Clock Cafe; fresh face, familiar food

You will have noticed that where Lena’s Café was we now have a fresh face on the high street, but something seems familiar about Clock Café.

With the same set up of deli-style food served hot or cold, Clock Café has the same chef and management as Lena’s but has been given a much needed facelift (after a Porsche crashed through the window)!

Mixed salads on offer at the Clock Cafe

Though it doesn’t quite boast the same ambiance as some of the restaurants, pubs and cafés we have on West End Lane, Clock Café offers some variety, a low key and reasonably priced option, whether you’re eating in or taking away. I’d imagine this wil be a popular spot for those working in the area looking for a quick bite on their lunch break.

You’re spoilt for choice with the food options.  I highly recommend the baked cauliflower – bursting full of flavour, the greens and chicken in tomato sauce. It was extremely tasty; I’d go so far as to say delicious. The aubergine was quite salty, in fact, I dread to think how much salt went in a lot of the menu items. However, if you choose well you may end up with a fairly healthy, hearty meal. It’s a great grab and go or quick sit in place.

And more salads!

Those who were fans of Lena’s would be pleased to know that Clock Café hasn’t lost it’s ‘marketplace in the Mediterranean or Middle East’ feel, with vast trays of baklava and assorted nuts on offer (the nuts are new by the way).

And it does food to go.

Prices are cheaper if you take your food to go, choices include boxes filled to the brim with your own choice of main food items and salads, sandwiches, wraps and a soup of the day. They also have a nice selection of drinks, including coffee (of course).

It’s nice to have you back in the neighborhood, Clock Café.

20 exciting and unusual Christmas presents from West Hampstead

Andy Williams might have sung ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’, but for most of us it’s the rack-our-brains-for-a-present time of the year. If that describes you here are some present ideas from just down the road.

First stop, Seasons the Cookshop, it’s a small independent kitchen store with a really nice range of stock. Popular this Christmas is a very chic set of cheese knives (£17.99), a set of Peugeot salt and pepper grinders (£39.99 normally £31 each) and the ever-stylish Le Creuset mugs (£15). They are also good for stocking fillers for the foodie in your life.

Chic cheese knives (£17.99 with stand, £13.99 without), salt n’ pepper (£39.99) and Le Creuset mug (£15)

Sticking with the food, why not order your whole Christmas dinner?! Crocker’s Folly (the pub in Lisson Grove), which we grant you is a bit outside West Hampstead, is offering Christmas in a hamper – they will cook and deliver a £8kg turkey (enough for 16) a choice of sides, plus mince pies all for £120.

Another local food options is some homemade jams and chutneys from The Well Preserved jam company. They are offering special Christmas packaging and will be at the farmer’s market on Saturday 23rd. Particular favourites of mine include the orange and whiskey, lemon, gin and tonic, and chilli jam but they have a wide selection to suit all tastes.

Crochet your own tie (£11), or toy (£25), mini cross stitch kits (around £10)

New on the block (well new and expanded) is the Village Haberdashery. If you haven’t been up yet (it’s above M&S) do pop up and take a look.

For present ideas, I liked the crochet your own tie kit (£11) – it requires no previous experience and only takes 5 hours (full disclosure, not only did I end up buying one for myself but when I showed it to my most stylish friend, she promptly put it on the list for her son). Other ideas included mini-cross stitch kits (around £10), a crochet your own toy (£25) and an all-the-rage-on Instagram mini wall-hanging set (£14.95 for the kit and £14.95 for the wool).

They also offer a variety of classes and workshops (£45 to £95, more for multi-day courses). And not just sewing (although they do have those too – including with Charlotte Newland (winner of the Great British Sewing Bee)). Other workshops include modern calligraphy and lino printing. How about offering a workshop place as a present?

If you would rather try something different then how about a pottery taster course with Freya Bramble-Carter? She was a contestant on this year’s Great Pottery Throw Down and has a studio (actually she shares it with her father) in the Kingsgate Workshops. They offer Saturday afternoon taster courses (£45), Sunday morning taster courses for teens (£30), and adult four-week pottery courses (£150).

Or what about a luxury sleeping bag from West Hampstead based Sleeping Beauties? They come in a range of boho – but tasteful- patterns and each one (singles £64.99) includes not only a matching pillowcase but also (matching) eyeshade. How chic! And for Christmas, they are introducing a double sleeping bag (£139.99). Orders can be collected from the Village Haberdashery to make life simple. How did you survive at Latitude without one?

Persons Unknown, How Not To Be A Boy, The Art of Failing, & Cats of West Hampstead. (Not shown Little Me).

Being a literary crowd, books are always a popular choice and so what’s on the shelves at West End Lane Books? Of course, any book is available – with a smile, but we thought of these four West Hampstead options; Robert Webb’s ‘How Not To Be A Boy’ (signed copies in again this week), Susie Steiner’s ‘Person’s Unknown’, Anthony McGowan’s ‘The Art of Failing’ and for cat-lovers (or dogs) ‘The Cats of West Hampstead’ and if I could squeeze in another one, ‘Little Me’ by Matt Lucas.

Another popular local choice for presents is Achillea on Mill Lane, which is offering some stunning door wreaths at the moment (£35 to £65) and table ornaments. However, from time to time they also offer workshops (£100) – they next one is in March, just before Mother’s day, on ‘dressing the Spring table’ and includes making a Spring centrepiece. Christmas and Mother’s Day present in one. Result!

Finally, not to forget the Sheriff Centre which has a good selection of kids presents and stocking fillers.  So there you are, plenty of present ideas all in West Hampstead, both objects and also ‘experiences’. Merry Christmas!

Italian embassy chef cooks live at Scavolini Store West Hampstead

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Danilo Cortelleni, the head chef to the Italian Ambassador and Masterchef: The Professionals finalist, cooked up an Italian feast at the Scavolini Store West Hampstead, on the edge of Fortune Green on Tuesday evening.

Danilo took centre stage in the wonderful Diesel Social kitchen, where he created a host of delicious Italian food for guests to enjoy.

It was a real treat to watch the Masterchef star in action as he cooked dishes from his latest book, 4 Grosvenor Square. As the Prosecco flowed, we got an opportunity to watch a top chef in action, and learned a few Italian cooking secrets too.

As soon as Danilo started cooking, the showroom filled with delicious aromas. He tantalised our taste buds with his amazing cooking, and the finished results tasted as good as they looked and smelled.

Delicious dishes included marinated Sicilian red prawns with burrata mousse, pumpkin risotto with sage and gorgonzola cheese and Danilo’s show stopping multicolour ravioli with ricotta.

“You can’t have an Italian cooking demonstration in an Italian kitchen without fresh pasta. The multicolour ravioli looks hard to make, but as everyone saw, it is not that complicated, once you overcome the fear”, says Danilo.

You can tell that Danilo cooks from the heart, as he talks about the importance of putting love and care into every dish.

“The basic rule of Italian cooking is that you must love the ingredients and put care into the preparation. If you don’t put love into what you are doing it won’t work. It is the same with the place where you cook the food. If the food is comforting, the space where the food is cooking needs to be comforting too. I can talk for a good slice of Italians, especially ex-pats living in London, when I say that the kitchen and the food makes you think of home. My cooking tonight is a celebration of Italian life and that is why I have loved cooking at Scavolini, it feels familiar and homely”, says Danilo.

Brani Hadzhi, showroom manager says: “We are so pleased that Danilo could join us in the showroom. It was great to see our two fully working display kitchens being used by such a prestigious chef. Danilo’s cooking brought the authentic a taste of Italian food to West Hampstead tonight. We hope this is the first of many visits from Danilo”.

“Scavolini kitchens are how we Italians feel a kitchen should be, everything is where it should be. The Scavolini designers understand how you use space and how you move around, and the kitchens work well.

In the two and half years since it opened the Fortune Green showroom has quickly become a destination store for stylish contemporary and traditional Italian kitchen, bathroom and living room furniture.

The team at the Scavolini Store has also become a part of the local community. They sponsor the Friends of Fortune Green monthly clean up and took part in the annual Jester Festival.

“Our clients are mostly from North London and we particularly enjoy meeting and getting to know the locals. Many have become friends, for example, we recently hosted the local Women’s Institute for one of their monthly meetings. We love opening the showroom to the community and will be holding more events in 2018”, says Brani.

An Insight into: Mill Lane Barbers

Among the ebb and flow of businesses on Mill Lane there are a couple of constants; Mill Lane Barbers is one of them. To get the view from the barber’s chair, WHL popped in to as Prod, the owner, was preparing for the day. Prod’s family is Greek-Cypriot by origin, although he was born and grew up in north London. His full name is Prodromos Prodromou, which sounds exotic to Anglo-Saxon ears, until you realise that the English equivilent would be John Johnson.

Always a cheery welcome at the Mill Lane Barbers.

Before setting up his own business Prod was a freelance barber. Fifteen years ago, yes it’s been that long since it first opened, Prod decided to open his own barbershop on Mill Lane. Over time he’s been joined in his team by Vas and George.

What brought you to West Hampstead?
“To be honest it was my wife, or more correctly at the time girlfriend. She was living in Brondesbury Park and we would come over here for dinner or a coffee. I just liked the feel of the area, it was a good, busy area.

So when I was thinking of opening my own barbershop it was the obvious choice. I was (and still am) living in Finchley which was saturated with barbers. Here in West Hampstead, although there were quite a few hairdressers, there were fewer barbering options so I thought it would be good place to open up.

My aim was to make it a simple, but good quality gent’s barbers. I didn’t want to be on West End Lane, the rents were too high and it wasn’t necessary, so I settled on Mill Lane and am glad I did.”

What was your first memory of the area?
“My first memories are what drew me here –  that, even though West Hampstead is so close to the city,  it had (and has) a strong local community where people know each other.

As for places, I have fond memories of Upstairs Downstairs cafe, which was a favourite haunt of my wife. It’s on the corner where Firezza Pizza is now.”

What has surprise you the most about how West Hampstead has changed?
“Many of the independents, the smaller more interesting businesses, have gone and the big boys have arrived.

Every spare bit of space has been developed. I remember the old pub and shops up by Fortune Green, which is now Alfred Court. Likewise all the developments down by the station mean West Hampstead is even more densely populated. This also means more barbers and coffee shops, but more potential clients too – we are still doing OK.”

An action-packed day at MLB

What’s for lunch?
“Normally, I bring in something from home. Otherwise of course I miss the Kitchen Table, where I would sometimes get some lunch. However, I like our new neighbours at the Mill Café. They even open at 8am for breakfast, which is earlier than the Kitchen Table, so I pop in every now and then. Actually, the food is really good, it’s really worth a visit.”

Describe West Hampstead in three words?
Busy, developing and affluent

Anything else to add?
“Well, my main bugbear is the rubbish! (Ed – why am I not surprised). It’s not easy running a business on Mill Lane and it doesn’t help to have mounds of rubbish along the road. I’ll often mutter to myself or tweet about it. But I’ve tailed off a bit recently as it gets boring, and maybe things are also slightly better. Still some way to go though.”

New Sunday food market in O2 car park

At 10am this Sunday, West Hampstead welcomes a new food market. The imaginatively named 255 Finchley Road Market is in the O2 car park (some old hands may remember when the Swiss Cottage farmers market was there on Wednesdays, before our own Saturday market had started).

Land Securities, owners of the O2, approached the Food Commission, which already runs the successful Brook Green Market and Kitchen about setting something up. The market will be at the Sainsbury’s end of the car park (on the ‘bus stop’ side) but you won’t be able to miss it – there will be more than 20 stalls, including:

  • Astons Organic Bakery
  • Dee’s Pies
  • Popina Bakery (a familiar face from the Saturday market)
  • Mini Crops (oh so trendy micro greens, sadly not at micro prices)
  • Wild Country Organics (another familiar face from our Saturday market)
  • Woodlands Jersey Beef (beef from Hampshire’s Meon valley)
  • Picks Organic Farm (for those other meats)
  • The Mushroom Table (biodynamic mushrooms – for the biodynamic man – or woman, in your life)

For you homesick Europeans there are a range of European stalls (buy now, before Brexit tariffs)

  • La Contrada (Italian cheese and hams)
  • L’Ami Jac (French wines selected by a Scotsman)
  • Montadito (Spanish foods)
  • The Olive Bar (anti-Brexit, antipasti from across Europe)
  • Nonya Secrets (from further afield, Malay/Singaporean sauces)
  • Quickes Cheese (cloth-bound cheddar)
  • Pep and Lekker (vegan and gluten-free soups)

If you are bit peckish on the day they will have a few stalls selling food to eat then and there:

  • Ede and Bibe (Italian street food)
  • Fruiliamo (Northern Italian street food – mainly vegan/gluten free)
  • The Three Little Pigs (BBQ’d meats in pitta wraps)
  • Rocks (Shellfish cooked on charcoal)
  • Picks Organic Meats (yes the same ones as above, they also sell hot sausages etc)

Looks like quite an interesting selection. And if all that isn’t enough, as at their Brook Green market there will be events such as gin week, butchery workshops, and cheese & wine demos.

London Farmer’s Markets had its own plans for a Sunday market but that planning application has since been withdrawn, so 255 Finchley Road has well and truly stolen a march on them. The new market may well attract a slightly different crowd from the Iverson Road Saturday market, not least the thousands of extra visitors to the O2 centre/Homebase and residents living up and down the Finchley Road. The market will be open 10am to 3pm on Sundays.

Deliveroo offers locals new food options, but at what cost?

 

West Hampstead residents are hardworking and hungry, which goes some way to explain the platoon of Deliveroo bikes we see around the neighbourhood and congregating around West End Green. We are about to see a lot more of them.

Hong Kong, Dubai … West Hampstead

In its quest for world domination, Deliveroo has been trialling a new concept called Deliver Editions. The company is setting up kitchens in low-rent areas like industrial estates and leasing them to existing restaurant operations who employ chefs to share the kitchens and prepare take-away only food. Deliveroo of course is the sole delivery service available so it gets the rent and the delivery fee, while the restaurants get access to the growing home delivery market in new areas without the time and outlay (and risk) of setting up prime retail locations. Delivery is within a 2km radius making sure food stays fresh and hot, apparently.

Having trialled this in Dubai and Hong Kong, the company is now rolling it out in London – including Swiss Cottage. When it is fully operational the Swiss Cottage unit will include nine different sections/kitchens, but initially it’s just five; Lievita, Motu, Ahi Poke, Busaba and Mezze House.

Not everyone is happy

This new concept is taking take-away into new territory and it is also pushing the boundaries of planning.

In Swiss Cottage, Deliveroo has taken over a site behind 117 Finchley Road in the Cresta House car park (where the Estancia steakhouse was). It was a already a light industrial unit (it was an old Post Office sorting office which has been empty for years) so it’s unclear whether it  needs permission for change of use, but it does need permission for the extraction fans and ducting, which it has applied for. However, the operation appears to be up and running before permission had been granted. The company had also applied for an alcohol licence from the neighbouring Estancia steakhouse but withdrew the application after concerns from the police that alcohol should be delivered only with food.

Of course more Deliveroo means more Deliveroo drivers, which not everyone (possibly noone?) is excited about. Swiss Cottage resident Elaine Bodenitz says “it’s got to the point that we are so infuriated.” In response to concerns, Deliveroo has a full-time security guard to marshall the drivers. Meanwhile, Swiss Cottage councillor Roger Freeman is taking up the planning and enforcement issues with the local planning department.

New chocolate shop opens on Broadhurst Gardens

Zyla is a new chocolate shop on Broadhurst Gardens, selling humankind’s greatest invention – all things chocolate! You can get your hands on individuals truffles, gift boxes, drinking chocolate, marshmallows and candies fruit dipped in chocolate – and the list goes on.

The products are sourced from premium Belgian chocolatiers, and the owner and the shop’s namesake – Zoe Yi Ly’s own hand-made chocolates will soon be available.

Hungry?

These chocs are really special for that extra fancy gift or treat, you can make up your own gift boxes or buy them in little bags by weight. I recommend the white chocolate gianduja praline and the Bailey’s truffle. The dark chocolate mousse ganache also hits the spot.

March of the chocolates!

A nice little addition to West Hampstead. We have been spoilt for choice lately with the addition of some great new bakeries and cafes, but Zyla’s artisan chocolate shop has made it just that little bit sweeter.

Cocoa Bijoux, where are you?
Of course many of you will remember that the site on Broadhurst Gardens was previously Cocao Bijoux. Although it is hard work running a shop, when we spoke to Stuart earlier this year, Stuart was thinking about moving further up Broadhurst Gardens to a larger unit, but in the end the unit was too large and as the lease was coming up for renewal he decided to go back to his previous job as a chocolate distributor for his day job.

He is keeping it as an online-only operation. He’s still got a loyal West Hampstead customer base and says he is trading well that way. In a special arrangement for his loyal, local customers he will leave orders at the whisky and cigar shop next door – with no delivery charge.

Two West Hampstead venues celebrate their first birthday

It’s been one year since One Bourbon changed hands and name from One Sixty. To celebrate, it held an anniversary event last week and had a small refurb. When I popped in this week on a regular night there was a distinct buzz. Since the rebrand, there has been a slight shift in emphasis to the drinks side with fifteen beers on offer and whisky bourbon galore.

One Bourbon has many more than one bourbon.

Food does remain a big part of the business and the chef has used the occasion to update the menu. Old favourites remain such as the buffalo wings (they are hot!) and the ribs, but new are ox-cheeks (both as tacos and nuggets) plus there are more vegetarian options with spicy lentil tacos and a veggie burger and some cheese dishes including grilled haloumi.

One Bourbon also has live music on Fridays – if you fancy a bit of blues and rock n’ roll.

One year for the Green Room

On September 29th, The Green Room on Fortune Green had its first anniversary. It’s a more homey operation than One Bourbon – more of a neighbourhood bar that has been building business over the past year.

The quirky Green Room vibe

To celebrate this milestone The Green Room held a party and ran a raffle to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care (the anniversary fell on the Macmillan fundraising day) collecting a useful £800 for the cause. The bar has DJs on Sundays, live music and shows sports events as well.

The menu, which started with Sunday roasts (I feel it’s time for an update to the ‘Who has the best Sunday roast in West Hampstead?’ story) now includes burgers and other bar favourites (with quite a few sharing options) during the week. It also holds theme menu nights; recent cuisines include Cuban and Mexican.

An Insight into: Curled Leaf

Curled Leaf is a café on Mill Lane that has a cool, quirky, health-conscious vibe. It’s run by Alketa Xhafa-Mripa and her husband Luli Mripa and is very much a joint effort. Alketa has lived in the area for 20 years, arriving in 1997 to study art at St. Martins. When the Kosovan war broke out in 1998 she applied for asylum and ended up putting down roots in London.

As well as running the café , doing yoga classes plus being a wife and mother, Alketa is also a practising artist. Recent works include creating ‘Traces project’, recognising the 20,000 women who were raped in the Kosovan war and very recently ‘Refugees Welcome’, which deals with the current refugee crisis. And if that wasn’t enough, she’s just done a TED talk in Tirana.

Luli runs the café with Alketa and practises acupuncture in an on-site treatment room. He arrived in London when he displaced by the earlier Bosnian war in 1991. He was studying in Italy when the war broke out as was called up for the draft, but was advised by his parents and friends not to return and ended up in London.

Curled Leaf specialises in teas, particularly herbal teas as Luli is a herbalist, and offers a staggering 52 different types. For the first couple of years, the café didn’t serve coffee, preferring the ‘ceremony of tea’ but eventually gave in to  customer demand. It also serves healthy seasonal vegetarian food and delicious, if not quite so healthy, cakes.

The arty (and veggie) Curled Leaf on Mill Lane

What first brought you to West Hampstead?
“Luck really,” said Alketa. “Although I had lived around north-west London since I arrived, living in Kilburn, and on the Finchley Road. I was looking for somewhere to open a café and saw this place on Mill Lane”. Luli ended up in north-west London when he arrived, just down the road in Maida Vale, but it was Alketa who brought him to West Hampstead.

What’s your first memory of the area?
“I remember it as being a really nice area with small cafés and boutiques plus the charity shops. I liked it and hope that it will stay like that”, said Alketa. Luli’s answer is shorter: “La Brocca.  I remember fondly the live music there.”

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
“It seems that the area has changed quite quickly, ” said Luli. “It always had those little places, which you thought would survive for longer, but they are gone.” Alketa is more wistful. “I’m not really happy to see lots of change as it loses that vibe and energy and sense of community, where people know each other and help each other. Being a mum myself, I feel West Hampstead is particularly a place where mums are welcome and I would hate to lose that”.

Feeling hungry?

What’s for lunch?
“Here it’s a variety of things! We do seasonal vegetarian dishes. The house speciality is grilled aubergine, or we are offering quinoa with courgette. Also popular is our special corn and spelt bread with spinach. If we go somewhere else, then eggs benedict at the Wet Fish is a favorite or a vegetarian Pad Thai from Banana Tree.”

West Hampstead in three words?
Beautiful, sense-of-community, mums-welcome (yes , Alketa rather stretches the definition of three words).

A grand old time at the Petite Corée?

Last week I was searching for somewhere to eat as we were going out with friends, venue to be decided. I delved into the stashed away pile of reviews and recommendations looking for somewhere suitable with interesting food, a nice atmosphere and not too expensive. Among the reviews I found a Sunday Times ‘cheap eats’ supplement, which recommended West Hampstead’s own Le Petit Corée. So I thought, why schlep all the way across London when this is on our doorstep.

WHL had reviewed the Petite Corée previously and gave it the thumbs up.  How would it fare on a repeat visit?

The Petite Corée offers a fusion of European and Korean food, so a pretty suitable choice for our friends Tim (German) and his new girlfriend Katrina (Asian-American). After a quick glance at the menu we decided on the  sharing route and for starters ordered ceviche, soft-shell crab and truffle burrata. Jae, the chef, worked in one of London’s top kitchens and it showed – the starters were all hits. Visually, a particular highlight was the ceviche which was a beautiful as a Tom Aiken’s salad; a Jackson Pollock on a plate. Sometimes truffle on a menu is just a way of cashing it, but not here as it was the right note of truffle to an excellent fresh creamy burrata. And finally soft-shell crab – a favourite of mine but which I don’t often see on the menu in London.

