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 90s 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.
Far from that dodgy wrap you picked up on your way home last weekend, Falafel King is a cult favourite that lives up to its name. This takeaway spot is no-frills but rather pretty, with copper trays and hand-painted signs all over the walls. Free glasses of sweet homemade lemonade are often handed over as you wait for your doughy pocket of hot, peppery falafel, creamy tahini, spicy tomato relish and whole pickled chillies. This is a source of local pride – strictly for those who take their balls seriously.
After their success in Soho and East London, the soup-and-noodle masters behind Tonkotsu have voyaged west. Few things beat a bowl of steaming ramen with a cold beer – which explains why we struggle to go a week without visiting this place. All of their bouncy noodles are made in-house and their slow-cooked pork broths come topped with things like sliced chicken, tender pork, spring onions and a gooey marinated egg, sprinkled with their famous ‘eat the bits’ chilli oil. Be sure to try the fried ginger and soy chicken, silky gyoza and one of their killer Japanese-inspired cocktails.
Pedlars General Store
Portobello hipsters get their kicks at this independent shop, which sells bits and bobs for the home and the great outdoors. Situated next door to Rough Trade records, you can pick up ceramics, utility clothing, prints, candles, and the kind of camping equipment you’d never actually take camping. In the back room, you’ll find a dog-friendly café fitted with reclaimed wood serving craft coffee, brunch classics and crumbly custard tarts.
Picture yourself as a glossy haired new mother in linen overalls with a penchant for rare truffles – and this is where you’d come. This luxurious farm shop sells the kind of organic wine, preserves and cheeses you wish you had in your cupboard. It also has an in-house butcher and fishmonger, sells organic skincare and has some pretty beautiful homeware on sale, too. Visit the breezy café for seasonal breakfast, brunch, lunch and supper dishes made using produce from the shop, with freshly baked bread and butter from their own creamery.
Critics are falling over themselves to get a seat at this British-Asian restaurant, set in a former garage. Many of the original details lend themselves nicely to a cool, industrial interior, from the brick walls to the exposed pipework and concrete floors. The best seats in the house are at the bar, where you can watch the chefs at work. The bold, colourful food is served on handmade Japanese ceramic dishes – things like braised lamb agnolotti, veal sweetbread with hazelnuts and short rib with dill pickles. And the pre-dinner (and post-dinner, in our case) sourdough is something to behold. Definitely somewhere you’ll want to book in advance.
Lowry & Baker
There’s nothing like a café as homely as your best friend’s living room to give you an appetite for cake. This cosy little spot serves Monmouth coffee and lovingly homemade sweet treats, as well as comforting breakfast and lunch dishes like homemade granola, colourful salads, English muffins with smoked salmon and, of course, avocado and poached eggs on toast.
Every neighbourhood needs that one affordable, marvellously authentic sushi restaurant, and this is just that. Squeeze past the kitchen, where the sushi masters are crafting perfect rice and de-shelling glistening sweet shrimp, into the simple, stripped-back dining room. Order a rich, restoring miso soup and get to work on the menu, which is full of classic nigiri, sashimi and inside-out rolls along with a few chef’s specials like seared salmon or sweet crispy eel.
This local favourite recently expanded from its long-standing home on Portobello Road to this new spot on the corner of Westbourne Park Road. The Japanese diner serves top-quality sushi, seafood dishes, steamed buns and sake in a classic, creaky-floored West London pub, where their dining room is lavished with pop art posters, retro lighting fixtures and Japanese cartoons.
Goode & Wright
Head to this friendly little neighbourhood bistro for creative global-inspired food made with all-British produce. Run by two talented chefs, one from Israel and the other from Spain, all-day menus are further boosted by a bottomless Sunday roast. Try the hake ceviche with kimchee crumb, grilled octopus with harissa yogurt, roasted quail with red cabbage and chestnut gnocchi, washed down with a gluggable selection of French wines.
The Tin Shed
This peaceful artisanal bakery/wine bar is a little Parisian-esque postcard of wooden floors and rusty lights, with a marble bar topped with perfect floury bread and fluffy cakes. Choose from an all-day breakfast menu of classic egg dishes (ham and cheese omelette, benedict, Montreal…), hot bagels, fruit and lots of seasonal toppings piled onto crunchy sourdough. There is excellent coffee and many a corner to sit and read a book in the sunlight as you wait for the fine wine to start flowing.
Finally, good tacos have come to London. You can indulge this new obsession at this slick Mexican joint on Westbourne Grove, which started life as a successful Portobello Road food stall. In 2005 they opened their first permanent space – a brickwork, industrial-style space with a bar at its centre. They make their own soft-corn tortillas, which are loaded with traditional fillings like battered fish, juicy slow-cooked beef or shredded pork with pickled jalapeño. Their more contemporary flavours include soft-shell crab and fried plantain with mature cheese. You’ll want to sample as many as you can fit on the table, but save space for some ceviche tostadas, garlic-mushroom quesadillas, a deep-fried oyster with chipotle mayo and, of course, margaritas – they have all kinds of intoxicating versions, including pink grapefruit and cucumber.