Sunday, April 14, 2013

Review: Best Ugly Bagels

The secret to success is clearly not in giving your customers what they want, or think they need. I never needed a smartphone until I got one, and now I can't live without one.  Similarly, Auckland never knew it needed an oyster bar until Al Brown's Depot came along, and his latest venture, Best Ugly Bagels, fits into the same category.

"King" bagel (lox, capers, red onion and cream cheese).

In a way, you could see it coming.  The trend these days is towards simple, well-executed food in an informal setting, where you can feel at ease and just drop in for a bite of something delicious.  It's not really surprising that Best Ugly Bagels has a queue going out the door of its open kitchen.

Fortunately, I first turned up on Tuesday, on the morning of the bagelry's official opening day, before the hordes of customers arrived.  I was warmly invited to step into the kitchen area, and the head baker took me through the bagel-making process, even getting their consultant from Montreal, Steve, to demonstrate how they hand-roll the dough into rings.

The team in action.

Naturally, the first question that came to my lips was "So how are Montreal bagels different from any other bagels?"  Apparently, these are different from American bagels because they are rolled thinner, and contain no salt.  Best Ugly's hand-shaped  bagels—so called because of their rustic, uneven look—are then cooked in a pot of water with honey, before being baked in their wood-fired oven. I was handed a sesame-coated one, just pulled from the heat, and it was softer and sweeter than other bagels I have eaten, with a beautiful shiny and golden crust.  It tasted and smelt fantastic.

The team didn't let me leave without making me a completely new bagel for free.  Yes, with whatever filling I wanted!  How's that for a pleasant surprise?  Of course I honoured my promise to return with others for lunch.

"Yodi" bagel (pastrami, Swiss cheese, and pickle), and "PB&J" (Pics Peanut Butter and Te Horo jam).
Although a fresh bagel is amazing on its own, the highlights of the menu are the non-vegetarian fillings.  The pastrami and cured salmon are both made using a secret recipe unique to the bagelry, though they are happy to share the fact that the salmon comes from The Salmon Man (farmed in Stewart Island) and the pastrami is produced by Karl Campbell in Wellington.

I wish there were a few more filling choices, maybe the offer of a side salad, and also more seating, but this converted warehouse is well worth visiting just the way it is.

Panda Recommends

Best Ugly only has three kinds of filled bagels—quality over quantity! Don't be tempted to cheap out and just get one with spreads. They are good too, but you would be missing out. You can also get some bagels to take away to eat with your own favourite toppings.

Mains: "King" bagel with lox (cured salmon), capers, red onion and cream cheese ($12.00), "Yodi" bagel with pastrami, Swiss cheese and pickle ($10.00)

Vegie Pandas
There is one filled bagel you can eat, the "TAB" with tomato, avocado and basil ($8.00).


If you don't specify which type of bagel you want (sesame, plain ugly, poppy seed, or cinnamon and raisin), you will get the sesame one by default.  They won't ask you.

Although it looks like there is nowhere to sit, the tables outside Shed Five are shared.  You will still need to wait for your bagel to be made before sitting down though.  This is not a table service kind of place.

Oh, and you really need to eat these on the day they are made, unless you have kept the bagels in the freezer.  Just like baguettes, they will go hard and dry if left out.

Restaurant Details

Best Ugly Bagels
Shed 3, City Works Depot, 90 Wellesley Street West, Auckland
(09) 366 3926

Opening hours:
Mondays to Sundays 7am - 3pm

The queue moves quicker than it looks at Best Ugly, but be prepared to wait and/or  take your bagel away.

View Nom Nom Panda in a larger map


  1. I am yet to try this. On my days off work I somehow always find myself sleeping in too late or taking unnecessary afternoon naps... maybe I should wake up earlier and drag myself there soon!

    1. Wow, you would sleep all the way till 3pm? Maybe you should get a friend to do deliveries to you in bed. But yes, getting up earlier would be a better option. :)

  2. I have been meaning to trek down from Uni to get a yummy Ugly Bagel at some point! They look so tasty!! :)

    Ngaio xx

    1. The longer the walk, the better they'll taste when you get there. Hope you enjoy the bagels!

  3. It is interesting. I really, do not like these bagels. I agree with you they are light and sweet, in other words, I agree with your assessment of their character. This is the opposite of what bagels really should be. Bagels are supposed to be relatively dense, chewy and on the savoury side of things. I would bet money there are two things are missing from their recipe. Firstly extra high gluten flour, not just bread flour, but higher in gluten content than standard bread flour. The second thing I suspect they are lacking, is diastatic malt powder, this gives the bagel its unique flavour. These taste like slightly sweetish bread too me. I have been there on three occasions, each time disappointing. Also their consistency of cooking is not that great either. While I am being picky on this, I have had a range of cooking levels from reasonably cooked to over cooked. I admit that handmade and crafted bagels will probably have more variation, but I was sorely disappointed with the bagels. While they are of relatively good quality for Auckland, in comparison to somewhere else in the world that has a tradition of baking bagels, they are rather poor, I think.

    1. Never having eaten bagels in North America, I don't have a predefined idea of what they should be like, nor a preference for Montreal vs New York style bagels. I have only been able to compare these to supermarket bagels before I discovered Al's Deli. I think a great part of the attraction here is not necessarily the composition of the dough, but the freshness of the product, being able to see it being made, and also the quality of the toppings. I didn't know about the different types of malt powder before, or that it is needed in bagels. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!


Panda loves to hear from people. Thanks for leaving a comment! If you are logged in using your Google account, don't forget to click the "Notify me" checkbox (below the comment box on the right hand side), so you know when I write back.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...