It's thumbs up - as the clean plates show - for the Petite Coree

It’s thumbs up – as the clean plates show – for the Petite Coree

For mains we went for skate wing, octopus and firm favourite pork belly with a couple of extra sides (including kim-chi, of course). Again the three main course dishes were excellent, the skate perfectly flash-fried and the pork-belly slow-cooked. Not only were we eating local but from locally sourced ingredients as the skate was supplied by Broadhurst Garden fishmonger La Mer and the chocolates (on offer for dessert) from its erstwhile neighbour Cocoa Bijoux. The wine was a Chenin Blanc, a nice alternative to the usual Sauvignon/Pinot Grigio and – as behavioural economics predict – our choice was the second cheapest on the good but, not too long, wine list.

Dessert choices were raspberry Etton mess (sic), tiramisu and miso brownies. As I prefer chocolatey desserts my vote went for the brownie and tiramisu but Katrina and Tim’s preference was the Eton mess.

Some nice touches in both the decor and the desserts

Some nice touches in both the decor and the desserts

The Petite Corée has a quirkyness about it – from the name and logo to the decor – and spelling of Etton mess, but there is nothing quirky about the cooking. It’s fusion yes, but not quirky. Jae, the chef, trained at some of the best London kitchens and he has brought this back to West Hampstead. Lucky us.

It was listed as being a cheap eat (well for the Sunday Times at least) but that undersells the cooking. Rather it’s like when you book a good value Ford as a rental car on holiday and find you’ve been upgraded to a BMW. The excellent cooking was matched by a relaxed but efficient service making our evening at The Petite Corée a success – we had a grand old time.

The Petite Corée

a: 98 West End Lane, NW6 2LU

t: 020 7624 9209

e: moc.l1519358432iamto1519358432h@eer1519358432octit1519358432epeht1519358432

 

The Kitchen Table bows out after 10 years on Mill Lane

It's Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

The Kitchen Table is changing hands. It had been up for sale for a while, and the owners Jennie Vincent and Tom Leslie found a buyer a few months ago (after an earlier offer fell through). However, it has taken a long time to finally dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s (or teas).

The Kitchen Table has a special place in many of our hearts – and stomachs. It is the ‘Central Perk’ of West Hampstead. In fact, Jennie revealed that a customer had told her recently that when she moved to West Hampstead she was not happy at all but one day she wandered into the Kitchen Table and from then on she felt at home. That customer is not alone. The Kitchen Table has been an important ingredient in the West Hampstead mix for the past ten years – it is one of those independent businesses that give the area character and which so many locals love to boast about (even if not all of them actually patronise these businesses).

To see how Jennie feels about it, here is her farewell blog post. Warning – hankies at the ready.

However, running such a people intensive business is HARD work. There is rarely day off, with the added stresses of running a small business. But through it all, Jennie, Tom and the team have kept on smiling, baking cakes, making coffee, scrambling the best eggs in the ‘hood (and crisping the second-best bacon butties in the country, as we now know), and we, the people of West Hampstead, kept on returning. At least one customer, who used to live in Kilburn (or Queen’s Park borders as she called it) but has now moved to the other side of the Heath, still comes back to the Kitchen Table for a regular brunch.

After a decade of hard work, therefore, Jennie and Tom have decide to explore new avenues. Neither of them are yet quite sure what those avenues are, but they are not short of possibilities. Jennie is thinking about staying in catering, but with a business that requires less of a commitment than running a café six days a week. Tom, who used to work for Cycle Surgery, thinks that something bicycle-related might be on the cards. Whatever they choose, I know that West Hampstead wishes them all the best.

Who will stepping into their shoes? A chap called Amir, what his plans are we don’t know, but WHL wishes him well.

So… people of Whampstead, this will be Jennie and Tom’s final Saturday, it’s the last chance for those famous brunches. Tuesday 18th will be the final day of trading and, as Jennie and Tom are incredibly grateful to their loyal customers, the KT will stay open after normal closing time for a farewell drink. If you want to pop by, please do.

Expansion of the Farmers’ market; too much too soon?

London Farmers’ Markets has applied to Camden Council to expand the operating hours of the market that currently pops up on Iverson Road every Saturday. The existing market is popular, so this initially seems like a good idea and LFM has made it very easy for locals to show their support. However, residents who’ve looked at the smallprint have some reservations, and it is far from clear whether the demand is actually there.

We love the farmer's market, but is expansion from 4 to a potential 82 hours a week too much, too soon?

We love the farmer’s market, but is expansion from 4 to a potential 82 hours a week too much, too soon?

For years, the residents of West Hampstead clamoured for a farmers’ market, and their wish came true five years ago. Pretty much from the word go it’s been a success, as our Insight into: Brinkworth Dairy explained.

To build on this success, London Farmers’ Markets – the company that puts on not just the West Hampstead market, but most of the major once-a-week markets around the capital, including Queens Park’s Sunday market – has put in a planning application to expand the hours of operation. On Saturday, the market would potentially run until 8pm, rather than 2pm as it is now. There could be a Sunday market from 10am to 5pm and on Mondays to Fridays it is asking for permission to trade from 7am to 8pm. Add it all up and it’s a potential expansion from 4 to 82 hours a week.

Local residents in Maygrove and Iverson Road, who already are under severe parking ‘stress’ are obviously concerned about the impact on parking, and there are also concerns about rush-hour passenger and traffic flows.

Nor does it seem that the traders themselves are unanimously in favour. Many of the regular stallholders have to drive a couple of hours to get here, which would mean 5am starts (or earlier) if they were to be opening for busines at 7am (not allowing for setup time). Once they finish and pack up there’s another two hour drive home – or more in the afternoon traffic. If the Saturday market didn’t close until 8pm they wouldn’t be home until 11pm, having got up at 5am. And then get up the next day at 5am for the next farmers market? All seems rather implausible.

Other locals have raised concerns about the impact on our local greengrocers, butchers and cafés? Businesses at the farmer’s market don’t have to pay the high rent or rates that businesses with premises have to face, so would this amount to unfair competition.

Postcode survey of farmers' market users source: LFM

Postcode survey of farmers’ market users. Source: LFM

LFM says that the mid-week market would be a different animal to the weekend market. There would be fewer stalls and more food outlets. But this has been tried before, admittedly not by LFM, and was not a great success given the lack of footfall. As we all know, West Hampstead is a busy interchange so there are morning and evening rush hours but not much in-between. Traders who were involved with that market thought that, if at all, just running it on Thursday and Friday night might be a better option.

It does rather feel as if LFM is attempting to get permission for as many hours as it possibly can, and will then work out when it will actually choose to trade, with the flexibility to adjust based on demand and the seasons. The idea of more than 80 hours of trading every week is surely unrealistic.

Even those with reservations – locals and traders – think that an expansion of the hours of trading is worth exploring -perhaps a market on Sunday with similar hours to Saturday but a slightly different focus. During the week perhaps one evening to test the market. In essence let’s not kill the farmer’s market goose that lays the organic golden egg.

Planners at Camden Council are reviewing the application and have acknowledged support for it. However, they are also considering the impact on neighbourhood amenity, local traffic and highway safety plus implications for the viability of the town centre. If you want to comment, you have until the 6th of July and can do so here.

Will West Hampstead have a rosy view of Rosa’s Thai Café?

It was Bank Holiday Monday, we were on the way back from a swim at Swiss Cottage, and feeling a bit peckish. Time to try West Hampstead’s newest kid in town – Rosa’s Thai Cafe. We were not alone. The place was pretty full when we arrived past 1pm and got even fuller over lunch.

Aurevoir Ladudu, hello Rosa's.

Au revoir Ladudu, hello Rosa’s Thai Cafe.

The team has done a quick and efficient job at refurbishing the old Ladudu, but it did feel a little corporate. The decor is a mix of industrial and Scandi-chic (Scandustrial?) with little reference to Asia, unlike Ladudu. I had to stop myself from getting up to scuff the perfect walls a bit. In the background a gentle Ibiza soundtrack. All nice enough but could have been anywhere.

The staff were nice and friendly and coping well with a busy dining room. In fact the manager later confessed that they have been busier than expected since it opened last week. Still having teething troubles though – their phone number doesn’t work, yet.

Rosa’s offers both an evening and (cheaper and simpler) weekday lunch menu, although as it was a bank holiday we were offered the main dinner menu with dishes priced slightly above that other West Hampstead stalwart, BananaTree.

Despite being busy we didn’t have to wait too long to order, or for our food to arrive. As it was a self-imposed meat-free Monday I stuck to the vegetarian options – there were plenty – ordering the chilli and Thai basil stir-fry while my dining companion ordered crispy salmon in curry sauce plus a green papaya salad and coconut rice to share. For drinks we had raw coconut water and lemongrass tea, both good and exactly what I feel like drinking when eating Asian food – different options that nearby Pham House doesn’t alas offer.

Bank holiday lunch.

Bank holiday lunch.

The menu has a good selection of dishes – some favourites (its website says that across its other eight branches Rosa’s has served over 400,000 pad thais) plus other regional dishes. The salmon was the best dish we ordered, while the stir-fry was OK but the salad lacked a bit of bite. However, the mix of flavours got better as the meal went on and we finished it all off. The bill, including service, came to just under £50 (£25 a head), which felt about right.

It's thumbs up for Rosa's.

It’s thumbs up for Rosa’s.

Thanks to Teresa for passing on the baton to Rosa’s. It was her choice of restaurant to replace Ladudu. Part of me is a little sad that chain (albeit a mini-chain) Rosa’s is able to do better what she was doing. But Rosa’s is also about the personality and both by the door and on the website you can pick up recipes from founder Saiphin so you can cook some of the dishes yourself.

The future for Rosa’s Thai Cafe in West Hampstead looks rosy.

An Insight into: Brinkworth Dairy

London Farmers’ Market, which runs the West Hampstead market, has an annual competition to find customers favourite stall at each market. In West Hampstead, the winner (again) was Brinkworth Dairy. So who better for WHL’s next Insight.

Brinkworth Dairy is run by Ceri and Chad Cryer (helped by their young three boys and other family members) from Hill End Farm, which has been in the family for five generations since 1910. It’s a small 180-acre farm in North Wiltshire, with 100 grass-fed pedigree British Friesians dairy cows. Future plans include offering camping on the farm (and updating the website to include the award of West Hampstead’s farmers market favourite stall).

Every morning Chad gets up at 4.30 to bring in the cows for milking and at the weekend he then gets ready to set off for farmers markets in West Hampstead (Saturday) and Queen’s Park (Sundays).  He’s helped out here sometimes by a local friend, although this weekend he brought along two of his boys, who were selling jars of Chad’s honey – and sold it all.

Brinkworth Dairy, favourite stall at West Hampstead Market

Brinkworth Dairy, favourite stall at West Hampstead Market

Chad, what brought you West Hampstead?

London Farmers’ Market brought me here. Originally I had a stall with them at Queen’s Park as well as Marylebone, they were finding new venues and about four years ago they asked if I wanted to try their new market at West Hampstead. It was a good market from the start – some other markets start off well but then tail-off – but here things started well and continued to grow.  I like to do the work myself so decided to stick to West Hampstead and Queen’s Park and leave Marylebone.

What is your favourite memory of the area?

It was actually when I needed to go Sainsburys to buy some sugar for the stall and I kept on being greeted by customers. It was strange that here I was walking through London, but it felt like being back in my own village. Nice memory.

What was your first impression of West Hampstead?

I set up at the first market with my friend Seb, who had grown up here and so have mainly seen it through his eyes. He was amazed how much it had changed, and rather regretted his parents had sold their house here.

The first customers were really pleased that the space outside the station was being used. I knew a few of them from Queen’s Park market, they were also pleased they didn’t have go so far for their coffee, cheese and yogurt.

Cheese, glorious cheese, milk, yogurt and butter. Highly recommended by @thewetfishcafe

Cheese, glorious cheese, milk, yogurt and butter. Blue cheese highly recommended by @thewetfishcafe

What has surprised you about the way West Hampstead has changed?

Even in the short space of time I have been coming I have seen the skyline change. When I chat to someone new, often a couple, buying a coffee I’ll discover that they are looking at property in the area.

What’s for lunch?

A pizza from Napoli, the new pizza stall – usually with a samosa from Mumbai Mix (they have the stall next to mine at Queen’s Park). Otherwise it might be a burger from James, or a sausage roll.  But pizza is the new thing.

Conversely, when I’m setting up my stall at 8.45 all the other stallholders are polite enough but what they are really saying is ‘hurry up, please, I want my coffee!”

West Hampstead in three(ish) words?

Nice sense of community.

Farmers’ market update

For those of you that have read this far – changes to the farmers’ market are on the cards. There is talk of extending to Sunday and even running it some weekday evenings.

 

 

 

 

Did the Kilburn sun shine on Summers dining?

There been a ‘pop-up’ take-over of our usual food reviewer’s spot, Tom’s Diner, as WHL pulled rank to review Summer’s dining.

As we reported a couple of weeks ago, three young guys have taken over the Sir Colin Campbell on Kilburn High Road and are collaborating with Ruairidh Summers, an ex-St. John’s chef on his first solo venture. Perhaps we were too enthusiastic in promoting it because when we tried to book a table in the restaurant there was only room downstairs in the bar, but by time we arrived a table had become available upstairs.

WHL had some friends over from Neukolln in Berlin (it’s where people from Hackney move now that Hackney has been come too gentrified and expensive). How did they find Summers?

They certainly felt at home with the decor which had East End/Berlin/Williamsburg distressed paintwork furnished with simple chairs and tables plus an extensive gin menu and choice of beer and cider. No Hoxton cider though, as it was out of stock.

Kilburn via Hackney/Williamsburg/Berlin

Kilburn via Hackney/Williamsburg/Berlin

When it came to ordering food, the suggestion is that dishes are ordered ‘for sharing’. Ruairidh is Irish, so appropriately – for a pub in Kilburn – there is an Irish flavour to the menu, with crubeens (deep fried pigs trotters) as one of the starters. We also ordered asparagus (nice and seasonal) with whipped cod’s roe, which had a slight flavour of bacon, and rabbit terrine with pickles. Oh and the spouting broccoli too. Plus home baked sourdough bread. Monika wasn’t a great fan of the cod’s roe but I loved it. And we polished off the lot.

For mains it was pork belly with carrots, brill with samphire and clams, plus a side of colcannon. I meant to order the pearl barley, wild garlic and goats curd as well but though we were told we had ordered it, it turned out we hadn’t.

Mains are always the most difficult part of the menu to get right, you don’t want to be kept waiting too long after the starters have been cleared away, but not rushed either and they are the most complex dishes to cook. Summers was still in the soft opening period and could harden this aspect up a little for the next visit. Also on the menu was a beef shin and Guinness pie, which looked really good – and I don’t eat beef – and as it comes for two is truly a dish for sharing.

Haven't had a carrot this good since Noma.

Haven’t had a carrot this good since Noma.

Service was from two young waitresses who were a little nervous and still getting to grips with menu and space. However, they needn’t have worried quite so much, they were charming and did a fine job. When a restaurant has certain buzz it adds to the enjoyment the meal, and Summers had it. The room was full of 20-30somethings enjoying their meals, with a gentle backdrop of 80s Indie music, shared with the pub downstairs.

Mmmm. Desserts went down rather well.

Mmmm. Desserts went down rather well.

After mains it was into the home stretch of desserts – we shared an apple crumble and rice pudding with rhubarb. Not being a huge fan of rice pudding I took a cautious bite, and then another one and another one – I might not have been a huge fan before, but I am now.

There are subtle changes to the menu each night, so you might not get the same starters or desserts we had, but I’m pretty sure they will be just as good. And how did our Berlin friends like it? Sehr, sehr gut.

An Insight into: Cocoa Bijoux

Cocoa Bijoux is an, erm, bijou, little chocolate shop down on Broadhurst Gardens. Except it isn’t just a chocolate shop. Stuart Daniel, the owner, wanted it be more interesting than a pure chocolate shop. It’s a good source if you are looking for a special present to take friends who’ve invited you for dinner. Or want to satisfy your own chocolate craving.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

Stuart outside his bijou chocolate shop.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

Pizza. I was having a pizza at Sarracino, where we had been coming for years, then one day I saw this beautiful little shop, right next door to this great cigar shop (another of West Hampstead’s hidden gems) and said to my wife “I’m going to open up a shop” she replied, “you are crazy”.

I’d been in the confectionary distribution business for over 25 years and the bit I liked best about it was visiting the shops as well as the sourcing and discovering. So I thought the time had come to try something different and open my own shop.

I never wanted to open a pure chocolate shop though, I find them a bit boring. I’m a foodie and like other indulgent products too; biscuits, olive oil, jams, cakes (Ed – and even biltong, Stuart hails from South Africa). I wanted the shop to allow customer to “explore and discover a world of indulgence”.

First or fondest memory of West Hampstead?

Those pizzas at Sarracino!

Aow, wouldn't it be loverly? Lots of choco'lates for me to eat.

Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly? Lots of choco’lates for me to eat.

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

I haven’t been here that long, opening the shop in 2011, so it is difficult to know. Even in that short space of time though I’ve notice that the young couples that came in when I first opened have moved away and been replaced more and more by wealthy ex-pats. But West Hampstead is still perceived as a young person’s area, it has a young vibe.

Talking of change, I’d like to move into one of the new units when Mario’s further up Broadhurst Gardens gets redeveloped. It would be good to have more space, with somewhere for the customers to properly sit down and have one of our hot chocolate drinks.

When I look back at pictures of the shop, which at the time I thought was great, I now think it was terrible! The shop has matured, you have to respond to people’s wants and everything evolves.

What’s for lunch?

Mostly a beigel from Roni’s to go with soup I bring with me.

West Hampstead in three words?

Young, well-located and eclectic

Shop local: 12 Presents for Mother’s Day

Mother’s day or Mothering Sunday, is the 26th March. Which is soon. If you haven’t got something for yours, or for younger mums something ‘from’ the kids – what to buy?  WHL scooted round the shops in the ‘hood – and this is what caught our eye.

Next decision, which colour...?

Next decision, which colour…?

Season’s Cookshop said “well it depends how pleased you want to make your mum!” and suggested a Le Creuset casserole dish (priced from £99 to £219).  Or for the perfect coffee with the right crema a Bialetta coffee maker (£36.30 with 20% off at the moment).  Otherwise, although your mum might take this the wrong way I quite liked the ‘avocado shark’ – a kitchen tool for avocados.

My heart belongs to ... cocoa-dusted walnuts, or possibly chocolate salami.

My heart belongs to … cocoa-dusted walnuts, or possibly chocolate salami.

Sticking to the food theme, down at Cocoa Bijoux on Broadhurst Gardens they recommended their cocoa-dusted Perigord walnuts at £15 or a selection of home made truffles. Otherwise Selma who was running the shop that day (Stuart the owner’s mum and from South Africa), would like some of their Biltong, but not sure my mum would be that chuffed.

Can't decide? Get all four.

Can’t decide? Get all four.

If wine is more her thing then Avie at Tannin & Oak suggests maybe some vintage prosecco by Nino Franco at £25 a bottle, or a white frizzante Moscate D’Asti at £16.00.  For something with a bit of a wow factor he also has magnums, recommending a rose – Rosado 2015 by Ramon Bilbao at £19.99 or red for £30.00 from Camille Cayron. Andrea at Vini Vici on Mill Lane was a bit more cynical about Mother’s Day, but happy to make a recommendation if you pop by.

Buddha or angel?

Buddha or angel?

North West 6, the gift shop by the tube station offers jewellery – recommending this blue topaz set for £240. It also has range of semi-precious stones (their healing powers are all the rage in L.A. at the moment) so maybe a rose quartz buddha or angel (depending on her religious viewpoint)? They also have a good range of oh-so important mother’s day cards.

Is she a cat or a dog person?

Is she a cat or a dog person?

Something for the younger artier mum? Try Monsters of Art on Mill Lane. Is she a cat or a dog person? Two pictures that caught my eye are these. The cat (£175) is by a local (well, Cricklewood) artist. The photo doesn’t really do justice to the dog picture (£300) – I really liked it, as did a well-known (and cool) DJ who’s already got a couple.

Nice frame at Joy

Nice frame at Joy

Two other options for the younger mum (or young at heart) is Joy which offered this nice picture frame (£12.00) and La Boutique Secret. Both had lots of fashion options but it’s a tricky one, not only does the piece and colour have to be right but the size too. Easier for woman to choose than a man methinks.

Perhaps a pampering present would be perfect? On West End Lane, Healthtown are offering a Mothering Sunday massage voucher for £50 (normally £60). Nearly opposite Nailsuite UK are offering a mani/pedi voucher for £40 (normally £55). As does Beauty Blossom on Mill Lane also £40 (that’s their normal price).

Best Mother's day card in West Hampstead (in our judgement)

Best Mother’s day card in West Hampstead (in our judgement)

Still looking for a card? The Sherriff Centre is another good source, and probably had the best card I saw (in the picture). As for presents it has some reasonably priced clutch bags by Holy Chic at £9.00 – or natural candle sets for £15.95. Ever popular are their individual letters at £1.75 each; so you can spell it out.

From the sublime to the ridiculous

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Literally, another option is West End Lane Books. Danny had several excellent recommendations; something from the display of gardening books in the window? Shelves full of Persephone and Virago books or ‘Mothering Sunday’ by Graham Swift? A little lower down the literary scale they offer ‘The Mum – how it works’, or ‘Adrian Mole – The Collected Poems’.

Say it with flowers, paper flowers!

Say it with flowers, paper flowers!

The Village Haberdashery has plenty to offer, suggesting cute crochet and knitting kits (£25 to £39). They also offer vouchers for their in-house workshops (£60) or paper flower making kits (starting from £5).

Another handmade option on West End Lane is to take the kids (or just yourself) and paint a mug (£18) or a plate (£18 to £30) at Art for Fun. But better get your skates on as it has be done this weekend since it takes a week to fire, so ready for collection next Saturday evening. In time for Mothering Sunday, just.

Achillea - bloomin' marvellous.

Achillea – bloomin’ marvellous.

If it is real flowers you are looking for then for my money, or should that be for my mummy, you can’t go wrong with a bouquet from Achillea flowers (from £20 upwards).

So there you are – at least twelve suggestions for a mother’s day present on your doorstep. If she doesn’t get anything, can’t say it was because you couldn’t find anything locally.

Out with a bành: Pay what you want on Ladudu’s last day

This month West Hampstead says farewell to Ladudu, the rather good Vietnamese restaurant by the stations. We will be sad to see it go but, as you will find out, when one door closes another one opens (in fact two).

