in my life since, nor can I recall why I was in Beigel Bake, in Brick Lane, one lunchtime. It spells "bagel" differently from the normal way. Three doors away was the Beigel Shop. Wasn't there a famous song, "You say 'bagel' and I say 'beigel' . . . "?

Brick Lane, in London's East End, used to be very Jewish. Now it's mainly Bangladeshi. It's electric on Sunday, market day. Marvellous confusion. Litter everywhere. Dress shops, furniture on offer in the street, two drifters selling cacti.

Inside Beigel Bake, on the left, there's a counter on which to rest your food; on the right, a serving counter. Bagels abound, filled with smoked salmon, salami, chopped herring, salt beef. The three owners, Amnon Cohen, Asher Cohen and Shalom Minzly, opened it in 1979. Amnon was in charge. He took me into the bakery behind the counter. Very complicated. The dough is boiled first, then grilled; then it goes into an oven for 20 minutes, then goes onto a board; then the beigels are turned, then oven-cooked for another 20 minutes, then put on a tray. I've probably got everything wrong. So what? You're not going into bagel manufacturing. However they make 'em, they sell 700 bagels a day.

The cactus men from outside were now sitting at the back of the shop, offering two fine cacti for £15. That's before negotiation. One said to me, "You can say you were talking to an Irish Nigerian."

His mate said, "I'm a Scottish one."

People kept coming over to have their photograph taken with me. It's not just autographs now; it's photos on mobile phones as well.

I tried a salt beef bagel. Geraldine said, "The salt beef is dry." She wasn't even eating it.

"It's not dry," I said.

"Looks it," Geraldine said. Then she tried it and said, "Yeah, okay."

The bakery had big eclairs. The one I tried was heavy, not the best. Then I got a Swiss roll. "Very creamy," I said to Geraldine. "How do you eat that? It's all cream."

"Just shove it in your mouth," she suggested. It was very good. "Try a cheesecake," Geraldine said. She wants to blow me up, I thought. The cheesecake wasn't very tasty. I went back into the bakery to get Amnon for his photo. The bagels were now floating around in water, and he was scooping them with a fish slice. Probably a great art to that. Then they went onto a board and were cooled down with water spray. An enormous urn was going round, turning over the bagel dough.

"I know you're a big star in bagel-world, Amnon," I said, "but I need you for a photo." Fiona, the lovely blonde Irish lady who served us, took over laying out the bagels. Amnon wouldn't take any money so I whizzed back in and gave Fiona £60 for the staff. As I got to my car a man came up and said, "I'm trying to sell The Big Issue but I'm not doing very well."

  • After a recent ghastly lunch at Scalini, we revisited Osteria San Lorenzo, in Knightsbridge. It has lasted more than 40 years with a standard I find remarkable. Sadly, Maria Berni, hostess with the mostest, is too unwell to attend. This leaves a gaping hole in the ambience. But it's still first rate. Our table had marvellous crudites on it, freshly broken pieces from a superb parmesan, quite unlike the stale-tasting little squares at Scalini, which had the feel of being bought in. The pasta with bolognese sauce was memorable. The chocolate ice cream, stupendous. San Lorenzo's unsung hero is the chef, Gino Gianelli. He's been there 30 years. The restaurant manager, Giancarlo Saba, looks lugubrious but is a great professional. I shall return.

  • I'm told the Sunday Times May 11 Belvedere dinner with Winner is sold out. I never believe anything, so phone 0844 412 2953 just in case. On top of the cornucopia of things on offer, I'll give diners a signed copy of my bestselling autobiography and add a surprise biggie - a raffle for three Winner talking dolls. Should be more, but Peter Wood, boss of esure, has gone completely nuts. He's destroyed, dunaway with, demolished, extinctified 4,750 Winner dolls. He didn't like them. The world is now denied this artistic masterpiece. I got 100 before the axe fell. His publicity boss, a bright man called Chris Bowden, purloined another 100. Roger Moore has six; Michael Caine, one. Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby's, three. The rubbish dump, 4,750. Who says life is fair?

    Here's how to make it fairer. If you can't get to the Winner dinner (or even if you can), call the King's Head Theatre in Islington on 0844 209 0326 to book for my unexpurgated, very funny one-man show, 7.30pm on May 2.

    Michael's missives

    How kind of Sir Michael Caine to take out that old dear in her bath chair and blanket. Were you not available to pose for the photo accompanying your column last week?
    Sue Appleton, Manchester

    After seeing the picture of you with Sir Michael Caine in Florida, I thought you were obviously there for a remake of The Odd Couple. May I please have a ticket for the premiere?
    Charles Gordos, Wolverhampton

    I hope that when the time comes, I, like you and Sir Michael, am lucky enough to be placed in a care home that offers boat trips to its residents.
    Mike Thomas, Oxfordshire

    I don't believe you ate alligator at Fort Lauderdale. I spotted the ugly old reptilian-eyed, leathery-skinned beast wrapped up in a blanket with a man who looked like a hunter. It was still in one piece.
    Kate Stocks, Liverpool

    The photo two weeks ago of a dishevelled drunk steadying himself on someone's Bentley outside the Falcon Inn, Fotheringhay, while supported by two elegant ladies, bears a remarkable resemblance to you. Can you assure your readers you were somewhere else at the time?
    David Worboys, Nerja, Spain

    If you could persuade Geraldine to do a lap dance instead of a tap dance at the Belvedere, I'd definitely think of coming.
    Peter Sandler, Leeds

    Please write to Winner's Dinners, The Sunday Times, 1 Pennington Street, London E98 1ST or email michael.winner@sunday-times.co.uk