The Cereal Killer Café is a temple to cereal on Brick Lane, east London. It serves only cereal — and also Pop-Tarts, which taste like pavements smeared with chocolate — and flavoured milk. It has been open for one month and is already famous for its monomania, its whimsy — look, cereal! — and its co-owner’s on-air fight with a Channel 4 News journalist about the morality of selling £3.50 bowls of cereal in a ‘poor area’. (The Channel 4 reporter did not notice the bespoke chocolatier next door or the boxer-short boutique nearby, in which golden boxer shorts hang on hangers. He did not notice that the East End is now a tourist destination offering guided tours of graffiti or, as I call it, crime with squiggles. He also did not notice that you can make a similar accusation to a bank, a petrol station or a brothel: ‘Me, I can’t afford sex.’)
So — cereal is now hot, so to speak; hot enough to queue for. We wait outside with a tourist from Cheltenham, or, as I call it, because I have covered the Cheltenham Literary Festival, ‘Nam’. As in: ‘You don’t know coz you weren’t there, man!’
The outside is a dark Victorian tenement; inside, a shabby café with a small counter, portraits of fictional serial killers — Hannibal the Cannibal (another critic) and Dexter from Dexter — made from cereal, and a wall of cereal in gaudy boxes, which look faintly damp. Much of it branded to TV, cinema and/or toys: to Barbie (Breakfast with Barbie); to The Simpsons (Homer’s Cinnamon Doughnut) to Star Wars (a painting of Darth Vader standing over a bowl of coloured cereal pieces splashing happily about in milk, which feels improbable, even for Star Wars. But Darth Vader was technically a single father, and this is obviously a single-father destination restaurant). I did not know toy/TV-branded food existed, because I am neither American nor a big fat stupid child, but it is apparently fashionable; as you watch a movie, or play with a toy, you can also eat it. I suppose it is inevitable. It is called consumerism, after all.
I order wildly, in guesses, because who can think critically about cereal beyond the age of five? I take a cereal ‘cocktail’ called ‘unicorn poop’ (£4.80, Ricicles/party rings/fluff/marshmallows/hundreds and thousands); and also ‘chocopotamus’ (£3.90, Coco Pops/Krave/Kinder Happy Hippo/chocolate milk). I order chocolate milk — because if you chase unicorn poop with a double espresso, you might vomit— and toast, to line my stomach.
It takes an age to come; the queue, I learn, is not a result of undercapacity (the basement is almost empty when we slump down the narrow stairs) but because it takes time to assemble unicorn poop. I poke it — it looks like Barbie’s rotting soul. The basement is the fantasy kitchen of an abandoned child. Small black-and-white TVs flicker with cartoons; there are ancient toys and yet more cereal boxes, some of which are insane, and made for the insane: Special Kate’s: Closer to Royalty with Every Bite, and Will’s Royal Os — Smooth! Divine! Frosted! Delicious! (Parasitic!) Of course now I want my own hagiographic cereal, and I want other Spectator writers to have some too. Takibix, for instance. Or Delingpole’s Nut Loops. The question, of course, is why cereal? The answer is prosaic: it is an attempt to make the ordinary divine, and there is therefore something very odd and insubstantial about the Cereal Killer Café. My companion, who has HIV, refuses everything but the toast. Then he takes his medication. He says it’s more wholesome than the food. I thought it was OK. It’s sugar in a sticky sugar den; and sugar is like any other drug. You rise, you fall.
Cereal Killer Café, 139 Brick Lane, London E1 6SB.
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