Teresa considers herself a West Hampstead local as she lives in the area – it’s her ‘hood’ as she put it. But she got here in a rather roundabout way.  Born in Vietnam she fled as child with her family in the war, and they ended up as refugees in Sydney, Australia. After university she worked in IT and decided to take advantage of a one-year visa for a working visit to the UK. That one-year trip has now stretched to twelve as she met and married her husband here.

Having lived elsewhere in London, she ended up living in West Hampstead, which she describes as “a great combination of transport links to central London but also all the quaint local shops, a local and cosy feel”.

Aurevoir West Hampstead!

Aurevoir West Hampstead!

What’s in a name

Teresa was always passionate about food and cooking but was not a professional chef. In 2009, she was made redundant and thought it was time to follow her dreams. She started off offering Vietnamese cooking lessons with a view to opening her own restaurant. On her way to work she had walked past Glo on West End Lane. The pan-Asian restaurant closed after about a year, but the prominent site – directly opposite the Iverson Road junction was clearly good. The site became vacant, Teresa had some culinary experience under her belt and she had always wanted to open her own business. Hello Ladudu.

About that name. It has featured in some unflattering lists of London restaurant names, so where did it come from? In Vietnamese, la means leaf and dudu means papaya. Put the two together and you get papaya leaf! It is also has a family resonance as Teresa’s grandfather was a herbalist and used to drink papaya leaf tea for its health benefits.

Ladudu passed the crucial three-year stage but, like all businesses, had to face some bumps in the road. Last year there were two: Brexit caused a jump in the cost of imported ingredients, but not a jump in the prices she they could charge and a broken water main (in West Hampstead, who’d have thought) damaged the basement kitchen. Although the damage was covered by insurance it still meant the restaurant was out of action over the busy Christmas period.

Ladudu’s logo and branding may make it look like a chain, which it isn’t. Teresa had hoped to open another branch, but says that that would have made the business “too commercial”, so instead she took the decision to close the restaurant and focus on other opportunities in order to preserve a lifestyle that still gave her some flexibility.

Teresa and her saucy new business.

Teresa and her saucy new business.

Sauce of enjoyment

Teresa says she has learned a huge amount in her five years running Ladudu, and saw other opportunities opening up. First, she has started marketing the sauces she was making from scratch for the restaurant and she wants to go back to teaching others how to cook Vietnamese food, but probably this time over the internet. Ladudu sauces will be available at Wing Yip and other Asian grocers around London, plus at the grocers on West End Lane and hopefully Cook too. Don’t be surprised if you see a familiar face on Dragon’s Den in the not too distant future.

With her background in IT she has also set up systems at the restaurant both for cooking but also for the all important stock and cost control. So she and her husband have set up a company, Insolution software, to sell that too! Plus she is writing a cook book.

However, there is one last surprise for West Hampstead. Ladudu closes at the end of the month, but on the last day, Monday 27th, for lunch and dinner (and in between) it will be pay-what-you-want. Head along, enjoy the food one last time – top tip: it’s the best ice cream in West Hampstead – and buy a jar of sauce (or two) so you can take some Ladudu home with you.

What of the restaurant? Teresa had interest in the site from Pret and bakery chain Paul. A burger chain was also interested. However, in the end Teresa preferred Rosa’s Thai Café. If you’re not familiar with this small chain, then expect Thai food with a modern twist. It started in Spitalfields and has opened several branches since, the latest one in Brixton. West Hampstead will be the first branch outside Zone 1.

Adieu to Ladudu, all the best to Teresa and thank you for introducing us to some Vietnamese favourites. Who’s going to make WHL’s banh-mi now?

M&S opens and West Hampstead speaks

There’s always a bit of excitement when a major new shop or restaurant opens in the area. Some scoff at the fervour with which chains are welcomed. Others just scoff the food they sell.

Marks & Spencer’s food hall in West Hampstead Square will undoubtedly be a boon not just for those eventually living in the new development, but for everyone living that end of West Hampstead where there are only convenience stores (whether all three of those can survive remains to be seen.)

Followng our behind-the-scenes peek a couple of weeks ago, the shop opened on Wednesday at 10am – how did locals react?

The unofficial “we’re open” photo

And the official one

In case you’re wondering, the woman cutting the ribbon is Judith Parry who, according to the press release, is celebrating her 32nd anniversary working at M&S this year. “I’m at a point in my life now where I’ve settled into my current role as a sales advisor and look forward to the years to come at M&S Foodhall West Hampstead until I retire!”, she said.

Of course, the honeymoon was quickly over…

Tom tackles a taco at One Bourbon

Strange things have been happening in the world of tomato ketchup. First, upon requesting some whilst enjoying a magnificent fish & chips in The Beehive, Crawford Street, the waitress apologised that they didn’t have any ketchup, “however we do have this…”, she said, before disappearing for a moment and returning with several sachets of sauce instead of a bottle. Absolutely fine, false alarm!

Second, what is this nonsense whereby ketchup is suddenly on the sugar-police watch list? Facebook is annoying enough without that sort of rubbish. As if you sit there drinking three bottles of the stuff, for goodness’ sake?

Anyway… musing these condiment-related anomalies, I dived into One Bourbon for a spot of lunch after challenging myself as to whether salmon tacos could possibly be any good? The idea sounded odd, but given there were a couple of side dishes I liked the sound of, I steeled myself and took up residence near the window with a reassuring wine list.

Salmon tacos

Salmon tacos

I was curious as to how slabs of salmon and crunchy cabbage would work, however the former was scrambled into morsels and the latter pickled and shredded; things were starting to make sense. Watercress was present, but a little more of the coriander and onion would have boosted the salsa’s flavour. Generally, these tacos seemed a fresh and healthy way to accompany a couple of reds (probably not the best match, but who cares?), and aside from the slight weirdness of the dish being partly warm, partly cold, I was all too pleased to scoff everything.

A side of chips added to the fun, with, would you believe it, Heinz tomato ketchup! I’d half expected it to be banned by that point after the “very serious health-scare”. Just in case, One Bourbon also provides other punchy ketchups, such as the sweet and mellow Smoggy Hog Smoked Chilli.

Ketchup as it was meant to be served

Ketchup as it was meant to be served

I’ve no idea if desserts were an option, as none were apparent on the menu – a pity, as although three tacos proved a relatively satisfying meal, a toffee pudding or something would have been suitable as a sort of mobile central heating solution for the walk home.

Being serious for five seconds, it does appear One Bourbon is trying to offer some variation on the menu, which is a positive thing; I’d like to try their huevos rancheros, and the smoked tofu & quinoa main (thankfully fleshed-out with butternut squash, peppers, and kidney beans) might be decent for vegetarians or those planning on a curry later (ooh that’s got me thinking…)

For now though I’m off to stock-up on tomato sauce before it’s too late!

An Insight into: Achillea Flowers

Our last Insight focused on one man with two businesses. This time we’re talking to two women who run one business: Kate Rader and Clare Emburey who run Achillea, the florist on Mill Lane.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

Clare: We actually met at the tomato stall at Queen’s Park market. Kate, who has known me since I was a child, asked me if I loved my job (as a florist), I did but was ready for a change. “Great”, said Kate, “That’s the answer I was looking for. Let’s open a business and we’ll just have fun; if we feel like it one day we can dress up like geishas!”

The next step was to meet for a coffee on Mill Lane; we looked at a couple of sites, but none was quite right. Walking back, we passed this corner shop which I said looked ‘sick’. Kate had no idea I meant cool.

The builder saw us and asked if we were looking for a shop. He invited us in to take a look and when we said we wanted to open a florist he told us his wife was one! He gave us the number of the landlord, who we called immediately and we agreed on the spot to rent the shop.

Within one week it had gone from concept to actually renting a shop for the business.

Kate: People said Mill Lane is a difficult street and it won’t last. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was all very serendipitous.

Clare: It’s a good idea we didn’t have time to stop and and think, but I’m really glad we did it. Never did the dressing up as a geisha, although we did do halloween costumes one year.

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

What is your first/fondest memory of the area?

Kate: The glass shop opposite us, run by Derek. I’ve been using it for 35 years, plus the framers next door.

Clare: I just loved that I could be myself – and of course the first time I met my fiancé at the Kitchen Table. Now we are getting married – a Mill Lane marriage, that’s a first!

At this time of year some eye-popping colour to brighten your day. Perfect.

At this time of year some eye-popping colour to brighten your day. Perfect.

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead had changed?

Kate: It used to have really useful things, but that’s gone, although I don’t really use West End Lane much. Here on Mill Lane you can still get useful things: your keys cut, physiotherapy if you need it, or yoga at Curled Leaf.

Clare: I don’t feel it has changed that much – West Hampstead is a great place that is quite settled, rather than a cool place full of egos.

What’s for lunch?

Either the Kitchen Table or Curled Leaf, although we have had some quite enjoyable nights at the Alliance for our Christmas dinners.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Better than Hampstead

Peek behind the scenes at West Hampstead’s newest supermarket

Yes, it’s not just any store opening, it’s an M&S Foodhall opening. Sorry.

No doubt some West Hampstead residents (especially those living south of the railway) are counting down the days until the shop opens on February 22nd at West Hampstead Square.

As part of its customer engagement, M&S and its contractors Wates offered a sneak preview of the new store to any interested parties.

Although the store was still in the final stages of construction, the equipment and fittings were already in place giving a good idea of what to expect. From what we could see it has a familiar M&S Foodhall look. No great surprise. The ceiling pipework and lighting is exposed, which fits in with the contemporary look of West Hampstead Square.

Wafting bread smells as your enter.

Wafting bread smells as you enter.

As you enter, to your left will be an in-store bakery next to a large flower and plant display.  Straight ahead are metres and metres of chiller cabinets for all those M&S fresh food and ready meals. Yes, including Chicken Kiev.  Down at the end is fruit and veg.

Spot the chicken Kiev.

Spot the Chicken Kiev.

Turning to the right at the end, coming back along the parallel aisle is a large wine section with dry goods opposite.

Past the wine and dry goods is be a paper and card section but – two surprises at the checkout – only SCOTs. No M&S has not got some strange new employment policy, it stands for Self-Check Out Tills.

There is an M&S collection point for online purchases, with a couple of tills for the less technical among us. The other surprise was the absence of a coffee counter at the moment. Nor is there the promised hot-food take away unit. That would have required an on site toilet, which proved too complicated to arrange. Not too complicated, apparently, is customer WiFi.

Great S.C.O.T.!

Great S.C.O.T.!

Given West Hampstead’s very poor experience of supermarket delivery vehicles (yes, we’re looking at you Tesco), everyone took a keen interest in the back of the unit, and we were surprised to see quite a small warehouse space, which suggests deliveries will need to be frequent.

Then a quick tour downstairs to see the space for the 55 new staff (20 of whom have been recruited locally). They will be led by the store manager, Kate Thomas.

It's a fridge Jim, but not as you know it

It’s a fridge Jim, but not as you know it

The store was due to open six months ago in August last year. Although those of us with long memories might recall that there was talk of M&S opening on this site twenty years ago. It’s been a long wait.

No caption necessary!

No caption necessary!

 

An Insight into: Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Co.

John Padalino runs not one but two local businesses – and they are next door to each other. Rock Men’s Salon and Wired Coffee on Broadhurst Gardens. If you don’t know them already, they are a couple of the ‘hipper’ businesses here, but with a mix of typical West Hampstead customers.

What brought you West Hampstead?

The C11 bus from Brent Cross.

It was literally by accident. I had moved up to London from Devon, and was searching for a while for somewhere to set up a men’s salon. I trained at my dad’s salon in Devon, which has just celebrated it’s 55th anniversary. I ran it for a while but the pull of London was too strong.

Back in 2010 I was shopping in Brent Cross, and I randomly got on a bus to explore. The bus was a C11, and I got off at this place that had a nice vibe and looked interesting; West End Green. I wandered down West End Lane and at the bottom saw a salon called Matrix, which was empty in a parade of shops opposite the tube station. I thought that it was a pretty good site next to three stations.

Then I went in to Café Bon next door and checked online for leases available in West Hampstead. The first lease that came up was … Matrix!

I immediately called Network Rail, which was  offering a three-year lease with a six-month break clause. I could see there was the potential for redevelopment but the other local shopkeepers said there had been talk of it for 15 years and nothing had happened. So I took the risk and signed the lease.

What happened next?

Business got off to a good start but just three months later a letter arrived giving me my notice! West Hampstead Square was going to be built and our little parade of shops was going to be knocked down. It was pretty stressful having only just got the business off the ground but one of my clients, a surveyor, said, “Face it, London is evolving, it’s going to change, don’t fight it.”

By the time we moved, 18 months later, I had already found a new place round the corner for rock, in what had been the Millennium café. However, my old place was going to be empty for three months so I negotiated with Network Rail to open a pop-up coffee shop there.

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

John sitting between Rock and a Wired place

What’s your fondest memory of the area?

Getting up at 5.30am and opening the door on that pop-up coffee shop. It opened from December 2011 until February 2012. We decided to focus on the coffee – pure and true – so we decided to work with a great roaster. Tom, my business partner’s dad, made all the furniture but you could still tell it had been a barbers; there were still mirrors on the wall.

Tom and I would start off serving coffee in the morning then pop round to Rock to cut hair! From day one people responded really positively and we got so much encouragement. So when the shop next to Rock became available, my landlady asked if wanted to take it on and the pop-up coffee shop suddenly had a permanent home. I was amazed at how things turned around from just two years earlier.

It is not just Tom and his Dad that helped, but our partners too.  It was a team effort.  Likewise now I couldn’t do it without the baristas at Wired and the other stylists at Rock.  I’m proud of them all.  Also, having a very local website like West Hampstead Life really helped too.

Wired Co. - they really know their coffee.

Wired Co. – they really know their coffee.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

What has surprised me was the nice mix of customers. With the connections to the City and Canary Wharf we have customers who work in the city, but we also have guys who work in TV and sportsmen. From conservative to cutting edge – a nice mix of everyone.

Broadhurst Gardens has changed even since we arrived but the businesses offer something a bit different, from a pizza cooked in a wood burning stove, bespoke chocolates, violins, and great coffee and food in Wired.

The regulars  really encourage us to improve and change; we’ve introduced V60 and aeropress [Ed – new ways of making of coffee]. Currently, we are seeing demand for plant-based foods and are jointly developing those with our food producers.

What’s for lunch?

Normally I have a smoked turkey, avocado and harrissa sandwich and one of our chia pots for dessert. But this month being VEGANuary, I’m going more vegetarian with our carrot, courguette and hommous on rye with a flat white with cashew milk.

If I go out, I like Pham just a couple of doors down, the food is excellent. Or popping in for a drink at the Gallery.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Evolving, supportive and responsive.

Bobby F’s timewarp bar opens on West End Lane

Photo: Jane Lucken (model: unknown)

Photo: Jane Lucken (model: unknown)

It’s been a long-time coming. La Brocca closed its doors in June 2015, but its replacement – Bobby Fitzpatrick’s – opens tonight. Bobby’s owners, ULG (who also run The Gallery and The Alice House), have opted for a louche 70s theme for the new bar.

West Hampstead Life was – of course – at the launch party last Friday and the first day of the soft launch on Monday. But what did our various correspondents make of the makeover?

Shalini:
Wow, there’s nothing quite like this in West Hampstead! A throwback bar where you feel like you’re at a party in That 70s show, or in the fully functional underground house-cum-fallout shelter like in Blast From the Past, that film where they thought the world had ended and they lived frozen time, gaudy décor and all.

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

The devil is in the details from old-fashioned hand dryers, amber soap and classic books by Fleming and Tolkien and that’s just in the loos! Clunky speakers and fuzzy, chunky TVs; there’s nothing chic about this shabby place, which all adds to the charm.

The only modern hints were the gorgeous cocktails, with twists and classics and all new Bobby creations, served in old fashioned drinking glasses of course! But they serve beers and shooters too, and unpretentious comfort food and the friendliest staff to make your evening a winner.

I would definitely bring my friends back to this groovy bar, it will certainly leave an impression and have you holding back on all the Austin Power’s quotes!

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

Mark:
I liked it. I was concerned it was going to be over the top and too faddy but actually it went to the edge but not over it. It’s been very well done. I hope for West Hampstead that it does work, ULG has a good track record. It’s doing something different from the prevalent Brooklyn industrial chic, zagging while the others are zigging. As for the food – the burger was good but I’m not sure recreating 1980s deep dish pizzas is such a good idea – they weren’t that good to begin with. And a mention for the staff were friendly and professional and helped create a good atmosphere.

Jane:
I have many happy memories of La Brocca, so my first ten minutes was spent gasping at how much it has changed. But I’m up for evolution and soon started smiling at how they have brought Bobby’s home to life. I’d have loved the job of sourcing all the crazy bits and bobs – where did they find that hand dryer?! I applaud the owners for moving beyond the too-common industrial luxe aesthetic and creating somewhere genuinely fun and different. The cocktails are excellent, if crazy, just like the whole place really!

Photo: Tom Vanheems

Photo: Tom Vanheems

Tom:
I can see Bobby Fitzpatrick being a hit with the locals. A huge amount of work has gone into the crazy, amusing and even atmospheric 70s design, so that it feels welcoming rather than just a novelty. I sense this will create a good vibe and an inviting place to hang out; the sense of fun and originality is tangible.

Food is well-priced, with fresh, flavoursome American-style pizzas (think soft-base like Franco Manca rather than the old Italian style of La Brocca) – perhaps would be good to see some sides of fresh greens or something, to balance things out a little? Hopefully the wine list will expand beyond the two reds and two whites currently available, though I can confirm that both are very drinkable!

An Insight into: The Sherriff Centre

The Sherriff Centre, which opened in 2014, has settled in well and is now one of the most popular features of the area – especially with parents.  It was, and still is, a church, but after some extensive internal modernisation it now offers a host of community facilities: a post office and shop, a café with lots of comfortable seating and Hullabaloo (the kids soft play area, and the reason why it is so popular with parents – and perhaps less popular with people looking for a quiet coffee!).

As I waited to talk to Jane Edwards, the manager, it was particularly busy with long queues for the post office counter, the café was full and kids were enjoying the soft play. Plus lots of Christmas lights. All in all a great atmosphere.

Jane, the sheriff (i.e the manager) of the Sherriff Centre

Jane, the sheriff (i.e the manager) of the Sherriff Centre

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I first came to West Hampstead in the mid-90s and rented a flat with my then boyfriend (now husband). We loved the flat and area so much that we begged the landlady to stay and offered to decorate the flat and look after the garden to keep the rent affordable! Eventually, we moved to West London but we always said if we could ever afford it we would move back to the area.

And we did move back, about 12 years ago; first to Sumatra Road, and then up to Gondar Gardens, where we are now. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

What is your first memory of the area?

I loved the feel of West End Lane. Especially the area round West End Green and the fire station, which my parents call ‘Trumpton’! Even though you are in London it doesn’t feel like you are in London.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

It has fewer independent shops, although that is perhaps inevitable. I loved the record shop and Dizar the gift shop. And instead of Atlanta we now have all the supermarkets and soon an M&S food shop. But nothing has surprised me, everything changes.

One of the things we try to do at the Sherriff Centre is strike the right balance between keeping it community-oriented and being commercial; we are a social enterprise/business. We innovate with things like the quiz and would like to try supper clubs as well as other ideas for events, especially as the building really comes into its own at night.

The shop stock - a good source of presents and cards.

The shop stock – a good source of presents and cards.

People still come in and pray and light a candle outside of ‘church’ hours and others notice when the colour of the cloth on the altar changes and ask why. So we still have the link to it being a church.  Yes it has changed but it is still an inspiring place, quite calming with a history.

What’s for lunch?

Something from the café, most probably their daily dish (lasagne is a particular favorite), unless they have sold out that is.

And I do go out too! As I live locally I go out to local places at the weekend. So for a weekend lunch? I miss La Brocca, we always used to go there for weekend brunch. Currently, I like the Black Lion and also the Alliance for their Sunday roasts but I like to try new places too.

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Unique, vibrant and community

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doggie day care: The Wag Club comes to West Hampstead

Sponsored post

Most people get that ‘back-to-work dread’ as all the fun and festivities of the holiday season draw to a close. So at the risk of sounding like the goody-two-shoes of the family, at The Wag Club we can’t wait to get back!

And 2017 brings with it something particularly exciting for us: the launch of The Wag Club West Hampstead.

wag-club-dogs

Who are we? The Wag Club is an urban doggie day care centre that provides the very best of care for your four-legged friends. Essentially we’re a nursery for dogs. And yes, we know how lucky we are.

We’re the home from home and the peace of mind that owners need when they leave their pups behind and head out for work. And trust us, there really is no better place to leave your little ones than with us. All the fun and frolicking they could ever wish for all in one place, all supervised, with plenty of treats, walks and cuddles all thrown in for good measure. At The Wag Club your pup will not just be cared for, it will be loved like one of our own.

Research has shown that socialising with other dogs is an important stage in any dog’s development. At The Wag Club we have all the amenities your pup could ever wish for:

  • Separate day rooms for ‘big dogs’ and ‘small dogs’
  • Morning and afternoon walks
  • Hours of play, all supervised by our doggie-mad and professionally trained carers.

Pretty soon work will start at 75 Mill Lane as we look to settle into our new home and ensure we offer a safe, friendly (and cage-free) environment for your dog. From the moment your pooch takes its first steps through our doors they will be given all the love and care they need by our trained professionals.

We are all set to open in January 2017, so if you need us to look after Rover while you’re off earning the big bucks (or off spending them!), we’ve got you covered. Just need a walk to break up their day? We’ve got you. Perhaps you want to pick up some of the most drool worthy, healthy and organic treats London has to offer? We’ve got you covered with our Wag Club Treat Deli.

We really hope you’ll come along for a mooch with your pooch when we open. We’re all so excited about our move to the area, many of our staff have grown up here and know what a wonderful community NW6 boasts. We simply can’t wait to be a part of it.

Opening January 2017 at:
75 Mill Lane, London, NW6 1NB
www.wag-club.co.uk
ku.oc1519358432.bulc1519358432-gaw@1519358432daets1519358432pmaht1519358432sew1519358432
www.instagram.com/thewagclub
www.twitter.com/thewagclub1

wag-club-logo

West Hampstead Christmas survival guide

With just over two weeks to go, it’s beginning to look a LOT like Christmas in West Hampstead. Here’s our seasonal guide to what’s going on around the neighbourhood in the next couple of weeks, including December 25th, and information about practical stuff too.

