49 Parraween St Cremorne, NSW 2090
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 6.30am-2.30pm; Sun 7.30am-2pm|
It's a bold move to name your business Best Bagel Co. – you could end up target practice for tough judges and online critics.
But there are advantages, too. "Best Bagel Co. would obviously work well for Google search rankings," says Sarah O'Brien, who runs the Cremorne shopfront with business partner Mejdi Grira.
It's a savvy web marketing strategy, but there's a danger you might not live up to the self-declared hype.
O'Brien believes it's "always nice" to aim high and it's easy to see her team's good intentions – whether they're roasting jalapeno chillies for Best Bagel Co.'s cream cheese, seeking out organic, sustainable or free-range ingredients, or being transparent about what workers are paid (the Best Bagel Co. site proudly declares it offers above-award wages, with added training opportunities: a groundbreaking admission given underpayment scandals have rattled the hospitality industry).
Best Bagel Co. also deserves points for prioritising eco-friendly packaging and community-minded coffee farmers. It doesn't charge extra when someone wants dairy-free milk with their latte and proceeds from its egg salad bagel by guest chef Analiese Gregory ended up supporting the charity Women For Afghan Women. But ultimately, people will rank this place depending on how good the bagels are – and whether they're the best.
O'Brien and Grira have approached the ring-shaped pastry as fans, not highly trained chefs. "We ate lots and lots different bagels," she says. "I did a four-month gnarly bake-off, where I was making bagels every second day."
O'Brien also tapped into memories of eating the New York staple in Manhattan. "In the Best Bagel Co. shop, there's a photo of the diner from Seinfeld, Tom's Restaurant," she says.
Her first New York bagel experience happened nearby, at an unassuming shop her Jewish friend recommended. It was a revelation. "You don't want it to end. You're taking smaller and smaller bites, you're savouring the crumb."
In a quest to offer something similar, O'Brien's bagels keep changing. When they first opened – in mid-July, two weeks into Sydney's second lockdown – O'Brien kept reconfiguring recipes according to customer opinions.
When it's been impossible to keep up with demand, Best Bagel Co. employees have placed their grass-fed wagyu pastrami, wood-smoked bacon or vegan-friendly dill cashew cheese between Brooklyn Boy Bagels instead (O'Brien happily recommends them: "I personally think they're the best bagels in Sydney.")
In January, they reformulated their bagel recipe again, with help from Berkelo's bakery. With bagels constantly evolving, they're tricky to definitely judge – but the fillings remain constant.
The bestselling smoked salmon bagel is packed with a generous, perhaps overpowering amount of lemon and dill cream cheese, while the avocado-tomato bagel really gets lifted by the fresh zest and the herbal hit of that same schmear.
The crunchy roasted kale in the Ode to Funghitown bagel is a welcome contrast to the pate-like blending of sauteed mixed mushrooms, truffle oil and creamy ricotta.
One way to truly highlight the bagels is to order them with something simple, such as crunchy peanut butter and fruity strawberry jam. To complete Best Bagel Co's feelgood approach, the boxes are often hand-illustrated by staff: you might get a picturebook-like cow for the Reuben, or a chicken head or T. rex for the TeriSlawrus teriyaki chicken flavour. It's just another example of the team's highly personal effort to do the right thing.
Best Bagel Co.
Main attraction Feelgood bagels with a conscience. Doing the right thing can be tricky: the salmon comes from a Tasmanian producer that claims to be sustainable, but O'Brien is considering replacing with it with a different fish.
Must-try dish The avocado-tomato with the zesty, herby cream cheese, on a seeded bagel. Or go for something pared back, such as a blueberry bagel with peanut butter and jam.
Insta-worthy dish Almost anything that comes in a hand-illustrated box. The charming mushroom scribbled on the Ode to Funghitown box looks like the toadstools from a Super Mario Bros video game.