Leslie Knope: Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?
Ron Swanson: People are idiots, Leslie.
Michael Bluth: What have we always said is the most important thing?
George-Michael Bluth: Breakfast?
Michael Bluth: Family.
George-Michael Bluth: Oh right, family. I thought you meant of the things we eat.
I almost never have breakfast on weekdays. Given the choice between even five extra minutes of delicious, nourishing sleep or some toast, I’ll always go for the sleep. When I get to work, I’m straight onto the coffee and now my brain considers this a meal.
Weekends are different. Weekends are for doing not-work things like ignoring the housework, failing to reply to personal emails and thinking really hard about going outside for a lovely walk. Therefore I end up going out to breakfast most weekends and am always on the lookout for somewhere new and interesting.
Louis CK introduced me to the glory of the bang-bang: going for a meal at one restaurant and then immediately going to another for a second full meal. This idea is insane; the episode of Louie featuring the Indian/Diner bang-bang was impossible and therefore hilarious. Lou’s a big dude but there’s no way he could have managed to eat that mountain of food. A breakfast bang-bang, on the other hand, is achievable and only slightly gluttonous.
I first read about the Brick Lane’s new Cereal Killer Cafe on Facebook, usually prefaced with the following comments:
- Look at those wankers
- Fucking hipster beards
- £4 for CEREAL?
- Seriously look at those FUCKING WANKERS
- I hate these fuckers
- They should be killed
The reactions truly baffled me. I thought the idea was actually pretty nifty precisely because it’s a bit silly and naïve and harmless. I like breakfast, I like cereal, I like going out to breakfast and therefore I concluded that I would like going to out to breakfast to eat cereal. The way some people were complaining, it was though Alan and Garry Keery were advocating puppy torture and I figured I must have missed something. I did briefly consider doing some mild research but then totally forgot about it and moved on with my life, only remembering a few months later when a similar outrage erupted regarding selfie sticks and I thought: hey, remember that cereal place people were hating on? And then I remembered the concept of the bang-bang and knew I was going to check it out.
The bulk of the anger towards the Cereal Killer Cafe is directed towards the pricing, but to be honest, most restaurant food is massively marked-up, breakfast in particular. Any breakfast you pay for will be more expensive than buying the constituent parts yourself and making it at home. Even the cheapest of caffs is still making a fair whack of profit from their eggs and toast. Beverages in pubs are also marked-up with cocktails costing well over a tenner for a relatively small volume of liquid so why is that okay and expensive-for-what-it-is cereal isn’t?
But it’s not just the mark-up, it’s the Brick Lane location and the gentrification of East London, which I know is a completely valid argument. It’s not just depressing when you can’t afford to do things in your own neighbourhood, it’s also alienating and humiliating. I began to worry that I wouldn’t just be eating cereal, I’d become part of the problem. For the most part of my time in Hackney living just off Chatsworth Road, I was on benefits and nearly all the cafes and restaurants were out of my budget apart from the Workman’s Café. When that shut down, I was genuinely heartbroken.
Now that I’m back in work and able to treat myself, I do but at the same time there’s always a voice in my head that wonders if this is okay, if it’s a valid use of my money, if I actually deserve it. So when I eventually did some mild research on the Cereal Killer Café, I was thrown into a loop of self-doubt followed by defensiveness followed by guilt and back into self-doubt again.
At one point when I was unemployed and suffering from acute anxiety, I found it very difficult and sometimes impossible to eat. It was a miserable existence and I don’t ever want to be that unwell again. But I also don’t want to ever forget that time, when I had no income whatsoever and every day I woke to instantly panic about how I was going to manage to get through the day. I want to keep it in mind so that when I am feeling panicked or worried, I remember that it was much worse and I overcame it.
I read this article where local people give their views on the CKC and reading that lead me to fall into another berating the Keerys for what it calls their “remarkable tone-deafness”. I found a review on the Independent which had one and only one comment beneath the line reading “These people are utter wankers”. I flip flopped and questioned myself for way too long before deciding I should just go and make a decision for myself.
I come from the kind of very American, very un-middle-class upbringing which meant that I regularly had Cookie Crisp cereal for breakfast. And yes that is pretty much exactly what you think it is: tiny chocolate chip cookie shaped sweetened corn-oat-rice product, in a bowl, with milk. My taste for sweet things has fallen away somewhat but from time to time I will crave Cap’n Crunch (with or without Crunchberries) or Fruity Pebbles and usually I pine for a second and then swiftly move on. A quick look at the menu showed me that both those childhood favourites were available.
The first time I attempted to go around 11am, the queue was spilling outside, and I thought: GOOD. I am glad this is popular! But I was too impatient so went back the next weekend around 9:30. There were only a few other people ahead in the queue which moved pretty fast.
The cafe décor harkens back to the 80s/90s with cereal memorabilia and displays of limited edition gems like Urkel-Os. Some people sitting at the breakfast bar in front were wearing onesies; almost too twee really until I found out that it was apparently National Cereal Day and patrons in their jim-jams got a 50% discount. Also, I was determined to find everything about this day FUN, dammit!
The menu is mostly American cereal with some domestic standards and a variety of different kinds of cow and nut milks, and though I was tempted by Reese’s Puffs (get chocolate in your peanut butter/peanut butter in your chocolate), I ended up getting a “cereal cocktail”. The Lion King contains Lion cereal, Coco Caramel Shreddies, Mars Mix and caramel milk. My dining companion had Don’t Have A Cinnamon (I know): Curiously Cinnamon, Golden Grahams, Apple Zings, honey and semi skimmed milk.
We went to the downstairs seating area which was crammed with more 80s and 90s cereal memorabilia, a bank of retro TVs and a window whose curtains had the same ears- of-corn motif as in the Simpsons’ kitchen (boss!) and settled down to eat our breakfast of champions with Huey Lewis and Amy Grant for a soundtrack. I’ve got to be honest: it was a pretty small bowl for £3.50. But I didn’t care: I was eating candy on my cereal for breakfast and no one could stop me!
It was just plain silly fun, the best kind of fun, and I am glad we went. I couldn’t help but remember that it wasn’t too long ago when a simple bowl of cereal would have been the source of much anxiety and stress; food was no longer enjoyable but a struggle and nothing tasted good. I don’t ever want to be that unwell again and the worry that I might get to that place again makes me realise that I have to be kind to myself. If that way is via marked-up cereal than so be it.
But that one small “large” bowl was never going to genuinely fill me up. Louis might sneer at this bang-bang lite but a true two main meals style blowout is definitely out of my league. Perhaps to assuage my guilt at contributing to harmful gentrification, I knew I’d follow up my visit to the Cereal Killer Café by going to the famous Brick Lane establishment Beigel Bake just a few doors down.
It was a wise decision – the peanut butter bagel I had (for 90p) was fresh and chewy and a sensible step down from the sugar fest of my cereal cocktail. The queue for Beigel Bake also frequently spills out onto the street and I hope this remains the case; I hope the Cereal Killer Cafe does well too, though I’m sure that if it does shut down there will be a sea of schadenfreude and it will sadden me – HA HA the wankers FAILED! but I can’t do anything about that any more than I can stop people feeling alienated by gentrification. I can however try to remember that we only have one shot in this life so you might as well, eat, drink and be merry as much as humanly possible. Now please pass the Frankenberry and hazelnut milk.