It's beginning to look, well a bit, like Christmas

It’s beginning to look, well a bit, like Christmas

Still need to get a Christmas tree? They’re on sale outside The Sherriff Centre, on the corner of Sherriff Road and West End Lane, and if you’re at the other end of town, you can find a good selection of trees at The Mill Lane Garden Centre.

This Saturday it’s the West Hampstead Christmas market with a good selection of stalls with gift ideas as well as food and drink.  There are also a range of activities to keep the kids amused and as if that wasn’t enough there will be carol singers at 2pm.

There are of course a number of local shopping options for the perfect Christmas present – see our gift guide for ideas.

Ho, ho, ho - it's the Christmas market

Ho, ho, ho – it’s the Christmas market (image: WH Christmas market)

If your party schedule isn’t busy enough already, here are a few local invites. Top of the list – obvs – the West Hampstead Life Christmas drinks will be on December 14th at the Gallery, details in separate email. Or if you fancy a bit of a bop, there will be a festive Mod & Soul party at the Railway on the 17th (live music and DJ), a Christmas party at The Black Lion on the 23rd (DJ from 9pm) and an ‘Old Year’s Party’ on Friday 30th also at The Black Lion.

If it’s comedy you are after as well regular Monday nights at The Good Ship, there is a new comedy evening on Sunday 18th organised by local resident Abigail Burdess, at the North London Tavern (normally last Sunday of the month). Promising a Christmas cracker of comedy cabaret (click to book tickets).

Santa is taking time out of his busy schedule to make a visit to West Hampstead. He is finding time to drop in to The Village Haberdashery on Friday 16th. There are a few spots left and it’s free, but please book ahead.  They are also organising a couple of kids activities; on Monday 19th it’s making Christmas ornaments and on Tuesday 20th it’s a gift wrapping workshop (both cost £5).

Got your turkey yet?  If not, you can get it at the Hampstead Butcher and Providore on West End Lane, last orders by Tuesday 20th, but if you want a posh bronze turkey the earlier the better (i.e. early next week).  Or you could order it from the Fosse Meadows Farm at the farmers market, they have geese too if you want to go traditional English, again advice is to order early.

As for Christmas Day itself, is anywhere going to be open? There will of course be church services: Emmanuel, St Luke’s, St. James and St. Mary’s  are all holding Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve as well as services on the 25th.

What are the eating out options?  There has been a bit of change on the Christmas day options as Guglee and Toomai, which have been open in the past are closed. However, for a more traditional offering The Black Lion , The Alice House and The Railway are all open with Christmas day lunches on offer, but must be pre-booked. 

The Black Lion dressed up for Christmas

The Black Lion dressed up for Christmas

Likewise the Christmas Day drinking scene has more options than in the past as the The Railway, The Alice House and The Black Lion will all be open from midday to late afternoon.

Or if you are looking for something more active – apart from a walk on the Heath – there is the outdoor icerink at JW3 which is open on Christmas day.

Onto more prosaic, but just as essential things. Rubbish collections will, if I understand Camden’s site correctly be one day later than normal – see Camden’s revised collection schedule here.

What about parking? Christmas falls on Sunday, so there is substitute holiday on Tuesday 27th, plus Boxing day on Monday 26th. New Year’s Eve also falls on a Sunday and New Year’s day on a Monday, which is a public holiday. Parking restrictions don’t apply on public holidays.

The main supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose – are all closed on Christmas Day, and both Waitrose branches (West End Lane and Finchley Road) are also closed on Boxing Day.

If you need an emergency item on the 25th, Nisa Local (on the corner of West End Lane and Broadhurst Gardens) will be open, as will Western Food & Wine opposite. Or up on Mill Lane Londis will be open in the morning, closed for lunch and then open again late afternoon.  None of these convenience stores stock whole turkeys though.

For medical matters if it’s a pharmacy you need, IPSA the newish pharmacy on the Finchley Road has late opening hours and is open on Boxing day and New Years day, 11:30 to 20:00.  It also has a private doctor’s service.  Local GP practices are closed on the 25th and 26th, but if you need urgent medical help you can dial the NHS 111 service, or of course 999 in an emergency.

If you need to travel during the festive period, be aware that tube and train services tend to wind down earlier than normal on Christmas Eve. There is no public transport on Christmas Day, and there will be a limited service and engineering works to contend with during the rest of the period – see here for TfL’s festive travel updates from December 21st to January 4th.  Thameslink services will also not run on the 25th or 26th, but otherwise over holiday period are running services, albeit somewhat reduced.

Tom dives in to Nautilus

After a few drinks with locals in the splendid glow of the Green Room, two things occurred to me in a flash of uncharacteristic inspiration. First, that I was extremely hungry, and second, that I’d (shamefully) never eaten in Nautilus, Fortune Green’s acclaimed fish restaurant and takeaway. I’d heard interesting things and was rather intrigued by its apparent bare-bones approach to pretty much everything.

The first thing to point out is that Nautilus does not deep-fry their fish in batter; rather, they favour a matzo breadcrumb coating. My thoughts on this to follow, but there were other quirks I discovered which added to the experience.

Service was delivered by two charmingly polite older ladies, and the interior is certainly traditional café or diner style – very casual, very unpretentious. Further bonus points for having tomato sauce in bottles – none of those stupid little mini-bowls which last for only about 3 or 4 dips-worth of chips!

The menu is as simple as one can imagine; you can have a glass of wine – red or white, no further choice. I chose the latter, which was fine, and spent a few moments deciding what to order. I absolutely love salmon, and decided this would be an interesting test of the cooking technique.

nautilus-salmon

Dinner duly arrived, and my first thought was “goodness me, that’s a large portion, even for me!” but I soon discovered that the matzo coating was deliciously and deceptively light, and so crisp, too – an absolute joy in combination with the salmon. Enthusiastically tucking-in, I found the fish to be nicely gauged; not overcooked, still fleshy and supple. Really, a revelation; I felt a little silly for not having previously eaten fish fried in this manner, and honestly I was already thinking about what to have on my next visit.

nautilus-salad

A side salad of tomato, cucumber and onion included some added olives (always a positive thing), but my portion of chips was the only minus point of the visit (I shall hereby rename them ‘blips’). Previously when I’ve grabbed chips from Nautilus as a post-pub refuel, they’ve been fresh and sizzling hot, whereas these were noticeably flabby and insipid and far from piping hot. A bit of an oversight given the nature of the establishment, so hoping this won’t be the case next time.

Less chip, more blip

Less chip, more blip

In summary, enjoyable. Somewhere fun and relaxing where you can relish the simplicity of very fresh fish cooked in a style Nautilus have really mastered (pending better chips next time).

As I’m always saying, I only choose the best for the captain’s table… All aboard!

The Twelve Christmas gifts of West Hampstead

Our Christmas gift guide is back! If you’re looking for gift ideas this year then don’t just head straight to Amazon, check out the shops on your doorstep. It’s likely you’ll get more inspiration and it’s definitely a more relaxing experience than Westfield or Regent Street. We went shopping to see what’s on offer. Don’t forget there’s also the West Hampstead Christmas Market on Saturday, and when you’re tired of shopping, there’s loads else to do in the neighbourhood this Christmas.

1. Copper and Slate Serving Plate, £34.99
Season Cookshop, 166 West End Lane
season-cookshop-christmas-gift-guide
This hand-beaten copper bowl is made in Scotland and provides an on-trend variation to the classic slate tray. You’ll also find Orla Kiely oven mitts, coloured kilner jars, glassware and everything else you’d expect in a kitchen shop.

2. Faux Fur Collar, £18
La Boutique Secret, 132 West End Lane
boutique-secret-christmas-gift-guide
You can clip this glamorous collar to a coat, jacket or accessorise a dress and it comes in a range of colours. Chokers (from £9) are also a popular gift this year. This little shop by the tube is bigger than it looks, with more clothes and jewellery downstairs.

3. Dolfin Chocolate Squares, £8
Cocoa Bijoux, Broadhurst Gardens
cocoa-bijoux-christmas-gift-guide
Twenty-four individually-wrapped chocolates with flavours like Noir Poivre Rose and Noir Cardamome. Cocoa Bijoux has an enormous range of sugary treats that will make great stocking fillers or larger presents. The Chocolate & Fig Pannetone baked at the Padua Prison Bakery is delicious!

4. Dinosaur Sandwich Box, £5
Sherriff Centre, St James Church
sherriff-centre-christmas-gift-guide
Dinosaurs, unicorns or fairies? Take your pick of these eco-friendly sandwich boxes and flasks; perfect for little ones with environmentally conscious parents. The Sheriff Centre has all sorts of other present ideas including candles, evening bags and puzzles.

5. A History of Pictures, David Hockney & Martin Gayford, £29.95
West End Lane Books, 277 West End Lane
west-end-lane-books-christmas-gift-guide
In this beautifully produced hardback, the authors examine why humans have made and enjoyed art throughout history. Not the right gift? Ask the bookshop staff for present ideas for the tricky people in your life. You might consider Zadie Frost’s new book, a screenplay of Fantastic Beasts, the Private Eye Annual or a signed copy of Alan Bennett’s new diaries.

6. Bottle of Tridentum Sparkling Wine, £22
Vini Vivi, 35 Mill Lane
vini-vivi-christmas-gift-guide
This full-bodied, very dry and clear sparkling wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes in the Trentino region of Italy using the champagne method. A bottle usually costs £28 but is on offer for Christmas. Vini Vivi has a wide selection of fine and everyday wines. It also imports Italian and Spanish delicacies such as high-quality pasta, pane carasau and sun-dried tomatoes.

7. Solid Silver Bracelet, £60
North West 6, 122 West End Lane
north-west-6-christmas-gift-guide
If you’re looking for special, wearable jewellery then take a look at North West 6’s wide selection of bracelets, necklaces and earrings. Did you know that many of North West 6’s customers come in for crystals and tarot cards?

8. Minions Framed Print, £50
Monsters of Art, 112 Mill Lane
monsters-of-art-christmas-gift-guide
Know a Minions fan? These popular prints feature minions in all sorts of characters. Pop into the shop to find your favourite or have a look at the other street-art inspired prints on offer.

9. Cohiba Cigar, from £14.99
Robert Graham Whisky and Cigars, 4 Broadhurst Parade
robert-graham-cigars-christmas-gift-guide
Think of Fidel and visit our local humidor. Cigar prices vary substantially by brand and age. Did you know that cigars are purchased as investments? A limited edition cigar bought by the shop in 2011 for £34 is today worth £105. The shop stocks gift sets and, true to its name, an interesting variety of whiskys.

10. Chocolate Cherry Figs, £10.20
The Hampstead Butcher & Providore, 244 West End Lane
hampstead-butcher-christmas-gift-guide
The butcher offers plenty of christmas treats beyond turkeys, like these delicious chocolate cherry figs. Dig around and you’ll also find chestnut panettone, Prestat chocolates and unusual wines.

11. Antipodes Aura Manuka Honey Face Mask, £23.29
Peppercorns, 260 West End Lane
peppercorns-christmas-gift-guide
Who wouldn’t want a cleansing facemask with manuka honey, avocado oil, pohutukawa [Ed: what?!] bloom and vanilla pod from New Zealand? It ticks the fair trade, organic and recyclable boxes, as does the rest of the beauty range available in Peppercorns.

12. Christmas wreath, £55
Achillea Flowers, 92 Mill Lane
achillea-flowers-christmas-gift-guide
The Achillea team create stunning Christmas wreaths that would please that impossible person who has already bought themselves everything they’d ever need. If that’s a step of luxury too far you’ll also find Christmassy candles in decked-out pots for £25.

Alice House decked by planning decision

Popular West Hampstead bar, The Alice House, has fallen foul of Camden’s planners who have refused retrospective planning permission for its outside decking. The Alice House bookends a run of outside seating spaces along that stretch of West End Lane, which includes One Bourbon and The Black Lion. Together, many locals feel they make an attractive ‘active frontage’ that brings life to West End Lane.

Decking appears to be within the frontage.

Decking in question, it appears to be within the frontage.

Cllr Flick Rea, who has long experience of planning issues in the area, was surprised at the decision, particularly when there have been so many other blatant breaches of planning policy elsewhere in our area. However, many other similiar decking areas have been in place for more than four years, which means they become automatically approved.

For example, The Petit Corée at 98 West End Lane has a raised platform that is more than four years old (pre-dating the existing business) and is therefore immune from prosecution. It also has a boundary fence that was lowered to below 1 metre, which is the maximum height allowed before permission is required. At the other end of West End Lane, Schnitzel has also had decking in place for more than four years and again no enforcement action was taken. Its fence is marginally higher than 1 metre, but it was not deemed expedient to pursue the matter. GBK, The Black Lion and Thunderbird (when it was La Smorfia) all applied for permission to retain or alter their outside decking areas and all were granted.

Hang on, you may be saying, the decking at The Alice House has been there for more than four years. True. There has been a decked space outside the building for many years, certainly before ULG, the current owners, took over the site back in 2008. However, it is the improvements made over the past couple of years that have caused the problem.

Alice and her problematic timber perimeter!

Alice and her problematic timber perimeter!

Originally, the decking was separated from the pavement by just a rope barrier. Then, when the decking needed some repair work, the company though it would be a good opportunity to replace the rope barrier with something more fixed and incorporate some built-in seating. This has proved popular with customers, but not with Camden. The Alice House saw these as minor changes to existing decking so it didn’t occur to the owners to seek planning permission.

However, when a local resident alerted Camden to a string of planning breaches on West End Lane, including The Alice House, the planners suggested that the bar submit a retrospective planning application, which it did. Only one person objected during the consultation, arguing that the decking made the pavement too narrow – specifically for two buggies to pass each other. It is true that the pavement is narrow at this spot, though no narrower than elsewhere along this stretch.

In fact, the precise boundaries of the public highway are not clear: the planning officer’s report states that the decking is on the public highway according to the Land Registry, but it actually seems to be within the line of the pavement along that stretch of West End Lane (as the photo below, taken from the application, shows), and ULG has a map from 1999 that implies the forecourt area is part of the property.

The decking appears to follow the line of the forecourt of the residential block to the north

The decking appears to follow the line of the forecourt of the residential block to the north

Camden’s objections to the decked area are that “by virtue of their siting on the public highway, [it] reduces the width and function of the pavement” and that “by reason of their size, siting and design, create a dominant and incongruous feature in a prominent corner location resulting in harm to the character and appearance of the host building”.

Camden has described the distinctive corner building as “an important site, identified as a positive contributor in the West End Lane Conservation Area”. In its more detailed report, it is the timber walls that appear to be the major issue:

“The [surrounding perimeter timber enclosures] form a solid boundary which, in terms of overall bulk, extent and materials, are considered to overwhelm the host property and streetscene and are not sympathetic to the general character of the Conservation Area. At 4.8 metres at its deepest point, it protrudes well beyond the front elevation and is perceived as an obtrusive, out of scale addition to the property. It is accepted that the decking in itself is similar to many others in the locality, it extends no further than adjoining boundary walls, and it adjoins to the north a series of front gardens enclosed by low walls and retail forecourts with decking. However the combination of both the raised decking and the surrounding wall-like enclosures form a bulky and overbearing structure and cumulatively cause harm to the streetscene, particularly at this prominent corner location.”

Camden proposed that the bar remove the planters (which are more than 1 metre high), and reduce both the height and depth of the decking, though offered no guarantees that this would result in permission being granted. Camden also wants to charge The Alice House a substantial sum, believed to run to thousands of pounds, as a table and chair fee, again claiming the decking is on the public highway. The Alice House in turn has proposed turning the clock back and reinstating the rope-barrier arrangement, which would have been automatically allowed under the four-year rule.

Should ULG have been aware of the planning regulations on this? Camden’s planning website lists common issues for which businesses need planning permission, which include change of use, shop fronts and canopies but nothing about decking.

The Alice House is at pains to point out that it is trying to work with Camden to resolve this, and as a long-standing business in the area it wants to do the best for West Hampstead. Its advisors have suggested that it appeals the decision, which it intends to do. It would seem that much hinges on whether the space is or is not part of the public highway.

And on Twitter, people have been voicing their support for The Alice House.

What do you think? Is The Alice House being made an example of compared to some other less popular and possibly more egregious flouting of planning guidelines? Or is it right that planners try and uphold their own policies wherever possible?

The Good Ship late licence at risk

The late license of Kilburn’s popular music/comedy venue, The Good Ship, will be reviewed this Thursday. At the moment, it opens until 3am, but if the licensing committee rules follows the wishes of the police, it will be required to close at 2am – crucially with the last entry at midnight.

You could be barred from entry after midnight

You could be barred from entry after midnight

Owner John McCooke says that a very significant percentage of the venue’s revenue is generated between midnight and 3am so the suggested measures would “effectively closes the venue at midnight, making the business unviable”.

If you don’t know The Good Ship, it’s a bar with a friendly stage that hosts an astounding number of bands, comedians, DJs, charity and community nights. Music ranges across all the genres from math rock to REM cover bands to jazz funk. It provides a valuable opportunity for new acts to get exposure and more established acts to practice new material – it’s pretty common to turn up for the comedy on a Monday night and see a household name added to the bill.

This decision is happening in the same month that a London night tsar has been appointed to champion late-night culture. Amy Lamé, who is the first person to fill the role, told the BBC ‘We need to stem the flow of those closures [of clubs and venues across London]. Long-time locals may remember the sad closure of Kilburn’s The Luminaire in 2010. This was a huge loss to the west London music scene, which began its inexorable march east.

There is inevitably some dispute about whether the Ship’s opening hours are contributing to antsocial behaviour. In the Kilburn Times, McCooke says reports of bad behaviour are exaggerated. My personal experience, and that of local friends, has always been that The Good Ship offers a fun night out and it’s certainly an important, vibrant contributor to London’s arts culture. How many more pubs and venues will be turned into coffee shops, bakeries and luxury flats? We wish John and team all the best of luck on Thursday.

An Insight into: The Kitchen Table on Mill Lane

It’s been ten years since the Kitchen Table opened, yes ten years, and since then it’s become a firm favourite for many a local. Almost all the business is from regulars, some that move abroad but still pop by on their visits home. Having done it for ten years, Jennie Vincent and Tom Leslie are perhaps thinking about a change (anyone want to buy a thriving, well-established business?), but for the moment it’s business as usual.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

First alcohol, then love. In 1999 I was learning about wines and working in the Grog Blossom (a wine merchant on West End Lane where Nail Suite is now).  Tom, my now husband, came in to sell his bike to the owner of the shop and that’s how I got to know him. He sold a bike and gained a girlfriend. Tom was brought up here and after we married in 2003, we stayed in the area. In 2006,we took over a café in Mill Lane and had a vision of cooking and selling the food I like.

It's Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

It’s Jennie from the Block (Mill Lane that is)

What is your first memory of the area?

Years ago I used to live in Hampstead with my parents. My Dad was an inveterate walker and at weekends we would explore the area. Sometimes he would bring us down over this way and I particularly remember coming to Cotleigh and Dynham Roads, which were weird and hilly. It was all a bit run-down, but it intrigued me.

Oh yes and how can I forget – there was a burger place near West End Green called Jenny’s Burgers!

What has surprised you most about the way West Hampstead has changed?

I’m a little sad that West Hampstead feels like it is losing its individual identity and becoming more corporate. It used to be full of independents and was an interesting area with interesting things like a record shop and a jewellery shop. It’s still got some of that – a very good bike shop, the best bookshop in the world, but I’m worried that with the addition of West Hampstead Square and yet another supermarket it is losing its identity.

Mill Lane still has some of this interest. Yes, in the past 18 months a few business have closed down but each for their own good reason. Independent businesses can still afford to be here and there is a still a good selection.

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

What’s for lunch?

I never stop for lunch! For me, if I’m lucky, a cup of tea and piece of cake. In the café it’s our peak time with lots of regulars, many of whom work round here so we have a changing selection for lunch, plus there are the diehard soup fans. Also popular are breakfasts, BLTs and brownies and of course cakes are best sellers – new customers love the fact that the cakes are all home made.

Of other places I’d go, if we are going out in the evening I’ve heard good things about The Petite Corée and on Saturday it was Lily, my daughter’s, birthday so we went to Franco Manca on the Kilburn High Road.

West Hampstead in three words?

Community, ever-changing and… gossipy

Tiny art exhibition on Mill Lane

You are going to have to look very closely, but there is still one ‘statue’ left of a tiny temporary art exhibition on (and around) Mill Lane.  It has been organised by the the gallery/tattooists Monsters of Art, who gave us an insight last month, together with artist Roy’s People.

Last month they said that a good chunk of their business is selling original art. One of the artists they follow on Instagram is Roy’s People, and out of the blue he messaged to say would they like to stock his work.  Of course they replied. As well as stocking his work, Dan persuaded Roy to come up to West Hampstead and set up some work in the area.

Roy came up to West Hampstead this week and installed ten figures along Mill Lane. WHL had hoped that they would stay in situ for people to enjoy but Roy said “fat chance, they always get taken”. However, each of them had a little tag attached asking for the finder to photograph the figures at the home of their new owners (or wherever). The photo can then be emailed to Monsters of Art or posted on Instagram.

This disco diva is still be found

This disco diva is still be found

So far there has been nothing posted or emailed. If you found one of the figures, Rachel from Monsters of Art asks please post an image!

Where did this little blighter end up?

Where did this little blighter end up?

Roy’s People is a urban artist who paints tiny figures and put them in scenes on the street, often with a touch of humour, and then photographs these miniature installations.  You know the ones you’ve seen them.  Clink on the link to see some.

What started out as a hobby for Roy has become a full time business. He’s inspired by the urban art scene and the dirty streets of London. (Ed – What? Even leafy Mill Lane). He creates the figures himself and then install and photographs them.

Who gave a home to this granny?

Who gave a home to this granny?

And for those of you that didn’t snaffle one of the Mill Lane installations there are still some Royspeople pieces available at Monsters of Art.

An Insight into: La Mer on Broadhurst Gardens

La Mer, the fishmongers on Broadhurst Gardens is open only two half days a week (10am to 2.30pm Friday and Saturday), because 95% of Karim Thobani’s business is wholesaling to restaurants in central London (and some local restaurants too). This involves a 2am start to get supplies from Billingsgate market, although some supplies are delivered, which causes great excitement for the local seagulls.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

My parents. They brought me to West Hampstead as a two-year-old in the 1960s when they moved from Tehran to England, more specifically West Hampstead and a flat on West End Lane. Later, they bought a take-away fish shop called Saffron, which was a bit further up West End Lane (where Paya is now). They sold it when they retired in the ’70s.

