Notting Hill Neighborhood Guide.
Unless you make it a point to avoid London or travel-based Instagram accounts, you have likely seen Notting Hill pop up all over the place lately. Instagram has done for Notting Hill over the past 18-months what Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts did for it in 1999. (17 years later, I am still stopped on the street once a month and asked, “Where is the blue door from the movie?” Sadly the Travel Bookshop featured in the movie and a fixture on the street in real life went out of business a few years ago and while another bookstore exists in its place it doesn’t have the heart or the niche that the original bookstore had.)
Saturday afternoons at the foot of Portobello Road, when you can barely move up and down the street for the young visitors peering into and pouring out of tatty discount tourist shops, gives you the right to wonder what all of the fuss is about, but for people who live here, send our kids to school here, grocery shop here and conduct our lives here, we know the neighborhood is well worth the hype. Here is a guide to the best parts of Notting Hill and how people who live here really spend their time. (Insider tip: No where near the sketchy shops at Notting Hill Gate.)
The Churchill Arms
Though really on the edge of “Notting Hill” and “Kensington” I’m claiming it for the purposes of this guide because there is no better way to start, or end, a tour of Notting Hill than at The Churchill Arms. A verdant Irish pub in the heart of London with Churchill memorabilia blanketing the walls and a Thai restaurant in the back. Somehow it just all works.
Walk through this pastel enclave carefully to avoid bumping into the Instagrammers who populate the streets. Pay particular attention to the two mint green Figaros usually flanked by their own paparazzi. (Insider info: there is a fabulous farmers market every Saturday from 8am to 1pm.)
On a sunny day, grab a pint of lager or Pimm’s, make your way outside to one of the picnic tables on the corner and let the multi colored pastels of Hillgate village surround you. On a cold, rainy day take a seat next to the fire in a red union jack farm chair, read the paper and snuggle with the neighbor’s black Labrador snoozing at your feet. Either way, this pub is where you want to be.
For the longest time there was no hotel in Notting Hill and visitors who wanted to be near had to stay at either end of the neighborhood at large, soulless hotels. Now Tracy Lowy and Living Rooms have opened The Laslett – a design-forward hotel occupying five Victorian townhouses right off of Notting Hill Gate in a residential enclave. They serve Workshop coffee, offer discounts to neighborhood residents and have freshly shucked oysters on Thursday afternoons.
Both a shopping and dining destination, Westbourne Grove has a line-up of great options for both. Daylesford Organic for coffee, takeaway food, breakfast, lunch or dinner; 202 for people watching, coffee and couture clothing; Chucs – the expensive Italian cafe for the tiniest but very, very good salmon cobb salad; and shopping at Wolf & Badger, Zadig & Voltaire, Joseph, War the Rose, Bimba y Lola and more.
or head east to stay in Notting Hill:
Yotem Ottolenghi’s eponymous cafe has been going strong here for years. The line rarely abates but if you are lucky you can grab one of 10 seats in the back for a coffee and pastry or a quick lunch. Otherwise order a takeaway salad and buy one of his books.
Harper & Tom’s
On the corner of Elgin Crescent and Kensington Park Road the (mostly) ladies of Harper & Tom’s create gorgeous and modern bouquets that will make you the best received guest at any party. Tell them what you want to spend and your color scheme and then go get a coffee across the street at The Grocer while they do their thing. £45 will get you a stunning bouquet.
Lindy has run Ceramica Blue in its current location for 25 years. She personally selects every piece carried in the store and has return clients from all over the world (to whom she ships, of course). Pick up a little bit of locality with one of her custom Notting Hill tea towels or a tea set from Keith Brymer Jones or burnished flatware which is my current obsession. And if you can, stay for a chat.
Books for Cooks
Doing exactly what it says on the tin, this book store carries only cookbooks but cookbooks it does carry. They know it, have read it, love it or loathe it. For any food lovers this is a must.
The Electric House / The Electric Cinema / Electric Diner
Soho house members have long known about The Electric House, the members-only club in the heart of Notting Hill but, open to non-members, is both the American-style Electric Diner (they pour bottomless coffee all morning long) as well as the super swanky Electric Cinema. Think leather lounge chairs, bottles of wine at your seat and a tasty sausage roll for your viewing pleasure.
Falafel Zaki Zaki
No website here and only vague directions but believe me, it’s worth it. On Portobello Market Days (every day except Thursday and Sunday) for the past 10 years Falafel Zaki Zaki has been setting up and serving made-to-order, melt-in-your-mouth falafels wrapped with tangy pickled veggies. Add a can of Coke to your lunch order and your grand total comes to £5. Look for it across the street from The Electric or ask Mohammed, the fruit stall guy in front of Coffee Plant, where Zaki Zaki is that day and he will help you.
Definitely leave time to end your day with a mani/pedi or a facial with local secret MYZ. Owned by the gorgeous lawyer-turned-fashionista-turned-spa-owner Maryam Zand, MYZ is a tiny storefront that welcomes locals as well as the high-heeled visitors from around the city and around the country. It is not unusual to have a pedicure with her Cocker Spaniel, Cookie, on your lap and to wave goodbye to the likes of Sienna Miller and Gerard Butler. Prices are reasonable and the staff is loyal and friendly. Manis and pedis happen upstairs while downstairs has the most incredible facials and massage and waxing of the unmentionables.
And if you have time around the edges, here are a few more hot spots.
My favourite, The Tin Shed for breakfast
Chipping Forecast for great Fish & Chips in a light, bright, instagrammable interior.
The Cow for oysters & Guinness or pies. (A few months ago my husband and a friend ran into David Beckham, Harry Styles and two big rugby players I’ve never heard of here in one night. Seems unfair, doesn’t it?)
Crazy Homies for crazy good margaritas. (Insider info: DJ Wheelie Bag spins 45s the first Thursday of each month. He is a legend. Probably 60 years old? Named for the fact that he wheels his DJ kit into the restaurant. Worth checking out!)
Lucky Seven for burgers and milkshakes and American beer. (Side note: When my husband, Nick, and I first met and were in the process of meeting each other’s friends I met his best friend and his wife here. I recommended his friend have a Sierra Nevada beer, which he hated and I had to hear about that for many years. That was a very quick lesson on how seriously the English take their beer lager.)
The Oak for swanky pizzas in pub-like atmosphere.