Brill’s Coffee and Bagels, Exmouth Market

Re-inventing the edible wheel: a musical revival of the lazy bagel.


The humble bagel is much overlooked by the average contemporary consumer now that it has established itself as a cornerstone of every supermarket’s bread-section and comforting inhabitant of the family bread-bin; a doughy guardian benevolently watching from between its baguette-encrusted prison, if you will. However, it is secretly a thing of history and myth hiding behind so many of man’s greatest achievements: long rumoured to have been created in the shape of a stirrup to commemorate King John III Sobieski’s victory over the Ottoman empire in the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the bagel has been awarded to women in the early 17th century as a gift after childbirth, reached monstrous meter-long proportions during the 19th century in London’s Brick Lane, and even ventured into space on Gregory Chamitoff’s 2008 NASA mission to the International Space Station (fyi he chose to bring 18 sesame seed bagels from the famous Fairmount Bakery in Montreal).

It is with this in mind that one must appreciate the superbly high quality bagels at Brill, a former record store-turned coffee house and bagel specialist that has defined itself as a pillar of the community in Exmouth Market since 1999.

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Music, bagels and coffee galore on trendy Exmouth Market at Brill!

Its musical background is still evident as you can peruse a selection of classic CDs and vinyls whilst waiting for your order. Small, unpretentious and always friendly, the atmosphere hums with reggae, soul and old skool Britpop amongst the tantalising scent of both its sweet and savoury baked goods. In fact, the calibre of these is so high that one of their most popular dishes is a plain buttered bagel, to be enjoyed in the condensed haven of their outdoor garden in the summer or under the cover of complimentary blankets in the winter. For the more adventurous (or ravenous) the elaborate house concoction of dukkah-dusted avocado and feta is a must-try, pleasingly spilling out from between perfect slices of bagel towered high onto your plate.

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Brill is well suited to both work and play, and locals tapping away on laptops can be seen in equal measure to small groups laughing and chatting over carrot cake and soy lattes. The glass façade at the front of the store is a personal highlight, offering prime people watching stakeouts from a lazy stretch of benched seating, and the wealth of eccentric inhabitants and occasional unusual celebrity all make for intriguing watching material for the light hobbyist voyeur. Added to this, the daily spread of newspapers and magazines gives it grade-A lazy brunch credentials. It is small details like this that makes Brill such a welcoming zone for the bagel enthusiast (do keep an eye out for their hand-drawn loyalty cards updated every week). If all of this isn’t enough of a siren-call to lure you to Brill’s sesame sprinkled sanctuary, then the occasional gigs it hosts on Fridays and Sundays may tip the scales of uncertainty.

The experience of munching on the humble bagel whilst being serenaded by a neighbouring up-and-coming acoustic musician is enough to bring some myth and magic back into our amiable hole-d friend, especially on a sun-soaked summer afternoon promenading through Clerkenwell.

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