By 1988, I’d been to uni, worked in a hotel and by fluke started the business wholesaling fish. At the time I was selling frozen spinach and my customers were asking for fish as well; so I set up the business with my then girlfriend (now wife).

I lived back in the area at the time too but sold that flat and moved – not that far away – to Willesden Green.

la-mer1

 

What is your first/fondest memory of the area?

I can remember Broadhurst Gardens as a child – it was not as lively as it is now. There was a chemist here and a Nat West Bank round the corner by the tube station. I can also remember the Railway in its musical heyday.

Growing up I remember enjoying playing in my local park, Kilburn Grange, where I played tennis.

What has surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?

Over the years it has changed a lot and will change even more with the opening of the new (Ballymore) flats.

One change that has surprised me a lot is how much property prices have risen. My parents bought the flat on West End Lane in 1974 for £8,000. It’s now apparently worth 100 times that. Crazy.

But change is good, people are always moving in and out. My customers often move away from the area because it is becomes too expensive, but they still come back to get their fresh fish from here.

la-mer2

What’s for lunch?

I miss La Brocca and their pizzas! Otherwise, sometimes I pop up to the Alice House (it is one of the local restaurants he supplies, La Petit Corée is another).

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Very busy and changing.

Four best brunches on West End Lane

One of the things that make West Hampstead so special are the incredible restaurants it has to offer, many with outdoor space. Perfects spots for a bit of brunch on the weekend, and is there anything better than a leisurely morning spent enjoying, rather than rushing the best and most important meal of the day?

So where are the best brunch spots in the area? These are my top four picks on West End Lane:

The Petit Corée
What a pleasant surprise the Petit Corée was! Serving French-Korean fusion, this delightful little place serves a variety of brunch dishes, in case you’re looking for something different. The kimchi pancakes with scamorza cheese are a perfect, light and warming dish, it packs a perfect little punch to start your day.

The highlight, however, must be the honeycomb butter that comes with the French toast. It is to die for! The French toast can come with caramelized banana or smoked streaky bacon, either is an absolute treat. You can also get a fresh, sweet orange juice and with good value to boot, this place deserves a score of 10/10

French toast with bananas at The Petit Coree

French toast with bananas at The Petit Coree

The Alice House
No one can deny the Alice House will always be buzzing with energy, drawing many people to West Hampstead. And the brunch is delicious too! The full Alice is sure to cure you of too much merriment from the night before, and satisfy any craving. Highlights include homemade beans and excellent quality sausages. If you can’t quite manage a full Alice, you can pick and choose your favorite breakfast bits!

For those with a sweet tooth (like me!) the incredible stack of pancakes will certainly make it feel like the weekend. The iced coffee is divine and the freshly squeezed orange juice is liquid gold. The major drawback however is that brunch finishes at 12! And I’m sorry, if it’s before 12, it’s not brunch…it’s breakfast! That, plus it’s slightly dear compared to other places gives it a score of 7/10

Brunch options at the Alice House

Brunch options at the Alice House

The Wet Fish Café
Always popular, the Wet Fish Café serves an amazing variety of brunch. The potato, chorizo and egg scramble with refried black beans & toast is simply gorgeous, and can be made dairy free to the delight of my brunch companion. The avocado toast with feta and lime is also recommended for those looking for something slightly lighter.

They also serve Eggs Benedict, which is simply perfect. The main drawback is that it is always so busy, you may need to wait and may not get the table of your choice (the ones by the door are lovely); hardly surprising given the delicious food, beautiful interior and lovely staff. This place deserves 9/10

Potato, chorizio scrambled egg at the Wet Fish

Potato, chorizio scrambled egg at the Wet Fish

Bellaluna
If you’re looking for a more economic brunch, Bellaluna is worth a look. Some may argue that what they serve is a full English breakfast rather than “brunch”, but who’s complaining? One might not expect this lovely Italian restaurant to serve English breakfasts, but who can blame them for dipping in to the market of hungry brunch lovers? You can’t go wrong with a fry-up that is good quality and won’t hurt your bank balance, though without the elegance of some of the other establishments in the area. My score is 7/10

An Insight into: Peppercorns

Health food store Peppercorns used to be located opposite the tube station, but when Ballymore began construction of West Hampstead Square, it had to move. Now it’s up by West End Green. We spoke to the owner Mukesh Patel, who has been there for 20 years.  He runs it with his brother Nilesh, who joined him in 2002.

What brought you to West Hampstead?

I had been working in the area since 1982, down on Belsize Road. I had a newsagents and nearby there was a health food store called Abundance, which sold natural foods. I thought it would nice to work in a business like that, that you really care about.

How did I end up at Peppercorns? It  was started in 1982 by the Steeles, a New Zealand couple. She was the first person in the UK to import Manuka honey and by the mid-90s they were expanding the wholesale side of the Manuka business. In 1996 they put their two health food shops up for sale; one in Hampstead and one in West Hampstead. I happened to be reading Dalton’s Weekly and saw this health food business for sale – in West Hampstead! It was local, I was interested so I came to check out the place – with my bank manager.

Mukesh at Peppercorns

Mukesh at Peppercorns

What is your first (fondest) memory of the area?

I can’t remember, it’s that long ago! I remember that Abundance sold muesli by the kilo [Ed – or lbs as was then], which I saw when I went in to buy my veggie lunch.

What’s surprised you about how West Hampstead had changed?

I remember passing down West End Lane and it was a bit run down. There was Atlanta and Jenny’s burgers where Nando’s now is. It was quite down-market, but it has really gentrified.

The arrival of the big chains does make it a bit like every other high street, a bit of a monoculture. The worrying thing is that it really makes it difficult for the independents to pay the rent.

Gail’s probably paid a bit over the market rate but other landlords see that and think they can raise the rents they charge. Independents can’t survive if they can’t afford to pay the rent.

What’s for lunch?

I buy my own ! We have loads of healthy, vegetarian takeaways.

If I don’t eat here I used to go to Dylan’s or sometimes to Bella Luna who do a very good pasta lunch special.

West Hampstead in three words?

Lively, friendly and increasingly health-conscious

An Insight into: Monsters of Art on Mill Lane

Last month we started a series of interviews with local independent shop owners. This month we’re talking to Dan Gold from Monsters of Art, a tattoo studio and art gallery. Dan has been a tattoo artist for 25 years, learning his art across the world, so how has he ended up in Mill Lane?

What brought you to West Hampstead?

We had lived in Muswell Hill, the East End and had shops in Islington and King’s Cross but one day I was riding down West End Lane and instantly fell in love with it and decided to move here. Why the shop on Mill Lane? Well, we ended up living in Narcissus Road where I had a private studio but I got too busy. I know Ian, who owns this shop and he said the charity Best Beginnings was leaving and was I interested. That was four years and seven months ago!

Dan at Monsters of Art

Dan at Monsters of Art (with Simon in the background)

What was your first (fondest) memory of the area?

It was seeing West End Green, the fire station and thinking ‘wow!’. I had commuted up and down the Finchley Road for years and just didn’t know it was here. West End Lane lies nestled between the the bigger Finchley Road and Shoot up Hill. I still have clients who come that have no idea West Hampstead is here.

What has surprised you the most about how West Hampstead has changed?

It’s almost becoming like Hampstead. I’ve seen the houses round Sumatra Road being converted back from bedsits to family houses and I’ve seen this (gentrification) reflected in the people. When we started we sold edition prints but we are selling more and more one off pieces, we see a real difference.

Mill Lane as a whole is undergoing change at the moment. We miss Bake-a-boo. It was the sort of unique business that drew clients to it. Hen parties would come there and then come back to other businesses. Mill Lane needs shops like that, destination shops to help the others that survive on passing trade. Although we are lucky that parking is OK round here. I have clients that are are here for seven or eight hours.

I’m lucky because I have my own loyal client base [Ed – a client had just arrived from Portsmouth, to have Queen Nefertiti tattooed on her leg and this is how it turned out].

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

How do you feel about the changes that are coming to the area?

There is a real resistance to change, but sometimes change is good. Everywhere in London is always changing, personally I feel it will have a positive impact and West Hampstead has a good future.

We sometimes forget we are very lucky we don’t have the problems of the Caledonian Road or Kings Cross or Chapel Market, where I had previous shops. I was sometimes concerned for my safety (I was held up at gun point!) and that of my clients. But that is not a worry here, West Hampstead has the balance just right.

We could do with more local independent shops but it is tricky to find a niche that isn’t covered by the big brands and supermarkets.

What’s for lunch?

Well, we are spoilt for choice! It can be a BLT from the Kitchen Table, a salad from West End Lane. It’s one thing that is great about West Hampstead you are never short of something good to eat.

West Hampstead in three words?

very pleasant indeed

Colour Division closes after 42 years

West Hampstead became a little less colourful last week. Ironically, it was with handwritten note not something printed that Colour Division announced last week that it was closing.  It will be missed.

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division makes a sad announcement

Colour Division was not just one of the longest standing business in the area (it was set up in the mid-70s, under Edward Heath’s government during the three-day week), it was also one of the most social businesses with a loyal customer base.

David Jacobs, who we all knew as Dave, explained that although he was really sad about having to close the business, “since it happened there has been a fantastic response from customers and suppliers”.  It was a tough decision for him to make, but it has been made a little easier “knowing that people really feel for you”.

When Colour Division celebrated its 40th anniversary, Dave was open about how the business was facing challenges. Colour Division had changed with the times: when it first opened, its customers were photocopying letterheads and fanzines (iD magazine was first printed here), but more recently it had moved heavily into digital printing, colour photographic prints and Linked-in portraits.

However, the world was changing faster than Colour Division could keep up with.  Dave looked into other options, including clients investing in the business and moving to a different location (he had at one stage thought about moving into the Sherriff Centre). But moving the equipment alone would have cost £20,000. To survive, the business needed an injection of capital, which the banks were reluctant to lend.

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Dave and Steve in happier times back in 2014

Other factors he cites are the tough parking enforcement regime and lack of pay & display bays, which he estimated cut revenue by 25% in recent years. And of course, like so many other traditional businesses, printing has been disrupted by online competitors. Vistaprint alone did $1.2 billion of business in the year to June 30th.

Rising rents didn’t help matters, although Dave was at pains to point out how supportive his landlord had been in trying to find a solution. Even so, annual rent of £30-40,000 plus business rates of £15,000 meant that Colour Division’s fixed costs were substantial for what is essentially a low-margin business.

What does the future hold? At the moment, Dave is dealing with the insolvency, not something he has experienced before! When things quieten down he plans to more photography and maybe do something with his nephew or brother (with whom he started the business). Both of them are in the printing business.

Whatever Dave decides, West Hampstead wishes him – and Steve and Debbie – all the best.  Without you West Hampstead will be, well, just a bit less Colourful.

An insight into: Insight Opticians

One of the things that gives West Hampstead its character is the independent shops and local groups. We though we’d plan a series (and let’s see where this goes) asking them a few questions about their experiences of the neighbourhood.

Where better to start for an insight into West Hampstead than with Kiran Vyas. Kiran has just celebrated 30 years on West End Lane running Insight Opticians.

Kiran at Insight

Kiran at Insight Opticians

What brought you to West Hampstead?
Chance brought me to West Hampstead! Back in 1986, Julian Leveson, who had previously run the business passed away suddenly. Julian was from South Africa and his family didn’t know what to do with it. They asked a friend for suggestions, that friend happened to be a friend of mine, so he asked if I was interested in buying it.

At the time I had just qualified and was working at my brother’s practice down in Wimbledon, but was looking to open my own practice. I was living in Edgware (where I had relocated after being expelled from Uganda in 1972, and still live) and so having the option of my own optician’s practice closer to home was good timing.

There has been an opticians on this site since 1948. It was originally opened by Irving Shoot, who owned it until about 1965. He sold it to Daniel Martin, who moved to Canada. Daniel sold it to Stephen Isaacs, who made millions as For Eyes opticians. Julian bought it in about 1980. I then took it over and renamed it Insight Opticians.

What is your fondest memory of the area?
There are a number of shops I remember, but the one I miss most is the old apothecary, where the fruit shop is now. It was a quirky little shop with old wooden fittings run by an interesting old fellow called Arthur who was a herbalist as well as pharmacist. Unfortunately, he got robbed and was tied up; he sold up shortly afterwards.

Insight at 30

Insight Opticians – Happy 30th birthday!

What’s surprised you most about how West Hampstead has changed?
In some ways it is that the community feel that was there then is still here today. Since the arrival of the chain stores it is becoming a little more impersonal but change is inevitable – a necessary evil. The older population still retains this community feel. The challenge is to change the business in a way that encourages the new younger clients, but still retains the older clientele.

What was for lunch?
We are spoilt for choice! The neighbouring Banana Tree is always good, Lena’s up West End Lane is good and the fruit and vegetable shop is also good and is an inspiration to become healthy.

West Hampstead in three words?
Awesome, vibrant and friendly

Tom curates West Hampstead’s curry choices

Given that the weather will soon (already has) turned ominous, I thought a quick round-up of a few local curry establishments would be in order (though they’re listed in no particular order). Not that there’s anything wrong with eating such things on a hot summer’s day of course…

All hail the Tin

All hail the Tin

Predictably, I’ll start with the take-away only Tiffin Tin. It’s not that these guys give me back-handers (bribery would work, it’s just that no-one’s offered yet), it’s simply a case of wonderful food, and remarkable consistency. The dishes feel healthy, yet robust, with hunger-bashing portion sizes and appetising aromas of freshly ground spices. The Tin has only ever got one order wrong, delivering some lamb samosas I hadn’t ordered – but those rich, flavoursome morsels were impressive all the same. My favourite dishes; the Goan salmon (tantalising flavours, perfect heat) and the koshi machhi. Note also the excellent vegetable-based dishes – brilliantly done.

On Dyne Road

On Dyne Road

A comparable alternative might be Holy Cow in Kilburn. My findings a while back were of high-quality ingredients and assured cooking. Strangely, their delivery menu appears identical in parts to the Tin’s. The consensus on Twitter has generally been that it’s good quality, but on the pricey side.

Bengal Spice West HampsteadBengal Spice on West End Lane offers a more traditional experience, with a wide range of old favourites served in the same way I remember as a greedy teenager. Recently I enjoyed a tangy, vibrant prawn madras but if this had a hotness rating of two chilli symbols on the menu rather than three, then I respect the bravery of whoever tries the vindaloo! The salmon tikka starter was also excellent.

Of a similar style, Ruchi in Kilburn seems to have been around for as long as Bengal, and again seems to please those looking for the tried and tested options, done very well. I haven’t eaten there many times, but Jonathan’s often mentioned it and praises it as the best of its type in the area. [JT: if you want old-skool done well, then Ruchi is your go-to restaurant.]

Ruchi is tucked away with a loyal fan base

Ruchi is tucked away with a loyal fan base

Fortune Green's finest

Fortune Green’s finest

Bombay Nights in Fortune Green, again long-established, features a joyful logo and a nice balance of expected and less-common selections, which include scallops and crab in addition to a wide range of chicken and lamb plates. I’ve enjoyed dinner there, and am impressed by its enthusiasm in updating its Facebook page with colourful and tempting photographs – the owners seem proud of what they do.

Returning to a slightly more modern take on this fantastic cuisine, Guglee is the sort of place that makes one proud to live in the area. The interior design is gorgeous, the atmosphere buzzing (the kitchen is visible to diners and the camaraderie of chefs and other staff is evident), and the food is classy, inspiring, all-round delicious. Railway lamb (Rogan Josh style) and prawn kadai stand out – and although the food is refined, the portions are generous! And let’s not overlook that delightful Indian Shiraz, which we’ve raved about many times on here. [JT: Also does the best Indian chaat streetfood starters. Agree with Tom, this is one of the gems of West Hampstead.]

Modern font, modern food

Modern font, modern food

Mill Lane's other curry option

Mill Lane’s other curry option

Spice Tree (formerly Babur Empire) is somewhere I’ve enjoyed a hearty takeaway king prawn jalfrezi from on occasion, but I haven’t eaten in the restaurant recently. I do tend to order from the aforementioned Tiffin Tin as its vegetable dishes are at a level above most of the competition. Spice Tree has a very smart new outside terrace, so perhaps it’s worth going along to try it out while the weather is still… errm… well, take an umbrella or something (Brits talking about the weather again – yawn – sorry!)

There are of course plenty of other Indian restaurants to try in NW6; we’re lucky in having such choice, and maybe this continues to drive quality? Everyone who enjoys a curry has their own personal tastes and preferences, whether it involves an overload of chicken (Jonathan), or proud, glowing prawns (me).

Well, I’ve worked-up quite an appetite absorbed in all that… time to grab a corkscrew and a spice-orientated delivery menu ASAP.

West Hampstead welcomes Gail’s

Not just a bakery, but another cafe

Not just a bakery, but another cafe

So, Gail’s opened on time (now that is a surprise for a building project round here) and West Hampstead got all excited. The opening offers added to the buzz but Twitter was all aflutter.

It’s good to see that it has branded itself differently here to its other outlets – apparently it’s part of its approach to fit in locally to each area (though as the tweet below suggests, it may have some work to do in that regard.)

As with their other branches it is both a both a bakery and a café.

What was also noticeable yesterday was that the staff were in casual clothes, but it turns out they were mostly extra staff drafted in to help for the opening. Today when things were calmer, staff were back to black with maroon Gail’s aprons.

The manager said they were pleased with how things went. These upmarket grocers are on the pricey side…

…but if the Hampstead Butcher and Providore is anything to go by it seems that West Hampstead’s growing affluence means they’ll do just fine.

West Hampstead Square rebrands as “Heritage Lane”

HeritageLane_text

Ballymore’s increasingly delayed West Hampstead Square megaproject has taken another turn for the bizzare. In a marketing document seen by West Hampstead Life, the developer is selling the long leasehold for the commercial part of the development with a breakdown of who the tenants will be. The words “West Hampstead Square” appear nowhere in this glossy brochure. Instead, we are invited to take a walk down “Heritage Lane”.

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A Ballymore spokesperson told us that this was not the developer’s idea. Indeed she sounded a bit peeved given the amount they’d spent on marketing West Hampstead Square. Instead, she claimed that Camden had forced this upon them. We are chasing Camden for comment/confirmation, though local councillors and the NDF were nonplussed. It is true that local authorities and Royal Mail do have a say over new street names even on private developments. But how anyone thought Heritage Lane was a good idea is beyond me.

Perhaps if indeed Camden is responsible, the new name should have been put to some sort of public vote… Or maybe not (Blocky McBlockface anyone?). The access road for the bin lorries and no doubt endless Yodel vans is hardly lane-like, and the commercial bit out front certainly isn’t a Lane. It’s not a Square either to be fair, but it is some form of broadly quadrilaterally shaped space.

Still, all that heritage eh? Um. West Hampstead Square Heritage Lane is a distinctly modern development, all brick and glass and air conditioning units. Whether or not you like it aesthetically, it is unapologetically modern and does not conjure up images of heritage. And nor does it need to – it’s been marketed as modern living for modern people so this sudden throwback to heritage seems an odd choice?

Ballymore did hold a local competition to help with the naming of the tower blocks, but we all naively assumed that West Hampstead Square would be the permanent name of the whole scheme.

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The winning entry suggested the blocks were named after local authors, and apparently Camden has agreed to this, so the first five blocks at least will be named (I don’t know in what order) Orwell, Milne, Lessing, Beckford and Hardy.

So what’s going to be in Heritage Lane?

We all know that Marks & Spencer is opening a food store there. This is a large 5,800 sq foot shop (ground floor), for which M&S will pay just shy of a quarter of a million pounds a year in rent. To give you an idea of size, that’s larger than the Little Waitrose and Tesco Express on West End Lane combined.

Next door is an M&S “Hot Food on the Move” café. The final ground floor unit is being occupied by The Provenance Meat Company, a butcher that has a Notting Hill outlet. After years and years (and years) of people whining about not having a butcher in West Hampstead, we’ve suddenly got two… and a farmers market. Are they all sustainable?

On the upper floor, it’s been well known for a while that the Village Haberdashery is moving from its cramped Mill Lane premises to take over a large 1,400 square foot space that will be both shop and workshop.

"Heritage Lane". Photo via Annie Barker

“Heritage Lane”. Photo via Annie Barker

Owner Annie Barker has big plans for the space, and it’s genuinely pleasing to see that a local business has been given a sizeable space there at reasonable rent – at least for five years when her rent will be reviewed. Finally on the upper floor, the news you’ve all been waiting for… yes… another estate agent. According to the brochure, this has not been confirmed yet, though it’s described as “specialising in premium new homes and luxury real estate with multiple offices in London and the Far East.” All in all, the annual rental income in year one comes in at £325,500.

And what is all this commercial space on the market for? According to one source, the asking price is somewhere around £6.75 million.

Where to watch the Euros in West Hampstead

Whether you are a die hard, St George’s flag wielding, vuvuzela-blowing, Barmy Army wannabe, a student of the international game or an occasional watcher with a passing interest in major tournament football, West Hampstead has a good seat and a cold drink for you for the next month (yes it really does last until mid-July!). All the matches are on terrestrial TV, so you could just stay at home, but where the fun in that? Here’s a brief guide of where to watch all the games in the hood.

Czechoslovak Restaurant & Bar: Showing a few games during opening hours (after 5pm in the week, 12pm weekends), with sound, but particularly worth a visit for the Czech Republic and Slovakia games. Bound to be noisy for those.

The Railway: All games live on two big screens and multiple big TVs. Also possibility of parallel viewing of final group games. Flags and bunting – tick!

Seems The Railway's big screen TV is straight out of the Flintstones

Seems The Railway’s big screen TV is straight out of the Flintstones

The Gallery: All games shown on two big screens, one upstairs, one downstairs. Sound will be on downstairs for all games and upstairs for England games only.

The Gallery keeps things simple

The Gallery keeps things simple

La Brocca: Sadly not yet (sob sob) but work appears to be underway. Check back here in the run up to World Cup 2018!

One Sixty: Multiple TV screens, showing all games during opening hours with table bookings available and strongly recommended (some home nations games are already booked out!). NB One Sixty opens 5pm Monday-Friday, 10am Sat & Sun.

