The reasons to visit London’s Notting Hill are many and varied. Elegant ivory-faced residential crescents and squares border equally affluent Kensington and Holland Park. The Portobello Market’s funky bargain-hunting and the carnival atmosphere every weekend. The global village feel of Golborne Road. People-watching is an art form given the eclectic mix of characters. Notting Hill is probably best experienced by becoming embedded during a short (or long) stay and not dropping in or heading for a destination restaurant. . More on that further down……
#1 It’s vibrant, authentic and diverse
There’s a vibrancy woven into Notting Hill that draws from every corner of the British Commonwealth; it’s unabashed diversity. Across the district you’ll find a kaleidoscopic cultural mash-up that harmoniously blends high and low brow, multi-ethnic backgrounds and runs the generational gamut from the Boomers to swaddled babes in buggies. The celebrity names (i.e. Beckham) are but part of the mix.
Young families, hipsters, babies and moms, school-age kids, millennials, (always) hipsters, musicians, artists and characters and established boomers all call it home. To be sure, a growing affluence has gentrified the rougher edges, a big-city, first-world phenomenon. Across the district are trendy, ‘go-to’ restaurants and pubs with sought-after bookings. International high-end brands grace the Westbourne Grove shopping district.
Personally, I have trouble passing up a scone – and highly recommend Dalyesford Organic Market for that indulgence, nearly next door to 202.
#2 There’s Portobello Road
It’s the beating heart of the district; the thoroughfare has never wavered from pride of place. Portobello Road’s commerciality grew out of the well-heeled residential development of Notting Hill and the need for support infrastructure. That pragmatism remains today, reflected in the architecture, the energy, and rich cultural heritage.
The variety is mind-boggling. Global street food fan? On a weekend, try the (somewhat crazy) Acklam Village Market, an extension of the Portobello Market. Food truck heaven, from Europe to South Africa to South America to the Mid-and Far-East. You’ll find this wacky food collection-cum-music venue at the north end of Portobello, tucked under the Westway (A40, elevated main highway). The music tent affords a sit-down for spot, beer/wine to go with the world cuisine, while hopeful musicians perform both original work and covers of every pop song of the last 50 years. You can’t have a bad time at this most distinct of Notting Hill’s markets.
Return to Portobello Road and reflect on the mission of the Salvation Army.
#3 Portobello Market
For over a century Portobello Road has been the heart of the namesake Friday/Saturday markets with antique shops and all manner of merchandise.
There are shopping guides aplenty for Portobellos markets, but for the full experience of Notting Hill’s eclectic nature, venture beyond.To the north, and perpendicular to Portobello Road, is Golborne Road. Golborne has its own distinct, funky-ness, a hipster vibe with one-of-a kind shops and restaurants.
I recommend two in particular for their cuisine and lovely, laid back ambiance. Snaps and Rye, London’s only Danish restaurant, was lauded by Time Out; its next door neighbor, Kipferl, an Austrian tapas/coffee house, is perfect for lunch or a coffee pick-me-up.
At the south end of Portobello Road, Beatrice von Tresckow, a Berlin-based designer, offers exquisite, one-of-a-kind women’s clothing and specialty items – it’s something to see!
The side streets off Portobello are worth exploring too. Blenheim Crescent is home to a some small shops just to the west of Portobello Road.
The Spice Shop offers an array of spices, herbs, and concoctions from cuisines around the world to flavor the broth both literally and figuratively.
Across the street, Books For Cooks is a motherlode of cookbooks with a browsing atmosphere and a knowledgeable staff that encourages one to linger….for lunch!
Each day, lunch is a set menu that is wildly popular. Plan to arrive around 11:30 as the crowd builds early for the 12:00, 3-course lunch. Proprietor Eric Treuille uses the open plan cooking area as a ‘test kitchen’ for recipes, so, walk in for a look around and lunch, walk out with the cookbook and lunch menu. Simple, delicious food that you can make your own.
After lunch, stroll next door to Honeyjam, an old-school toy shop bursting with games, wooden toys, costumes for dress-up play. The antidote to Toys R Us.
One last note: it seems there is no more accurate indicator of a neighborhood’s ‘hip’ factor than the number and quality of its coffee shops. On that metric, Portobello Road is world-class. At one intersection alone, there are good coffee places on three of the four corners (O.K., one of them is Starbucks, but still…..). I recommend Gail’s on Portobello, or the Tin Shed, just off Portobello on All Saints’ Road.
#4 And the Electric Cinema
Britain’s second oldest purpose-built cinema (1910, and by just 2 months), the Electric Cinema’s Edwardian building is a landmark on Portobello Road, in the middle of the Portobello Market area. It’s a gem in a plain (blue) wrapper; the inside is scrumptious. It is a cross between a comfy living room and a cabaret. Upholstered sofas and oversized chairs, ottomans with cozy throws (with RFID tags to counter souvenir-taking) and a BIG screen. Further creature comforts are the lowlight lamps that grace cabaret tables – for the cappuccinos or cocktails plus appropriate nibbles. Yep, it’s civilized but don’t look for popcorn.
On Monday mornings the Electric Cinema hosts Electric Scream, a baby-friendly, mid-morning screening of the current offering, a welcome break for mums/caregivers. All adults must be accompanied by a baby. The jumble of strollers parked along the perimeter of the theatre space, the intermittent fussing of little ones, the comings and goings of the audience all add to the shared experience. Not the place for a serious cinephile.
#5 And terrific dining…..
Notting Hill has become a magnet for fine dining. Marianne, The Cow and Cépage are clustered within a few blocks of each other with Prince Bonaparte nearby.
Marianne – An intimate, carefully crafted dining experience. Marianne, a former private chef (rumored to have worked for George Soros), has wisely decided to share her gifts more widely. Don’t expect to drop in – this takes planning.
The Cow – Very trendy pub popular among young royals (Prince Harry comes by with pals now and again) and, I’m told on solid authority, as do younger members of the Downtown Abbey cast. Lunch there, my experience, was great even though the bold-faced names were no where to be seen.
Cépage – Wine bistro with excellent offerings from small producers across France – Have brunched there; dinner would be even better. Rave reviews from the travel/dining sites, too. Have a drink at The Cow to start a grand evening.
Prince Bonaparte – Lively pub atmosphere with sophisticated menu. A favorite of the young, smart set. I recommend brunch!
The Ledbury – Elegant. Period. Two Michelin stars tells the tale.
Casa Cruz – The Argentine meets Notting Hill. The massive copper door is enough to draw you in. Snappy bar, too.
Don’t just visit Notting Hill – stay there!
Notting Hill particularly well suited to a residential stay – its proximity to Kensington, the West End makes it easy to use the surfeit of public transportation options.
The obvious resource for short-stay Notting Hill apartments is Airbnb. I’ve had great terrific stays with Airbnb in London, most recently in Notting Hill over Christmas/New Year’s. The neighborhood feel, the ready access to superb restaurants and fresh food markets gives one the feeling of really ‘living’ in London, even for a bit, as opposed to staying in London. It’s an entirely different experience. Plug in ‘Notting Hill’ into the Airbnb search box and see what fits.
If hotels are your preference, I loved The Laslett, one of the more elegant of Notting Hill’s hotels and a quick walk to Hyde Park.
Opened anew about a year ago, the formal exterior belies the witty minimalist look and feel inside.
Everyone has there favorite neighborhood and haunts. London’s Notting Hill is just one of many. Please share yours in the comments below.
Also, please watch for the PDF of all places listed here, so you don’t have to scroll and will have a handy reference sheet! Coming soon!
© 3Score & More, 2016