Thursday, 8 November 2007
Life in the Hills
Part 1: Notting Hill
Since I arrived in London I’ve been a little hobo with no fixed address –waiting to see where the café will be before finding permanent lodgings nearby. After exhausting my couch credit with family I’ve lucked upon a succession of house sits through friends, friends of friends, and friends who know people who need more friends (ie someone to feed their cats and water their plants when they go on holiday).
Three of my sits have been in west London, Notting Hill, a far cry from the western suburbs that I’m familiar with. London ‘westie’s’ don’t smoke winnie blue’s or do burnouts in the ford on a Friday night. Instead they live large with big sunglasses, big trust funds and big attitude. The ratio of café per capita is also high. Here are some of my picks.
129a Ladbroke Grove
A very sweet little café hidden down a side st near the Ladbroke Grove Tube. It has a slightly French tea salon feel, a small but fine looking breakfast/lunch menu and some tasty looking salads, tarts and cakes on display.
While the coffee is not amazing, the atmosphere is cosy with a communal table, newspapers and tea (not coffee) served in mismatched china cups and saucers.
180 Portobello Rd
Hardly a discovery as there are queues out the door of a weekday morning with locals willing to stand in line for a real coffee before they embark on their commute into the world of coffee chain stores. On a weekend its also rammed as it is smack bang in the middle of Portobello markets.
Definitely the best coffee in Notting Hill and coffee is what they do –roast, retail and wholesale. The café is really just a sideline which explains the rough and ready fitout and limited food options. The staff are young cool cats with confidence but in a good way, and don’t mind telling customers who want an extra hot semi skim decaf hazelnut latte that there’s a Starbucks down the road. They also put on a good show with one barista focusing on milk texturing and another doing the coffee extraction. I find the music slightly louder than is enjoyable - maybe the staff have damaged their hearing with too much volume on the ipod. Maybe I'm getting old.
The Electric Brasserie
191 Portobello Rd
This place is usually so full of Notting Hill knobs that it is worth going just to sit and eaves drop on the surreal conversations taking place around you. Beautiful 30-40 somethings keep one eye on their companion and one eye on the door to see if anyone more fabulous than their companion has arrived.
The coffee and service is actually pretty good and I love the stylised retro fitout - in keeping with the art noveau/deco architecture of the cinema its attached to. Good selection of newspapers too if you get bored of eaves dropping, or your companion. My eyes did water at the cost of a coffee- 2.50 but I guess they know their market.
The Grocer on Elgin
6 Elgin Crescent
More of a takeaway deli than a café, The Grocer is targeting the time poor (and lazy), well heeled foodie demographic in Notting Hill and Chelsea (Grocer on King). Want to feel like you're having a home cooked meal without really having to cook? Enter the gourmet 'ready meal'. I’m amazed at what they manage to seal in a plastic pouch- beef cheeks braised in red wine, duck curry, moroccan tagine... For the uber lazy you can even get sides like steamed rice and mustard mash. They also do sandwiches, salads, cakes and pastries etc. As for groceries, there aren’t many but you can buy Tim Tams and vegemite- the owners are Antipodeans. There are a few tables and chairs if you do want to sit and don’t mind the sterile stripped back design or the hum of the refrigerators. It seems strange that they’ve bothered to provide seating and then done nothing to make it a pleasurable space to sit- would a bit of music hurt? But I digress- the coffee...
like everything digestible at Grocer, is well executed - smooth in flavour if a little on the weak side so I'd ask for it strong, and to go.
206 Westbourne Grove
Firstly, I have to declare my interest as I’ve been working at Tom’s for the last few months as the weekend café manager ie. door bitch and crowd controller. It amazes me that people are willing to queue for a table on the weekend for up to 30 minutes and then wait another 30-40 minutes for their eggs with an egg sauce (the Eggs Benny, Flo and Royale are high demand items at Tom's at any time of the day). It also reassures me that Londoners are desperate for good food in a casual café environment. Tom's is one of the few places in this part of London that is serious about casual cafe food yet has a relaxed quirky atmosphere - which is why I wanted to work here.
Iza, the weekend barista, always manages to keep her cool no matter how long the queue. Tom's prides itself on its strong coffee – two and a half shots is the standard – and the punters seem to like it. There is a traditional deli downstairs with all sorts of exotic gastronomic delights including cooked meals to take away.