The Black Lion: Every game shown live with several big TVs and a big screen. Sound for all England games otherwise confined to the near corner when you walk in. They did say though that demand will drive sound for other games – watch out for that Iceland v Hungary match…. They are taking bookings for areas and have red, white and blue bunting up!

Prize for "good effort" blackboard goes to The Black Lion (though it does have bunting)

Prize for “good effort” blackboard goes to The Black Lion (though it does have bunting)

The Alliance: Several big TVs and we’re reliably informed that every game will be shown live with sound.

Prize for classiest blackboard goes to The Alliance

Prize for classiest blackboard goes to The Alliance

There may be a few other places showing the odd game or with a TV in the corner, so keep an eye out an let us know if we’ve missed anywhere.

Games tend to kick off at 2pm, 5pm and 8pm. Happy watching…

End of an era: La Brocca changes hands tomorrow

La Brocca open for brunch on the Locke's last day

La Brocca open for brunch on the Lockes’ last day

Tonight will be the last time David Locke presides over the bar at ever-popular wine & sports bar La Brocca.

After an incredible 24 years of being open 7 days a week, this West Hampstead institution that’s as well known for its jazz as its rugby nights (and early mornings), will be changing hands.

The Urban Leisure Group, which owns both The Gallery and The Alice House in West Hampstead as well as five other bars, is taking over as of Monday morning. Hezi Yeichel, from Queens Park-based ULG, told us that the company “plans to run La Brocca in a similar way to as it is now”, and will be keeping the pizzas going. The name La Brocca will also continue for the time being.

David and his wife Edda, who have run the place since its inception are not being forced out. They are retiring. David, to the surprise of many, is 71 and the time has come for a change of pace. He is understandably emotional about the end of an era, but will have many fond memories of the bar from England’s rugby world cup win to many of the jazz nights that have livened up West End Lane over the years.

Back in 2011, when West Hampstead Life spoke to David on the bar’s 20th anniversary, he told us, “The jazz is a love but it doesn’t make me money. You want to know how to make a million pounds out of jazz? Start off with two million.”

Simon Whiteside (right), next to David Locke

Simon Whiteside (right), next to David Locke, Chris Lowe on trombone and Dominic Howles on the bass. Photo via Eugene Regis

Today, local jazz maestro Simon Whiteside who has played regularly at the bar for years, put together an impromptu surprise concert for David.

Simon said afterwards, “La Brocca has been a wonderful bar & beanery for many moons supporting jazz musicians by providing a venue where it felt comfortable & inspiring to play. David & Edda have run a great place for more than 20 years and I’ve been privileged to be part of the music scene there. In that time La Brocca has seen births, deaths, marriages & jazz careers born & built. I’m glad I was able to play a tune today in honour of one of the true arts venues founded & run on family principles.”

In the short-term, David and Edda are off to their second home in Cyprus for the summer. Tonight, we can expect a few glasses to be raised in their honour. They have most definitely played an enormous role in making West Hampstead the place it is.

And what of the enormous bull’s head that adorns the wall upstairs? “We only had it on loan,” says David. “It’s going back to its owner”. Just another big gap that the new owners will have to fill as we say farewell and good luck to the Lockes.

David Locke in 2011. Photo Moya Sarner

David Locke in 2011. Photo Moya Sarner

The Petite Corée: Locals shouting about Korean twist

I was an early sceptic. Korean French fusion? In West Hampstead? Really? It sounded pretty risky – the sort of thing that Kitchen Nightmares are made of. The reality, thank god, is astonishingly good. This is partly because The Petite Corée’s food isn’t really Korean-French fusion.

Jae, the deadpan chef, though Korean, has trained in European restaurants and his cooking is achingly classic Western European; but, and it’s a critical but, there’s a Korean twist to every dish that’s handled with both flair and subtlety. He even made me love kimchee (when I mentioned that I wasn’t normally a big fan of kimchee, he asked if I was being racist – see “deadpan” above). This is high class food presented in a pared-back casual restaurant (no jacket required) presided over by Yeon, who runs the front of house.

The restaurant launched very quietly at the start of the year, and took a few weeks to get going as word of mouth slowly spread. It may be the only restaurant in West Hampstead that hasn’t yet had a negative comment tweeted about it, which is impressive given the fickle nature of many local diners!

The menu is reassuringly short, and has already had one seasonal change, which is a promising start. The Petite Corée is not a cheap restaurant – it’s catapulted itself right up into the high price bracket for the area – but for food of this quality, that isn’t going to put too many people off (and it also does a more competitively priced lunch deal!). I loved the smoked swordfish starter and my guinea fowl main course – perhaps one of the least Korean dishes on the menu – was beautifully balanced. However, the slow-roast pork belly with “Korean BBQ” jus is already established as the restaurant’s signature dish and rightly survived the first menu change.

Now over to my fellow reviewers (apologies, our photos aren’t the best, we may have been enjoying the wine list too much – there are much better ones at this excellent review).

Jon
I’ve never raved so much about a radish. The humble root vegetable, garnished with a flavoursome black sesame and yoghurt dressing, was the unexpected star of the starters – although the smoked swordfish with wasabi and lime dressing deserves an honourable mention. For my main course I had the steak. This was served with galbi – a soy-based Korean sauce, expertly rendered, which distinguished the dish from the rest of the NW6 rib-eye pack. The dollop of mashed potato beside it was the evening’s biggest triumph, however. I just about had room for an ice cream at the end. This is a friendly little eaterie with idiosyncratic, well-prepared food at a fair price. I’ll be back, especially during radish season.

"I've never raved so much about a radish"

“I’ve never raved so much about a radish”

Nicky
The Petite Corée had a lot to live up to, having built up a steady stream of glowing reviews on Twitter and the WHL Forum. And it didn’t disappoint. We shared six starters between us, which was probably a good idea as we each got to taste everything without anyone suffering food envy. Highlights included mandu – pork dumplings drizzled with a deliciously sweet and sticky balsamic sauce, and a radish salad that was as good to look at as it was to eat. Each dish was a nicely-balanced combination of classic European and Korean cuisine, but without ever straying into gimmicky “fusion” territory. Special mention has to go to the mashed potato (I was gluttonous enough to steal a forkful from Tom), which in true French style tasted like it had been whipped with about 80% butter. Believe the hype: The Petite Corée is a great new neighbourhood restaurant.

Arancini with kimchee flavoured rice and mozzarella

Arancini with kimchee flavoured rice and mozzarella

James
In refreshingly minimalist decor, Petite Corée was a delightful dinner. Every dish was an inventive combination of simple ingredients that was great fun to try. I liked the simple uncluttered menu and as there were six of us we were all able to check out most of it. As a big Korean food fanatic, I was particularly pleased with the kimchee, although it was prepared and served in a less-traditional way: kimchee sauce on ‘un-kimcheed’ cabbage. Still, the result was gorgeous and gave me the satisfying kimchee kick that I’m addicted to. My pork belly main was sold as a korean BBQ dish. Whether it was Korean or not, it was lovely. What a gorgeous little restaurant, I couldn’t fault it to be honest and I can’t wait to go back.

Tom
I was impressed on my first visit to Petite Corée a few months ago, but this was on another level. Every single plate chef served up featured a collage of fascinating, powerful, yet nicely-nuanced flavours, with well-considered combinations and really delightful vegetables. And that mashed potato – divine! The starters were addictive and varied; my favourite was (predictably!) potato and rice gnocchi with wild garlic leaves, Parmesan and Korean chilli sauce. Balance was offered via a rather stunning radish salad, with enticing colours and a splendid bitter twist. My gurnard with rainbow chard and a spicy fish jus was delicious; clever use of spices adding waves of flavour whilst not overpowering the fish. Also served were eringi mushrooms, which I now know are also known as king trumpet or French horn mushrooms (among other things) – how marvellous! Great service and a very special chef – not surprised this restaurant is making a few local headlines.

Guinea fowl with asparagus

Guinea fowl with asparagus

Laura
I had walked past Le Petit Corée and glanced at the intriguing menu several times, so I was looking forward to giving it a try though not entirely sure what to expect. Would a French-Korean mash up work? In short, yes. All of the starters were excellent, particularly the pork dumplings and the swordfish, both of which had an invisible touch of Korea, providing a kick without overwhelming the delicate flavours. My sea bass main was beautifully cooked and the miso butter dressing worked really well. The only negative was a few small bones left in the fillet, which caught me by surprise. The sesame cream caramel to end was delicious, I’ll be goin’ back for more of that! Great service and a friendly atmosphere ensured a good time was had by all. I expect we’ll all be returning for at least one more night.

The Petite Corée
98 West End Lane
T: 020 7624 9209
E: moc.l1519358432iamto1519358432h@eer1519358432oceti1519358432tepeh1519358432t1519358432

Adios to businesses on one block of West End Lane

The rapid rise of the West Hampstead Square towers is the most visible sign of change in the neighbourhood, but the retail landscape is changing fast too. Foxtons in, Mamacita and Social out, Holistic… no-one seems quite sure.

Most of the changes are happening on the strip of West End Lane bookended by Tesco and Sainsbury. Clothes shop Social closed its doors for the last time on Monday after 10 years.

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Next door to Social, hair salon Holistic has been told it may also have to close and find new premises. Hakki, the manager at Holistic, said that the landlord, who also owns Social’s premises, has a potential tenant interested in taking both units and turning them into one large double shop (the unconfirmed rumour is that this might be a chain bakery). However, Hakki hopes to hear in the next few weeks that the salon will be able to renew its lease and continue operating where it has been for 19 years, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Finally, Mamacita announced on Twitter that it was closing, after less than two years in West Hampstead. The owners have told West Hampstead Life that although they can’t reveal the identity of the new tenant, it should be another independent business.

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What would you like to see opening on West End Lane? Over to you in the comments below or on the forum.

Some locals have beef with market sign; others just like beef

Last Saturday, Tori & Ben’s Farm was awarded this year’s prize for “Customers’ Favourite Stall” at the West Hampstead Farmers’ Market. The stall sells lamb and Longhorn beef from their farm on the Derbyshire / Leicestershire borders.

Abi at Tori & Ben's Farm's prize-winning stall

Abi at Tori & Ben’s Farm’s prize-winning stall

The runner-up was last year’s winner, Brinkworth Dairy, which sells milk and cream at its stall, as well as takeaway coffee, to a steady queue of customers each week.

It’s good news for the stallholders, but latest statistics show that customer numbers have dropped since the market opened on the Thameslink forecourt in 2012. In its first year, the average footfall at the market was 3,558, but by 2014 the average had fallen to 2,477.

In an effort to boost customer numbers and raise awareness, London Farmers’ Markets, the organisation behind West Hampstead’s Saturday market, has applied to Camden for planning permission for its promotional banner to be placed between the trees on the Thameslink forecourt for a period of six months. There have so far been nine objections to this proposal, with some residents criticising the “unsightly” proposed banner, but Camden has received many more messages in support of the banner, 56 in total, including one from the West Hampstead NDF committee.

Cheryl Cohen, of London Farmers’ Markets, explains the need for a banner in the covering letter to the application, stating that it is “necessary to draw the farmers’ market to the attention of those who may not know that it exists,” in an area with a high turnover of residents. Why this method of advertising? From a survey carried out at the market, “47% of people said that they had found out about the market via the banner.”

Abi, who was manning Tori and Ben’s stall on Saturday, said that they had noticed a slight “six-month slump” in customer numbers, but that things seemed to be picking up again. She said it was still very much worth the trip to West Hampstead each week, due to the stall’s many loyal customers who return to buy their meat each Saturday.

What could explain the drop in footfall at the market? The shopping landscape of West Hampstead has changed since 2012. In the past twelve months, West End Lane has had new shops open selling fresh, good-quality produce. West Hampstead Fruit & Vegetables is always busy, and open late every evening. The Hampstead Butcher & Providore has a wide range of good-quality meat, Cook! sells freshly-cooked convenience food, and how could we forget the new Waitrose opening?

What do you think – are you loyal to the farmers’ market, an occasional customer, or do you use other shops or supermarkets? And do you support the organisers’ proposal for a banner to help restore customer footfall? Comment below or join the discussion on the Forum.

Kilburn Ironworks bar

Will Kilburn Ironworks steal NLT’s thunder?

Kilburn Ironworks barmen

Barmen hard at work

On Friday evening, business partners Will Partridge and Jimi Pearce opened the doors of Kilburn Ironworks to welcome suppliers, the press and a few other invitees.

Kilburn Ironworks is where Vince Power’s eponymous bar/club used to be on Kilburn High Road near the junction with Iverson Road. It has changed almost beyond recognition with exposed brickwork, an open kitchen and a girder that almost seems to float above the bar. Some late-addition railroad tracks in the floor are a nice industrial touch, but thankfully there’s no sense of any theme being rammed down your throat.

Which leaves plenty of room for drinks.

Kilburn Ironworks front seating area

Kilburn Ironworks front seating area

When the bar officially opens on January 1st, it will offer a wide range of beers both draft and bottled and mostly from British breweries such as Beavertown and Meantime, as well as fashionable favourites like Iceland’s Einstock.

There’s also a cocktails and shandies list – still in its early stages, but first tastings were encouraging!

Kilburn Ironworks bar

The kitchen won’t open until the end of January, and if the drinks offering sounds like One Sixty’s the food will be different. Still quite meat-heavy by the sounds of it, but no pulled pork in sight, Will assured me. Their plan is to have a relatively simple menu with a focus on more British style dishes.

The bar is well positioned in that cluster of the North London Tavern and Brondes Age. It could easily take trade away from both. There’s plenty of seating, and with experience of running bars in Islington and Shoreditch, Will and Jimi should know how to get (and keep) the crowds.

North London Tavern misfires with new menu

North London Tavern; a tavern, in North London (Kilburn to be precise) offering “traditional British meals.” It has recently been refurbished but I am glad that the ambience has not changed. It is still busy, friendly and noisy with intellectual conversation.

The brand new menu is certainly very British, with a whole section dedicated to chops, and mains consisting mainly of meat and poultry, two fish dishes and one vegetarian. It also features an interesting ‘Morsels’ section (meaning mouthfuls) including British favourites such as pig’s head croquettes, and old spot scratchings.

NLT_chop_300I ordered smoked mackerel pate to start. It was as I expected, tasty, most certainly plentiful and presented in a no frills manner. There were however suggestions that it was too smooth (perhaps mixed by machine rather than by hand) and that chunks of mackerel were not decipherable.

For main I had a Barnsley lamb chop, with mash and purple sprouting broccoli with almonds. Things got a little fine dining at this stage when the broccoli arrived in its own mini casserole dish. I really liked the pairing of broccoli and almonds. When it came to the meat, it was hearty and flavoursome but slightly over done and the amount of mash was overwhelming.

I was too full for dessert (see above re too much mash) but I did sample a fellow diner’s cheese, specifically Blue Murder with truffled honey and oatcakes. Cheese and honey – a surprising combination! But one that works, even if you don’t like truffles (like me) as the truffle is so subtle that you can’t even taste it.
I will give them the benefit of the doubt and hope that the extremely slow service is purely down to new menu teething problems.

If you are looking for inventive fine dining, this is not it, but for local, hearty, meat orientated British food at a reasonable price (we paid around £35 each including ample wine) NLT is a good option.

[Jo blogs at http://dinnerwithjo.com/]

Jonathan
Service was a bit of a shambles – friendly, but far from sharp and we had to ask for pretty much everything at least twice, and Tom… well… Tom can tell you about Tom. My food was ok, but too easy to find fault – the butter on my potted rabbit should surely have been set not completely melted (no doubt left on the pass under the lights), the Barnsley Chop was ok, but for a place that specialises in chops, I’d expect it cooked as requested (it was medium-well not medium-rare), and the proportion of mash to chop was wrong. Neither of the desserts I fancied were available and it’s not that big a dessert menu so in the end, even with them comping a main course and a bottle of wine, I was left feeling like I’d overpaid. Will be a while before I return for anything more than a pint.
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Tom
NLT_salad_300I love the North London Tavern, but they had an off-night on this occasion. Water and wine (twice) failed to appear, and the spinach in my starter salad hadn’t been adequately washed. The goats cheese and pear worked well, though the dish was a little insubstantial even for a first course.

My main failed to appear, and the staff were very honest and apologetic in explaining it had indeed been missed; an error in the kitchen. They also informed me they’d be knocking it off the bill, which was much appreciated. When it arrived, I was a little nonplussed to find the plaice on the bone, having checked it was to be a fillet; however it was excellently and delicately cooked. The spinach this time was great; a large portion and not overdone. The potatoes, lentils and shrimps added further dimensions and made for a pleasingly hearty dinner, but there was a lack of seasoning, and I’m still not sure whether the ‘broth’ in the bowl was intentional or just cooking liquor. Not a bad plate, but lacking refinement.

My dessert of blue cheese with good quality oat biscuits and truffled honey was an enjoyable, decent portion, though I didn’t detect much truffle and, being British, I’d like a bit of butter on the side, ideally.

I’ve enjoyed the food in NLT very much in the past, so I will be back.

Nicky
The NLT has changed a bit since my last visit. It used to be a cosy, slightly chaotic Kilburn pub, good for meeting friends on a Friday night, with a straightforward gastropub menu in its restaurant. It seems to have morphed into a slightly spruced-up Kilburn pub and embraced its ‘Tavern’ roots with an ‘English chop house’-style restaurant concept. (Seriously, reading down the list of chops, stout, oysters and Eccles cakes I felt transported to Dickensian times, or perhaps present-day Shoreditch.)

All fine, if it could deliver hearty food and a warm ambience – but there were too many errors to overlook, mainly to do with the slow, disjointed service, that all added up to a less-than-relaxing experience. On the night of our visit, it felt like the restaurant had big ambitions that it couldn’t quite match. The food was fine, for the most part – my fish and chips were perfectly pleasant – but I’m not sure why I’d choose to dine at the NLT over many of the other excellent pubs in the area.

NLT_fish_chips

Philip
I’ve been to the North London Tavern a few times before and I’m aware of its reputation as a decent quality gastropub, so I was expecting a hearty good quality meal from an affordable traditional British menu; this is exactly what I got.

I started with the Chicken Liver Parfait – excellent rich flavour and gorgeous creamy texture, served with a nice amount of fresh leaves and onion jam, and very tasty artisan toast. A perfect portion size for a starter – enough to feel slightly sated, but still hungry.

NLT_pate

For the main, I went for the predictable old favourite – the ribeye steak and chips. It’s advertised as coming with either “stilton hollandaise or peppercorn”. I wasn’t sure if there was meant to be comma between the Stilton and hollandaise, or if the chef had found a way to combine these two (potentially conflicting) flavours into something edible. I guessed that the staff wouldn’t know either (they generally seemed very unsure of everything) so I ordered the steak rare and just said ‘Stilton’ for the accompaniment, expecting a creamy Stilton flavoured sauce, potentially with undertones of hollandaise. There was some amusement within the group when the steak arrived with a HUGE slab of Stilton atop. This slab melted into the hot steak, and the overall effect was extremely pleasing – though the flavour of the Stilton overwhelmed the steak to the degree that I could barely taste the meat (which was most certainly NOT rare) – yes, I could have removed some of the Stilton to prevent this, but I’m not that clever. The chips and green leaves combined with the steak to make a lovely meal, firmly within the ‘what I expected from this kind of place’ bracket.

For dessert, I had a chocolate brownie sundae – think Eton Mess but with chocolate brownie instead of berries. This was well executed, and perfect after two heavy and strong flavoured courses, with the merging of chocolate, cream and vanilla ice cream perfectly complimenting each other, and nicely light on the stomach. Overall, I was very satisfied with the food and wine for the price. The North London Tavern did exactly what is very clearly says on the tin; good quality hearty food and wine, traditional British menu, reasonable price.

Small Business Saturday takes local business to Downing Street

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday – a government-backed initiative set up to support small businesses of all kinds in the all-important run-up to Christmas.

Conveniently, this year, it falls on the same day as the West Hampstead Christmas Market, so December 6th will be the perfect day for festive shopping with some refreshments along the way – if you’re in need of inspiration, check out our gift guide.

One local shop that has embraced Small Business Saturday is Passionate About Vintage on Mill Lane. Owner Natalie Leon explained why she decided to take part.

NatalieLeon

“When I first heard of it I thought ‘What a lovely concept’, because it’s something I feel very passionate about – supporting independent local businesses is the way I shop and live” she said, adding that West Hampstead is the perfect place to get involved, “as we’re surrounded by independents here”.

Passionate About Vintage’s event will take place between 1-6pm tomorrow. Customers will be treated to mulled wine and mince pies while they browse the collection of vintage jewellery and handbags, which range from the 1920s to 1960s. Natalie is also offering a 10% discount on all purchases made in the shop on the day.

Natalie also sees the event as a way to celebrate her first Christmas in West Hampstead – the shop opened in July this year – and to thank her local customers and neighbouring businesses for their support. She’s also hoping that if the event is successful, that it will inspire other independent businesses in the area to take part next year.

Natalie’s dedication has paid off – Passionate About Vintage was selected as one of 100 “Small Business Saturday Champions” across the country, and today she was invited to an event at 10 Downing Street hosted by Business and Enterprise minister Matthew Hancock.

West End Lane Books is also taking part and was featured in The Huffington Post’s Small Business Saturday picks. Tomorrow they will be offering 20% off all Walker children’s books.

You can find out more about Small Business Saturday here.

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Shop local: Twelve West Hampstead Christmas presents

Finished your Christmas shopping yet? If panic is starting to set in, fear not. West Hampstead Life has scoured the shops in the area to bring you these twelve hand-picked local presents. Instead of getting into fist-fights at Westfield, why not have a leisurely shopping trip without leaving the neighbourhood. And if you’re out and about on Saturday, there’ll be more gifts – and mulled wine – available at the West Hampstead Christmas Market.

1. Build A Robot kit, £14.99
West End Lane Books, 277 West End Lane

WELBooks_robots

For inquisitive children – or adults for that matter – this cool kit contains all you need to build your own wind-up robots and learn about them in the process. It’s unclear whether the robots can cook or clean up after the Christmas lunch though.

2. Craft beer selection, £14.99
Brooksby Wines, 278 West End Lane

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This selection of craft beers is great value and includes two chalice glasses in case you’re feeling fancy. While you’re there, Brooksby also sells a good range of champagne, wine and spirits for all your Christmas drinking requirements.

