LET'S HANG OUT IN: NOTTING HILL
Let's start with the part of Notting Hill that nobody can avoid. If you live or work around Portobello Road, you will soon grow accustomed to the hordes of tourists who descent on the street at the weekends. They spill out of Notting Hill Gate Tube from early on Saturday morning, emerging blinking into the daylight in couples or small groups. Whatever corner of the globe they may have come from, one common goal unites them; they are here to find the Blue Door, and the bookshop from Richard Curtis' 1999 film Notting Hill.
Dressed in macs and puffer jackets and clutching phones and maps close to their chests, they ask passers by and shopkeepers for directions. Nosing their way to the top of Portobello Road, they descend its hilly decline and, if successful, find themselves outside 13-15 Blenheim Crescent where the sign marking the Travel bookshop hangs. Despite the fact that Notting Hill is, in my opinion, one of the best rom-coms ever made, I shan't dwell on that for too much longer and instead am excited to share an insight into Notting Hill as an area.
It's fair to say that Notting Hill is one of London’s most iconic neighbourhoods; a picture-perfect enclave of leafy streets, cobbled mews, colourful houses and classic cars. But for all of its polished concept stores and groomed dogs (with their equally coiffured owners), the soul of the area still remains. You may have taken a dive into the swell of nipple tassel-wearing crowds that flood its street during carnival, or visited on a Saturday when Portobello Market swings into action selling every semi-broken antique imaginable. Walking its streets, you’ll find stylish locals, buskers, food stalls, steel drum players and fragrant spice shops.
From some angles, Notting Hill looks the same as it did in the 90's when Hugh Grant and his puppy-dog eyes made it a tourist hot spot, but it’s also a place overflowing with young people, buzzy bars, contemporary art and some great cooking. The food scene isn’t the most talked about in the city, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a bellyful of cutting-edge eateries run by ambitious chefs, alongside traditional 'caffs' that have been serving the same full English and bowls of tea since the 60s. Like the world-famous market itself, all you have to do is a little digging.
I, myself, have spent many an enjoyable Saturday walking the length of Portobello Road with the market in full swing, admiring the stalls that have appeared overnight, which transform it into an eclectic fair selling everything from records and vintage clothes to spicy street food and fruit and veg. Each section of the road reveals its own distinct character, its own sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere - from the rough and ready bric-a-brac at its northern end to the more expensive antiques on offer the closer you get to Notting Hill Gate.
Today, I want to disclose FIVE spots that I'd wholeheartedly recommend you all visit when in the area.
If you’re looking for some seriously pretty lattés and a quaint atmosphere on your trip to Notting Hill, then you need to look no further than Farm Girl Cafe. Farm Girl offers laidback, healthy Aussie eating with dishes that will leave you all heart-eyed emoji’ed.
Step through Farm Girl's white door and you'll find a sun trap of a courtyard leading into the cafe. Its location makes it ideal for filling up during a dash around Portobello Market or easy lunch dates for lucky locals.
Everything about Farm Girl is perfect Instagram fodder; from the courtyard with bleached white walls to the perfectly imperfect ceramic tableware. The walls are hung with turquoise tiles that remind you of the sea and summer, the ceilings cling onto glowy pendant lights and the wooden floor supports a bar piled high with freshly baked bread and delicious-looking cakes. There's no denying the team have created a very pretty space that you could easily imagine on the sunny streets of LA or Melbourne.
Even without the pretty aesthetics, the food stands strong. I'm a real lover of brunch food and so I'm always overjoyed to find brunch-like options available all day - automatic win for me. As a frequent visitor, I've tried quite a lot of the menu and can confirm that most things are pretty damn great - especially the Insta-classic avo-on-toast, the Buckwheat pancakes which are fluffy and moorish and the "BLT", made with coconut curls instead of bacon, which for an avid meat eater, really surprised me in a good way.
At 186 Portobello Road lies The Distillery, a four-floor mecca for the discerning drinker; from gin tasting, to gin history and even the chance to create your own blend of gin, it is the perfect place for gin-aholics.
The venue features three hotel rooms, two restaurants and bars, a small gin museum and a craft-gin shop. Of course, as the name suggests, the venue also features a distillery, home to a 400-litre copper gin still, along with rooms for gin enthusiasts to learn everything they could ever want to know about the much-loved spirit.
What I love most about the venue is that each area has it's own feel, for example, GinTonica, which pays homage to Spain, is fun and vibrant in style whereas The History Room is dark, yet cosy. Whether you want to grab a Tom Collins at the bar, tuck into a what looks like an absolutely delicious roast dinner or go full whack and immerse yourself in The Ginstitute Experience, there's no doubt in my mind that you'll enjoy your experience. Whether you remember it the next day is another matter however...
Fun fact: Queens, which opened in 1930, is in fact the oldest skate rink in the UK! This place is right up my street - apart from the skating because I'm notorious for being a bit of a klutz - but, any place where I can unleash my Monica Geller-esque competitive side whilst eating a burger from Meat Liquor, well, I'm sold.
Apart from the obvious attractions of ice skating and 12 bowling lanes, they also house a ping-pong stud, air-hockey suite and retro arcade parlour including classics like Pac-Man and Mario Kart. Not just for big kids, the venue also has 2 bars serving up delicious cocktails. It just gets better and better.
In short, this place is FUN. Perfect for a first date, group get-together or even work parties, I personally could spend all day frolicking around, (hopefully) scoring some strikes, tucking into some food and whizzing around the Mario Kart track!
WILD AT HEART
Wander along Westbourne Grove and you’ll discover one of London’s greatest - and most photographed - florists. Standing proudly on a turquoise island, Wild At Heart is a floral emporium with peonies, delphiniums, hydrangeas and sweet peas regularly adorning the spot.
Whether you're in need of a little pick-me up, are trying to find something to buy for that person who has everything or, fellas, if you've got some making up to do, I couldn't recommend Wild at Heart enough. Granted, a touch pricier than your supermarket alternatives, but most definitely worth it. The array of flowers available are always so vast and you've got the option to either pick up a pre-made bunch or select your own. Bloomin' lovely - sorry, I couldn't help myself.
Riding the wave of all things American is Electric Diner. Stepping inside, you feel like you've been whisked away across the Atlantic. The interiors are certainly reminiscent America indeed; fat red banquets, a dark wooden bar with swivelling leather bar stools, all encompassed by a low-slung curved wooden ceiling, which almost makes it look like an old-fashioned train carriage. It makes for a snug, yet inviting dining environment.
There’s an all-day breakfast menu from 8am which is generally very satisfying - perfect for that weekend hangover - and a solid selection of uncomplicated but delicious food for a really hearty dinner. The menu features some classics like avocado on toast and eggs benedict, as well as pure heart attack food with crowd pleasers such as french toast, waffles and donuts.
This place is reliably good; everything I've ordered on the menu - and that's been quite a lot over the past few years - has always exceeded expectations. The ingredients are fresh, everything is always cooked to perfection - bacon especially so - and the portion sizes are generous without being overwhelming. Heavenly.
I hope that along this journey I've managed to convince you that Notting Hill is in fact far more than just a Bloor Door or twerking at Carnival. Strolling around Notting Hill, no matter the weather is a true delight and I hope that you soon take that time to experience it yourselves. Trust me when I say its one if those places that will make your soul happy.
Thank you all so so much for your support and feedback with the first instalment on Shoreditch, which you can read here, and I hope you've loved this Notting Hill roundup just as much.
As always, if you have any questions or if you'd like any more recommendations, feel free to get in touch via Instagram or email.
Stay tuned for the next location...