3. Gourmet hamper, prices vary
Sherriff Centre, St James Church, Sherriff Road

SherriffCentre700

The Sherriff Centre has plenty of delicious treats for your foodie friends and relatives. Either pick a custom-made selection or create your own hamper of artisan goods – post boxes and bubble wrap are available at the attached post office if you need to post your gift. Also look out for Moleskine notebooks and other covetable stationery, as well as a good range of children’s gifts including pencil sets, friendship bracelet making kits, notebooks, bookends and cute cushions.

4. Vintage brooch, £95
Passionate About Vintage, 66 Mill Lane

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Passionate About Vintage is a treasure trove of beautiful and unique gifts. This quirky gold-plated peas-in-a-pod brooch caught my eye. It’s a genuine Trifari piece from the 1960s and is bound to be a talking point. And on Small Business Saturday, the shop is offering a 10% discount.

5. Venison marrowbone cracker, £6.99
Nutts 4 Mutts, 108 Fortune Green Road

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This cracker “for paws only” contains a satisfyingly chewy venison treat, as well as a silver hat and a joke (which your dog may or may not get). Nutts 4 Mutts, despite the name, also stocks a good range of treats for cats.

6. Silver strand bracelet, £79.95
North West 6, 122 West End Lane

NorthWest6_bracelet700

Delicate strands of silver beads catch the light in this pretty and fluid bracelet, made by Navajo craftspeople. North West 6, next to the tube station, has a big range of silver and amber jewellery and is well worth a browse.

7. Ms Marmite Lover’s Secret Tea Party book, £20
Order from West End Lane Books, or buy online from the publisher

MsMarmiteLover_book

Ms Marmite Lover‘s, (aka Kerstin Rodgers) legendary supperclubs at her house just down the road in Kilburn, have made her a star of the food world not just locally, but far beyond NW6. Who better to pick up tips from on hosting your own tea party? This would be a good gift for a baking or tea fan, with the bonus that you might get invited round in the new year…

8. Beanie hat, £16
Social, 184 West End Lane

Social_hats700

If there’s a hard to buy for, but fashion conscious man in your life, Social has some good ideas. There are wallets, scarves, shirts and jumpers, and these hats from Danish denim label Revolution.

9. Wine tasting vouchers, from £25
North London Wine School, Cotleigh Road

WineSchool

The North London Wine School is opening in West Hampstead in the new year, at the old library on Cotleigh Road. It will offer wine tasting courses for beginners or just for fun, as well as the more serious industry-recognised WSET qualifications. You can buy vouchers (with no expiry date) on the website.

10. Frog slipper socks, £10
JoJo Maman Bébé, 258 West End Lane

JoJoMamanBebe_socks

These slipper socks are perfect for keeping tiny feet warm and cosy – and with their anti-slip suede soles are perfect for first walkers. Available in sizes up to age 4-5 (Sadly, adult versions not available.)

11. Chocolate covered walnuts, £20
Cocoa Bijoux, Broadwell Parade, Broadhurst Gardens

CocoaBijoux

You can find all sorts of delights at Cocoa Bijoux, including these sophisticated French walnuts coated in chocolate. There are many less expensive items too. The shop carries a great range of chocolate, conserves and other gourmet products you won’t find in the supermarket.

12. Nutcracker, £27.99
James Nicholas, 166 West End Lane

Nutcracker

According to the shelf sticker, this is “the world’s best nutcracker”, and at that price you’d hope so. The shop staff kindly let me try it out, so I can vouch for its effectiveness at cracking an almond shell. It’s very solid and stylish, too.

Happy shopping! Let us know in the comments if you have any more local present-shopping tips.

Pan-Asian food definitely Toomai liking

Toomai was a long time coming, with delays over both planning permission and building works (an entire wall had to be reclad). When it opened it was overwhelmed with customers and the service groaned under the weight of expectation. Now, several months in, and having finally formalised its menu, has it found its feet? It’s definitely popular; it’s busy every night with a youngish crowd taking advantage of the relatively low prices and the obligatory jam jar cocktails. But is it good?

The industrial pared back design works well in what is a surprisingly large space. As with sister restaurant Guglee, the kitchen is visible at the back, which is always a nice touch. The Moroccan tiles on the floor are very Instagrammable and a mix of individual tables and shared seating helps create a buzzy informal atmosphere.

Chicken satay

Chicken satay

Any attempts at reviewing incognito didn’t last long as Toomai kindly gave us a welcome drink on the house. I can confirm that they make a good vodka martini. We ended up trying pretty much all the starters between us, with the chicken satay and the paneer chilli being the stand-outs, though I have a soft spot for the pepper chilli lamb too. Service was prompt and friendly, even if some customers can be hard to reach depending how packed the restaurant is.

The main course options are reasonably limited, allowing for the fact that many come with the usual beef, chicken or prawn options. I went for chicken thai chilli kaprow, which had a kick but nothing overwhelming.

Toomai menu

Toomai likes to big up its streetfood credentials, which always implies fresh, hot and cheap. It is, whatever it claims, a restaurant not a food shack on the Khao San Road. Nevertheless, the food definitely has fresh flavours, the place is bustling and open enough to make it lively rather than staid, and with not a single dish over £7 it’s not going to break the bank. It’s a great addition to West Hampstead, and I’m glad to see that it doesn’t seem to have hurt Banana Tree either.

Nicky
Toomai combines all the essential ingredients for a good night out with a group of friends. There’s a list of good strong cocktails (and fresh fruit smoothies for the abstainers), a great selection of appetising and very shareable dishes, and a relaxed-but-buzzy ambience. Why take a group? That way, you get to sample as many of the tasty little morsels as possible. My highlights were the fresh papaya salad – crisp slivers of fruit anointed with a spicy dressing; fiery paneer chilli; and green curry with tofu and vegetables. Grab five of your best friends and go.

Green and red vegetable curries

Green and red vegetable curries

Debbie
This was only my second visit to Toomai and my first since they’ve expanded their menu so I was keen to find out if the quality of the food that made my first visit so enjoyable had suffered at all now that they have more dishes on offer.

Just to prove the point about the size of the new menu our first course was very much a shared dining experience as we managed to end up with every available starter on the table in front of us. A personal favourite was the Honey Chilli Veg, bite size vegetable patties with a wonderfully sweet and sticky coating – these were balanced out well by some suitably light and crispy vegetable spring rolls.

For a main I opted for the red curry with vegetables and, for the second time in as many visits, was suitably impressed. As a non-meat eater you often have to contend with vegetable curries that mostly rely on carrots and whatever tinned veg happen to be to hand. Happily this is not the case at Toomai – my curry was reasonably mild and jam-packed with both flavour and copious chunks of fresh veg. I counted at least six different types of veg in there – happy days indeed! If you want a bit more of a kick then a taste of Nicky’s green curry proved that to be the spicier of the two.

Our hosts were determined not to let us leave without sampling dessert which was just as well, the delicately battered apple and accompanying coconut sorbet was a very light and refreshing end to what had been another hugely enjoyable and flavoursome meal.

Emma
toomai_green_smoothie300Eschewing the selection of beer, wine and martinis I started my evening with a fresh green smoothie (I’m taking my reviewing seriously here!). It was served with the flourish and care usually reserved for a signature cocktail and the concoction is well balanced and delicious, a theme which continues throughout the evening. Since its opening weeks, Toomai now seems to have got into its stride and found a welcome niche in West Hampstead. My calamari starter is a beautiful bowl of crisp and succulent bites which I am enjoying until I discover the paneer chilli and realise that this is a real winner. I went for the Penang chicken curry for my main. A good sized portion with a lovely thick fragrant sauce, the crunch of the green beans makes a pleasing contrast and stops it feeling too heavy. The menu describes this dish as ‘hot’; mine was more on the mild side and could have been spicier, but it was still enjoyable. I will happily be making this a regular destination. Toomai offers a good selection of dishes with great flavours and an enjoyable atmosphere with professional and attentive service at a reasonable price.

Mark
You visit for the tiles but you stay for the food. Toomai has already established itself as a Whamp landmark due to the imported Moroccan tiles that decorate the floor. These colourful tiles contrast well against the stripped back walls and industrial (yet stylish) lighting.

Photo via Barry McGee

Photo via Barry McGee

A particular highlight for me was the paneer chilli starter. I’m a fan of paneer but had never tried it combined with chilli which is an interesting blend that works really well. I was also impressed that the calamari and chicken satay were both tender and each cooked “a su punto” as we say back home meaning, tender and cooked to their optimum point. Honourable mention goes to a rather moreish chilli lamb starter. I had a red curry main with equally tender chicken and vegetables. Portions were generous and the staff friendly and attentive. The fact its location is very convenient is not the only reason I’ll be going back.

Tom
First thing to comment on is the design inside Toomai; it is absolutely superb. The subtle lighting in the ‘bar’ area, the filament bulbs all over a maze of piping on the wall (brilliant!), the modernity offset by colourful floor tiles (which Mark learned were from Morocco)… all genuinely impressive.

Equally so, the starters; lots of variation, vibrant colours, satisfyingly unctuous textures, and a feeling that everything had been cooked with enthusiasm and panache (even though that’s “pan ache” if split into two words). My favourites: the paneer dish and the veggie fritter type things. Delicious.

Pad Thai was nice, with fresh, soft prawns. Flavours were subtle, and I’ll perhaps try something spicier next time. Enjoyed the house white, too; a South African Chenin Blanc which worked with everything. A clever dessert of lightly-battered apple and a soothing sorbet rounded things off very nicely.

Tom’s finally won over by Sarracino

I seem to be experiencing a strange sequence of meals where the starter is the star performer. This trend continued happily at Sarracino the other day, via grilled smoked cheese and aubergine. What a delectable dish! Presentation managed to be both artistic and rustic, with little touches like peeled-back tomatoes making the plate look classy (in stark contrast to the diner), and a combination of flavours and textures that made for a really inspiring introduction.

A smokin' starter

A smokin’ starter

Spaghettini with cherry tomatoes, Parmesan and basil followed. I always consider it brave to serve such a simple dish, and perhaps it’s hard to see how a ton of garlic and some mushrooms wouldn’t have enhanced things, but I was nevertheless pleased with my choice. A decent sauce reminded me of my own efforts where the tomato base is enhanced with a dash of Marmite (try it, if you haven’t already) – though I imagine the recipe here was somewhat different! The basil wasn’t distributed throughout the perfectly al-dente pasta, which meant a couple of herb-intense mouthfuls, and the Parmesan was dried, which some might frown at. The latter wasn’t an issue for me personally, though I did confer with local Italian foodie (and wine buff) @Gio_Mosel, out of interest, and was assured that this doesn’t break any protocols. I’d prefer the whole dish of Parmesan being left at the table though (as happens at La Brocca), so I can greedily spoon in the whole lot as I go along.

Porcini - but no pork - pizza

Porcini – but no pork – pizza

A ‘white’ (no tomato base) pizza of porcini mushrooms, rocket, pecorino shavings and truffle oil was also a success, being pretty-much perfect (though inevitably customised by madam, who requested removal of Italian sausage) – in fact far better than a similar variant I tried earlier this year, which (very uncharacteristically, I gather) was rather flabby and lacking seasoning.

The side salad was also excellent with good quality and fresh ingredients.

Shockingly, I was off the booze on this occasion, so I’ll plan on returning to Sarracino soon to see what I can pair up with a pizza of my own.

Butcher and deli opens on West End Lane

Hampstead Butcher_meat

The Hampstead Butcher and Providore opened its doors this morning fulfilling the wishes of many people over the years who’ve demanded a butcher return to West End Lane. It’s the second bite of the cherry for owner Philip Matthews, who came close to opening in West End Lane a couple of years ago.

The business, which continues to operate its Rosslyn Hill branch in Hampstead, has taken over the greengrocer’s site next to The Wet Fish Café. Alongside the fresh meat, the shop also has a charcuterie and cheese section (which I suspect may outperform the meat), a selection of deli items both fresh and tinned, and a reasonable selection of wine and beer (predominantly from popular local brewery Camden Town).

Photo via Simon Whiteside

Photo via Simon Whiteside

There was a steady trickle of people investigating the shop on this drizzly morning though it was noticeable that the farmer’s market was positively busy, while owner Philip Matthews prowled around with his snagging list clipboard. The floor apparently isn’t right, and the original floor tiles need an additional treatment (though the casual observer would never know).

Hampstead Butcher_wine

The great challenge the Hampstead Butcher faces is whether enough West Hampstead residents are willing to pay frequently for the high quality traceable meat it sells. Matthews will be hoping that the clamour for a butcher over the years will marry with the tough economics of delivering high quality fresh meat. He also offers a home delivery service. For West Hampstead, it’s another sign that the area is increasingly seen as one of growing affluence.

Hampstead Butcher_sausages

Sensibly, the shop will stay open reasonably late in the evenings to capture the commuters returning from work. The opening hours are 10am-8pm weekdays, 9am-8pm Saturday and 9am-6pm Sunday. Due to a lack of space, the butcher’s popular tasting sessiona and events will be available only in its Hampstead branch for the time being.

Love & Liquor’s location: Made in Kilburn or Maida Vale?

MaidaVale_annotate

In an interesting exchange this afternoon on Twitter, locals called out Love & Liquor (formerly The Westbury and before that The Red Lion) on Kilburn High Road for trying to perpetuate the idea that it was really in Maida Vale and not Kilburn.

In an astonishing coincidence, while this was happening someone made a small edit to the Wikipedia entry for Kilburn High Road Station, which placed the station in Maida Vale.

Read the exchange below (or go to Storify if you can’t see it).

Remix latest victim in West Hampstead burglary spree

Remix’s new bar/salon on Broadhurst Gardens is the latest victim in a spate of break-ins to West Hampstead businesses that’s now reached double figures in the past few weeks.

Remix_bar

Remix’s new premises on the north side of Broadhurst Gardens was the latest target after its salon opposite had already been hit

After West End Lane Books and La Brocca suffered burglaries at the weekend, Remix’s new premises was burgled in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Intruders broke in at the back of the building and stole the till, a company laptop, alcohol from the salon’s new bar, and hairdressing equipment. Salon manager Nick Petkov said he was bemused by some of the items stolen, which included scissors, clippers and top-of-the-range shampoo.

Danny Van Emden from West End Lane books said it was “utterly inspiring how lovely everyone’s been”, adding that since the incident in which £140 was stolen but no books were touched, sympathetic customers had brought biscuits, croissants and flowers, and that the shop had received around 400 supportive tweets. “The response of our customers, both in person and on Twitter, mitigated the sadness we felt on Saturday morning.”

A couple of doors down, La Brocca was also broken into on Saturday night, and had bottles of alcohol stolen.

Other West End Lane businesses that have been targeted recently include Toomai, hairdresser Holistic, health food shop Health Town, Remix’s other Broadhurst Gardens premises, Pro Arte the violin shop, the Sherriff Centre, and a couple of businesses on Finchley Road.

Tim Khoshsima of Health Town said that his shop’s front window and glass shelves were smashed, and thieves made off with the till and items of stock including protein supplements and beauty products. He said “I love West Hampstead as an area to do business, but this has made me realise we need to be more careful”. He added that he planned to take more precautions agains burglaries, including fitting a shutter.

Sergeant Ian Hutton from the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood team believes the burglaries may be linked, and the burglary squad is investigating. CCTV footage exists of at least one of the break-ins, in another case, the CCTV unit itself was stolen.

Sgt Hutton advised businesses not to keep large amounts of cash on premises, as this is the main target for thieves. He also advised that if people see anything suspicious especially at the rear of shops that they call the police then, not leave it until the morning. If you are suspicious, 101 is appropriate, but if you believe a crime is taking place 999 is the correct call.

The police can also give free crime prevention advice to any business that requests it. Just call 101.

Witch Halloween party is right for you?

‘Tis the season to be… scary, so here’s a roundup of Halloween happenings in West Hampstead.

First you’re going to have to get a tasteful costume sorted in time for Friday. Party Party on Kilburn High Road or Oscar’s Den on Abbey Road are your friends here. And if you go to Oscar’s Den on Friday or Saturday, staff are offering free face painting if you quote “SCARY” (this may be more aimed at young trick-or-treaters though).

pumpkins2

The next task on your list must surely be pumpkin carving, and where better to find a good specimen than West Hampstead Fruit and Veg?

In terms of going out, Mexican restaurant Mamacita is celebrating Day of the Dead all week with a special cocktail and food menu – details on its website.

The Black Lion on West End Lane is opening until late on the 31st and promises “all things unholy” including Halloween-themed ales.

The Alice House of Horrors party is on Saturday November 1st, and fancy dress is, er, strongly encouraged. “Those not in costume will suffer an unspeakable fate” apparently. There’s a prize for the best costume and a DJ from 9pm.

Also on West End Lane, La Brocca is offering “tricks and treats all night” on Friday, and a DJ from 11pm.

Over on Kilburn High Road, nightclub Love & Liquor is putting on a night of surprises at its “Rehab”-themed night on both Friday and Saturday until 3.30am. Entry is £20, and a costume is required. Find full details on the Facebook page.

If you were planning to go to The Gallery‘s Halloween party on Friday, unfortunately it’s been cancelled. Refurbishment work in the bar has overrun, so it will now re-open on November 5th.

Finally, if you want to avoid the trick-or-treaters with a spooky night at the cinema, keep an eye on the film listings page (updated Thursday) for local horror highlights. And of course don’t forget WHalloween Food Fest on Thursday night.

Toomai thieves steal cash, champagne and… prawns

Burglars broke into pan-Asian restaurant Toomai on Sunday night, making off with the weekend’s cash takings and causing damage to the premises.

Sachin Mulane, proprietor of the West End Lane restaurant, said that the intruders had entered the building by climbing onto the roof and breaking a window to gain access to the kitchen at the back. Guglee, also co-owned by Sachin, was broken into earlier this year.

Although they were unable to open the locked till, they took envelopes of cash from the basement office, as well as five bottles of champagne and, bizarrely, a bag of prawns that had been left out to thaw. A cash collection towards a staff Christmas party was also taken.

Worse than the missing cash, Sachin said, was the chaos and vandalism he discovered throughout the premises. Electronic point-of-sale equipment was damaged, and the kitchen’s order printer destroyed. Food in the kitchen that had been prepared in advance had to be discarded in case it had been tampered with. The thieves had even tried to remove the large TV screen in the front window, but were unable to wrench it off its metal pole.

Despite the setbacks, Toomai was open as usual for lunch on Monday.

The waiting is over. Waitrose is here

Waitrose_front

You’d think it was the second coming. Excitement levels on Twitter – where usually everyone is so level-headed and calm, right? – have been reaching fever pitch. But even yesterday it looked as if the fitters had their work cut out to get West Hampstead’s newest supermarket ready in time for this morning’s 7am opening. The mad dash to get the place finished has been disruptive for local residents, who have complained about lorries blocking access to the mews to the side of the building during the works.

Photo courtesy of Richard Clegg

Photo courtesy of Richard Clegg

Waitrose_window

Spit & polish…

Waitrose_hoover

Hoovering up the crumbs

Waitrose_flags

The store manager is now open

Jennifer Brown, Chair of the West Hampstead Women’s Centre, and Geoff Berridge of the West Hampstead Community Centre were there for the ribbon cutting. Waitrose West Hampstead will share £6,000 and 100 staff working hours a year between these two organisations and the C4WS Homeless Project.

Store manager Nicky Clifford-Goss, flanked by Jane Brown and Geoff Berridge and assorted staff (sorry, partners)

Store manager Nicky Clifford-Goss, flanked by Jane Brown and Geoff Berridge and assorted staff (sorry, partners)

The new store, which has taken over from Pizza Express (causing the buggy brigade to both fret and rejoice simultaneously), does not, unsurprisingly, have a fresh meat or fish counter. So, the Hampstead Butcher & Providores should manage to cling on to that business when it opens across the road in a week or so’s time. There is coffee though, out of a machine and free to myWaitrose card holders, and some seating outside at the front, which may not please West Hampstead’s café owners, despite Waitrose’s development director Nigel Keen stating that he welcomes the chance to “play our part in ensuring [West Hampstead] remains a vibrant village”.

Local resident and early-riser Mandira Bhimjiyani was excited by the new store. “I love a good Waitrose,” she said. “Any supermarket that thinks tiramisu is essential is ok with me.”

Inside, one quickly realised how rarely you see a fully-stocked supermarket. The shop seemed to have a reasonable range of products, including a few things for the anti-Waitrose brigade to mock, such as milk alternatives and the world’s pricest mac & cheese.

Full fat also available

An oddly precise price

An oddly precise price

Little Waitrose, as the retail chain’s convenience store format is branded, has been some time in the offing. It’s never entirely clear why the levels of reverence Waitrose elicits are directly proportional to the dislike heaped on its rivals – especially Tesco. Yes, it probably sells slightly better quality food but perhaps people are genuinely impressed that even though it’s a chain, it’s a chain owned by its employees. We wrote about the original John Lewis, whose son lived in Kilburn, back in May.

The store’s opening hours are 7am to 10pm daily. Deliveries – always a bane for local motorists – have been planned to cause less disruption than Tesco’s, though will be early for local residents.

Waitrose_lorry

Is it a posh hotel? A boutique? No, it's a Little Waitrose. Photo via @bubela

Is it a posh hotel? A boutique? No, it’s a Little Waitrose. Photo via @bubela

Be a tourist in Kilburn’s dispersed art installation

Think you know Kilburn? A new art project invites you to (re)discover Kilburn High Road and the surrounding streets.

Sculptures by Yunsun Jung

Sculptures by Yunsun Jung

For the project, entitled You Are Here, the organisers have brought together artists and local businesses to create a number of diverse artworks scattered throughout shops, cafés and public spaces. It runs until November 2nd.

Kingsgate Project Space, on Kingsgate Road, has been transformed into a “tourist information office” for the duration of the experiment. When I dropped in on Sunday, the day after the project’s launch, I found it complete with postcard racks, maps, and welcoming “Tour Agents” on hand to answer questions about the art on display around the neighbourhood.

A map of exhibits and selection of Kilburn postcards

A map of exhibits and selection of Kilburn postcards

One of the tour agents, or project organisers, was Sam Mckeown, who told me many of the artists had been inspired by Kilburn and their surroundings, and hoped to engage with the community through what they had created. He said the hope was “to get people visiting places and seeing things they might usually just walk past”.

After taking a brochure and map, I set off, excited to be sightseeing in my own area. After checking out the artworks on display in and around the Kingsgate centre itself, including some sculptures crafted from discarded cardboard found on the streets of Kilburn, I made my way to Folkies Music on the High Road – a fascinating shop in its own right – where artist in residence Vesta Kroese has spent the past few weeks working with the shop’s spaces and contents to create an exhibit entitled 13 Ways of Looking at a Guitar. 

Down the road at Cara Cosmic Coffee, there’s an installation by Chloë Morley, a video installation in the basement, and an interactive drawing game for families intriguingly titled The Doughnuts for Peace Union.

It is an interesting and quirky celebration of an area I thought I knew well, and I liked having the opportunity to slow down and discover some of the shops and sights I’d usually walk past, whilst finding hidden artwork in and among. There are many sculptures, installations, performances and other art in various locations, so it is possible to visit just one or two, or devote more time to following one of the self-guided art trails. Whichever you choose to do, I’d recommend the tourist office at Kingsgate Project Space as a good starting point.

So in the words of the tour brochure, why not “Come and celebrate Kilburn High Road’s uniqueness before the inevitable onslaught of gentrification!”

The "tourist office" entrance

The “tourist office” entrance

Object idea by Vesta Kroese

“Object idea” by Vesta Kroese, on display at Folkies

Shop basement transformed into gallery space by Vesta Kroese

Shop basement becomes gallery space for Vesta Kroese. Even the door that’s ajar is art!

Read more on the You Are Here Tumblr page or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

October 30 event: Make new friends at the streetfood market

The weeknight street food market has been a roaring success, so we thought what better way to ward off the spirits around Halloween than by gathering together and sharing some delicious street food and hot spiced punch… with discounts!

Streetfood market2

On the evening of October 30th, starting at 7.30pm and running until about 9pm, come join us around the candle-lit pumpkins. Afterwards we’ll be retiring to Frida’s bar at Mamacita for those who might want a drink with a bit more kick!

The stallholders are offering 20% off all food and Frida’s is ALSO giving us a 20% discount on drinks – but to take advantage of the discount you’ll need to register.

Mail moc.e1519358432filda1519358432etspm1519358432ahtse1519358432w@nah1519358432tanoj1519358432 with the word WHalloween (typed exactly like this – any variants and it won’t work!) in the subject line and you’ll get a reply with the invite flyer. Please check your spam/junk mail if you don’t receive it.

You can print out the flyer or show it on your phone on the night when you pay for the food. This registration is to give us a rough idea of numbers, which should mean we don’t run out of food!

The stalls will be serving burgers, crêpes, falafel, Caribbean, Indian and Venezuelan food, mac & cheese, and the BBQ Collective.

Should the weather takes a turn for the worse, the event will be postponed, but at the moment, the forecast is fine.

Wall of sound: Art guitars on display at local restaurant

artguitars_wall

The Wet Fish Café on West End Lane often showcases artists’ work on its tiled walls but, for another week, there’s a different kind of artwork on display.

West Hampstead resident Steven Marlow, builds professional-quality guitars for musicians, celebrity clients and collectors from all over the world, working closely with each customer to create bespoke instruments to their specifications. His guitars are in many celebrity collections, including those of Queen’s legendary guitarist Brian May and The Kooks’ frontman Luke Pritchard.

For his ongoing Art Guitars project, he collaborates with established and up-and-coming artists, most notably leading British artist Stuart Semple, to create these unique and striking works.

Steven said the Wet Fish Café was the logical place for his latest exhibition as “I’ve been going to the Wet Fish for years”.

For anyone interested in seeing Steven’s work, you have until 30th October to go and check out these beauties over brunch…

IMG_3679

Steven Marlow, guitar maker, with Wet Fish Café owner André Millodot

Steven Marlow, guitar maker, with Wet Fish Café owner André Millodot

Middlesex star opens relocated Mill Lane pharmacy

Former Middlesex and England cricketer John Emburey came to West Hampstead to cut the blue ribbon at a Mill Lane business this morning.

Aqua Pharmacy moved from its former premises at 102 Mill Lane to number 59 a few months ago, causing some controversy at the time. No. 59 used to be home to upholstery business Escott’s.

Business owner and cricket fan Sanjay Patel invited the former Test bowler to the pharmacy’s official opening today. Emburey has a vested interest in boosting Mill Lane’s appeal; his daughter Clare owns popular Mill Lane florist Achillea Flowers.

After the ribbon was cut, Emburey stayed to chat to customers and staff, even signing a cricket bat for a starstruck young fan.

Pharmacy owner Sanjay Patel with John Emburey

Aqua Pharmacy owner Sanjay Patel with John Emburey

John Emburey cuts the ribbon

John Emburey cuts the ribbon

signedbat

Deliveroo brings local restaurants to your door

Deliveroo is a new food delivery service that allows you to enter your location and order dishes from a list of your local restaurants. Sound familiar? Deliveroo claims to be different from the other food delivery platforms you already know, love and feel faintly guilty about using quite so often. Its approach is to curate a selection of good local restaurants rather than overwhelm you with lists of takeaways you’ve never heard of, or that in some cases may not even exist.

The Deliveroo people kindly offered us a complimentary trial run of the service, as it’s recently expanded its delivery zone to include West Hampstead. So one chilly Wednesday evening, when quite frankly I had no inclination to shop or cook, three of us got together at West Hampstead Life HQ to put it to the test.

Deliveroo_search

Deliveroo_list

First impressions were very positive. The website has a clean, user-friendly interface. After entering the postcode, the list of restaurants that appeared was not overwhelmingly long and contained only names we recognised. Favourite West End Lane haunts such as La Brocca, LaDuDu and Banana Tree were there, as well as a couple of O2 Centre places, such as Falafel City, and a surprise appearance from Bake-a-boo for those weekend cupcake cravings.

After a bit of deliberation we decided to order from Locanda 311 (formerly known as Hidden Treasure) on West End Lane, as it’s a restaurant that doesn’t offer its own delivery service. As Deliveroo uses a fleet of its own drivers, even restaurants not usually geared up for home delivery can take part, which is a great service if you fancy eating something a little different from the usual takeaway options.

Indeed, there are some ambitious-sounding dishes offered for home delivery on Locanda 311’s online menu. We resisted the temptation to go for the “Superbia di Crostacei” to see how an elaborate seafood platter – with a centrepiece of a whole lobster – would be packaged up for home delivery. (Is this now a contender for poshest takeaway in West Hampstead?) By contrast, La Brocca has opted for a shorter, more transit-friendly menu, offering mainly pizza and baked pasta dishes. Probably a wise move.

As we started to add dishes to our virtual shopping basket, a delivery fee of £2 and a card fee of 50p appeared, along with the option to tip our delivery driver. This is where Deliveroo starts to feel a little pricey – £2 is a fairly low delivery charge, but many restaurants offer free delivery for a minimum spend. For example, Bengal Spice (a Deliveroo restaurant) will deliver an order of £10 or over for free if you order directly.

All our details entered, we settled in to wait, wondering if the promised 30-minute delivery time was a bit ambitious.

fishermans_basketHowever, just 28 minutes later, dinner arrived. A slight technical hitch (my fault) had meant that we had to enter our order twice, and the (very friendly) driver’s tip wasn’t automatically re-added even though our food was, so we gave him a cash tip in person. Our main dishes of pasta, gnocchi and aubergine parmigiana were good, but the tempura seafood starter was a bit less successful outside a restaurant setting. It turns out that fried calamari and accompanying chips go a bit soggy in sealed plastic containers. Errors like this aren’t Deliveroo’s fault, but the company encourages feedback and promises to “help rectify the situation”.

Overall, we found the Deliveroo experience smooth, and were impressed with the list of good-quality restaurants and takeaways. The delivery charge is reasonable when ordering from restaurants that wouldn’t normally deliver, or placing an order that comes in under the restaurant’s minimum spend. I can see time-pressed local professionals using the service after a long day at work, when something more reliable and decadent than the average takeaway is called for.

One final thing to mention is that Deliveroo doesn’t seem to deliver alcoholic drinks, so you might still need to pop out to the corner shop for a bottle of wine to go with that lobster.

A butcher arrives in West End Lane – finally

It’s a cry that has reverberated round the streets and social media networks of the area for years: “Why can’t West Hampstead have a butcher?” Now the (non-vegetarian, at least) residents of West Hampstead have reason to celebrate.

Beef ribs will be aged and matured on the premises (Photo: http://www.hampsteadbutcher.com/)

Beef ribs will be aged and matured on the premises (Photo: http://www.hampsteadbutcher.com/)

The Hampstead Butcher and Providore, a well-known fixture on Rosslyn Hill in Hampstead, has announced that it will open a second branch on West End Lane in October. The shop will be situated at the site next door to the Wet Fish Café, which is currently a greengrocer’s.

Like its Hampstead shop, the West End Lane branch will stock fresh cuts of meat as well as a range of prepared terrines, pies, pâtés and convenient “oven-ready choices”. Those who place importance on the provenance of the meat they buy will be pleased to hear about the company’s ethos, which promises “British, fresh, traceable, ethically-reared meat”. It will also sell wine, which may soften the blow of nearby Brooksby Wines closure.

Philip Matthews, owner of the business, said that West Hampstead was the logical choice of area to open a second shop: “It’s always been number one on our shortlist of London villages – many of our customers travel over from West Hampstead anyway, so the demand for quality meat is clearly there”. The business had investigated opening here a couple of years ago, but the deal fell through, much to the anguish of many locals.

Philip is keen for the business to engage with and become a part of the local community, with plans for wine and food tasting events in the future. He commented “Now it’s time for West Hampstead residents to uphold their end of the bargain and come in and shop with us”.

Let’s hope the carnivorous locals cries for a butcher translate into support for the new venture. The meat stalls at the farmers’ market are always busy, and with Waitrose soon to open just across from the new butcher as well, the demand for good quality meat may just about be sated soon.

 

 

Streetfood market opens to praise

Yesterday was the first day of a new West Hampstead venture. A daily streetfood market by the Thameslink station, aimed at the evening commuter crowd.

Up to eight stalls will be on site, and the selection will change slightly each week. This week, commuters can choose from Jamaican specialities, gourmet burgers, Indian curries, falafel wraps, sweet and savoury crepes, and roast meat sandwiches. Fresh bread from Tomi Bakery is also on sale.

Feedback yesterday was positive, and the Mumbai Mix stall tweeted proudly that they’d sold out of chicken curry before 8pm when the market closes.

Amelias crepes

Alison and Max at their crepe stall (Amelia not pictured)

Falafel

Falafel fresh from the fryer

Mumbai Mix

The chicken curry was a hit at Mumbai Mix

Sticky Beaks

Sticky Beaks setting up

Streetfood market

Some early customers to the market

The market is on every weekday from 4pm-8pm. It will be interesting to see if it can sustain momentum after the novelty wears off, especially earlier in the week – but with a good selection of stalls and customers willing to support an innovative idea, it could become a West Hampstead institution.

Weeknight street food market targets commuters tired of Tesco

West Hampstead is getting a new street food market on weekday evenings, starting tomorrow September 1st. The market will be on the Thameslink forecourt (where the farmers market is) Monday to Friday evenings, timed to meet the home-time rush-hour crowd between 4pm and 8pm.

Alexandra Gee, who runs the West Hampstead Food & Flea market on Sundays, is also the driving force behind this new street food venture. Having been a West Hampstead commuter herself, she noticed that “I’m always tired and hungry after a long day at work, and end up going to Tesco for the same old pasta. I thought it would be great to be able to pick up something different and tasty on the way home.”

The plan is that each evening, between six and eight street food traders will pitch their stalls along the forecourt. According to Alexandra, a number of diverse traders have already signed up, serving food including wood-fired pizza, Indian street food, Malaysian, and West Indian barbecue. Market traders have been briefed to serve their wares in easily-portable containers for those planning to take food home to eat.

If you’re passing the market tomorrow, why not drop in to check out the selection of dinner options available – and let us know about your visit using the comments form below.

Review: One Sixty does its own thing – and does it well

One Sixty is no longer the new kid on the West Hampstead restaurant scene since the arrival of Toomai. But has the novelty of the smokehouse concept worn off for locals yet, or is the quality of One Sixty’s food good enough to sustain it.

We decided that a few anecdotal meals wasn’t enough to judge – it was time to give it the full whampreview treatment, which meant unearthing at least a couple of local die-hard fans of this genre of food.

Lets clear one thing up right away. One Sixty does not really cater to vegetarians. There are vegetarian options (mac & cheese, for example), and they’ve expanded these since opening, but at One Sixty, the carnivore is king. You may feel this is an awful misjudgement, or you may feel that as long as people know in advance, then it’s up to them. We deliberately didn’t take any vegetarians along because why would you want to take them somewhere where there wasn’t much for them to eat. That’s just cruel.

The menu isn’t a straightforward starters/mains menu, though in reality the side orders function just fine as starters. The menu also changes a bit every time, though a few stalwarts are always there and the specials have been the same the past few times I’ve been. I’m a sucker for the chicken wings, which started off in the restaurant’s early days as juicy but fairly mild, but are now definitively hot. And good. A bowl of these and a pint of the new Meantime Brewery Fresh beer (the one that’s pumped through the amazing silver tanks installed at the entrance) would make a good lunch for anyone. We tackled the wings (£6.50) and crubeens (£6, a snack made from pig’s trotters – a little fatty for or some, but good flavour).

The Meantime tanks by the front door

The Meantime tanks by the front door

Beer can be piped "Brewery Fresh" to your glass

Beer can be piped “Brewery Fresh” to your glass

Crubeens

Crubeens

Mains are served in white enamel trays, which maybe looks a tad gimmicky but suits the low-brow smokehouse decor quite well, and is infinitely better than putting everything on chopping boards, especially given the sauces!

I had the full rack of pork ribs (£14), this time ordered with the sauce on the side to test how tender they were when served dry and what the rub was like on its own (the answer is “pretty tender”, and “maybe not as interesting as you’d hope”). With the sauce on, however, these become a sticky delicious treat.

Full rack of pork ribs (sauce yet to be added!)

Full rack of pork ribs (sauce yet to be added!)

Dishes come with a side – the chips are pretty good, the pickles are outstanding – in fact between One Sixty and Chicken Schnitzel & More, West Hampstead may just be the pickles capital of London. With all the meat available, you’re unlikely to go hungry unless you have a voracious appetite (or perhaps the burger, which as you’ll see below couldn’t satisfy Tom).

The tarte tatin is apparently for two. I conclusively and single-handedly proved that this must be a mistake on the menu.

It’s worth mentioning the drinks – the bar at One Sixty (where you can also eat the full menu if you wish, though there is a separate smaller bar menu), has an impressively extensive range of craft beer. So extensive in fact, that you wonder whether they have the turnover of some of the more obscure beers to keep them reasonably fresh. There’s also plenty on tap – more from London brewers Meantime, Fullers and Camden Brewery as well as one or two more exotic options such as Sierra Nevada.

The wine list isn’t particularly long and pricewise could probably benefit from one or two more wines at the lower end. It’s a shame there’s not slightly more wine, because actually the rich, complex, smoky flavours of this slow-cooked meat (One Sixty refers to the Fahrenheit temperature all the meat is cooked at) match with many robust red wines very well. We went for a Malbec (£22) that worked well, but a few south-west France wines would also hold their own and might be better value.

Wiping our hands from the enormous roll of kitchen paper plonked on every table, the consensus was that One Sixty delivers memorable, if not always perfect, food. I think it’s an excellent addition to the neighbourhood and it deserves to do well.

In whampreview tradition, I’ll hand you over to the others to give you their verdicts

Will
Barbecue is always local for its partisans, many of whom pride themselves on being “downmarket” – all about the familiar, as in family, tribe and region. That, and taking your time. Smoking and slow cooking can’t be hurried, so its’ provincial culinary traditions steep and thicken. The chefs stare into the pit, ruminate on burnt tips, smoke and fire. It’s elemental; don’t overthink it.

So, when I read that the owners of Pied a Terre had decided to open a ‘smokehouse’ in West Hampstead, I sniffed, “What will this pricey Bloomsbury haute cuisine landmark dish up on West End Lane? Will it be Barbecoa without the view?“ But the basics at One Sixty bode well. There’s no hush puppies, cornbread or baked beans, but their red cabbage slaw is top notch, and the hot chicken wings are better every time I try them.

The darkened interior keeps your attention on the fare, and these are not expensive morsels plated on oversized porcelain and set against crisp white tablecloths. Pound for pound, the price points please, with ample portions served on the wooden tables, dining in the rear, and some tables on the street in these blissful long summer evenings. One Sixty has doubled up on its smokers as well, as demand has risen. If they stay the course and double down on their high volume/medium price strategy, everybody wins. Chef Andrei Lesment’s menu triangulates between the Carolinas (a succulent pulled pork sandwich), Texas (beef ribs) and some comfort food from here, the isle of the Angus and the Durham Ox. The ox cheeks at One Sixty are their specialty, served up like a brisket, flaking on the fork, a generous portion of tender meaty fibre.

Ox cheek on mash with gravy and pickles

Ox cheek on mash with gravy and pickles

Many of the dishes come served with solid no-nonsense mash, that British Sunday staple, and Paris, Texas doesn’t do puddings like One Sixty’s spongey, elegant profiteroles. One Sixty gets high marks for being itself, and knowing its customers.

Tom
First thing to say, delightful Malbec – would definitely have that one again. The cheaper of the two on the wine list, and available by the glass, this was soft and supple, with sweet notes of chocolate (my dullard taste buds) or caramel (Nicky’s more subtle ones)

I opted for the burger, and although the bun had gone soggy underneath, the patty itself tasted good. Perhaps a little small though, to be honest. A nice touch was the refreshing, simple slaw with fennel seeds, and a light vinaigrette. Definitely a sensible match for all the richness of the main meals.

Chips were of an enticing, golden colour, and although not especially crispy, were nicely done, though for me personally I didn’t take to whatever they’d been cooked in. This is probably just me; the most adventurous I get with such things is goose-fat roasters at Christmas. I’m a bit traditional with potatoes, me; fry them in olive oil or butter, and I’m happy.

Desserts thoroughly smile-inducing. A rather fun, wonderfully-flavoured banoffee cup thing, and a pleasing tart tatin.

Service was excellent and there’s a really great atmosphere there. Good fun!

Claire
Feeling woefully inadequate sitting next to the Barbeque-ipedia that is Will, I chose Pulled Pork for my main, so I didn’t have to comment in the ribs/rubs debate! I swapped the chips for the great slaw – no mayo and with the zingy addition of fennel seeds. The pork was moist and I liked the fresh red cabbage topping. I’d have been happy with a few more crunchy bits of pork and a well toasted brioche bun, as it was a little soggy, but it was a well executed dish and I didn’t suffer from food envy! For dessert, just order the drunken banoffee, you will find room for it!

Pulled pork in a bun

Pulled pork in a bun

Nicky
I have to admit that a hearty, industrial-style smokehouse restaurant isn’t my natural habitat. Although no longer vegetarian, I’m usually happier tucking into a tofu steak than a ribeye; and a colourful lentil salad is more likely to get my pulse (ha!) racing than a plate of sticky pork ribs.

However, I really enjoyed our evening at One Sixty. Yes, the menu is unashamedly focused on flesh, and you’d need to be in a carnivorous mood to fully enjoy a visit here, but unlike in the macho “dirty rib” joints beloved of certain sections of the food blogosphere, these dishes feel high-quality and well thought out.

Beef shortrib - small but mighty

Beef shortrib – small but mighty

As you’d expect, a delicious smoky aroma pervades the meat which forms the centrepiece of each dish, but the accompaniments were a welcome surprise – really crisp, fresh-tasting pickles and slaw cut through the richness of the barbeque flavours of my beef shortrib.

The atmosphere is smokin’ too. The huge craft beer selection draws in a lively crowd to the bar at the front, and there’s a chatty and convivial vibe in the dining room too. I’ll definitely be back to this great new West Hampstead hangout.

One Sixty
291 West End Lane
London
NW6 1RD
T: 0207 7949 786
E: ku.oc1519358432.ytxi1519358432s-eno1519358432@ofni1519358432
@onesixtylondon

Post office moves to local church

The bell rang at 1pm and the first customers for the new post office trundled into St James’s Church on Sherriff Road today. The West End Lane post office was supposed to close at midday, but in fact closed yesterday putting even more pressure on the Sherriff Centre team to be up and running bang on time.

Father Andrew Cain and Sherriff Centre project manager Jane Edwards (photo via @churchnw6)

Father Andrew Cain and Sherriff Centre project manager Jane Edwards (photo via @churchnw6)

Never one to shy away from publicity, Father Andrew Cain had invited BBC London to the opening and anchor Alice Bhandukravi was there to speak to Fr Andrew (and ask me about the quality of the cake). The news report is here.

Most of the early arrivals to the post office/café/shop/playarea/church seemed impressed. For many, it was their first sight of the transformed space. It is believed to be the first full-time post office located in a functioning church and certainly the first in London.

Everything is in “soft launch” stage at the moment, with the official opening taking place on August 1st. For the time being though, the café makes a very cool escape from the humidity outside (and there’s underfloor heating for the winter!).

Protect your PIN - someone may be looking over your shoulder

Protect your PIN – someone may be looking over your shoulder

PostOffice_shop

Restaurant round-up: Toomai, Rossopomodoro, One Sixty and the market

West Hampstead Life has had a gruelling couple of weeks. In a tireless quest to keep you informed about gastronomic developments in the area, we’ve been out investigating the newest restaurants and menus, sampling a few (ok, many) dishes along the way. Here are some tasty tidbits to whet your appetite while we go off to type “juice diet” into Google…

First up, we went to try One Sixty’s new brunch menu. The menu itself is still a work in progress, but we tried a selection of the kinds of dishes that will be on offer. As you’d expect from a smokehouse restaurant, smoky flavours wrapped themselves around some delicious mackerel and salmon, and there was house-smoked bacon available in a roll.

One Sixty has been criticised in the past for its lack of any provision for vegetarians, but on this visit we sampled a rather good avocado, asparagus and egg dish – hopefully they’ll continue to offer at least one veggie option. Add in the Sunday papers and a chilled vibe, and we can see this being serious competition in the weekend brunch market.

OneSixty_brunch

Secondly, you may have heard whispers about another pan-Asian restaurant opening on West End Lane. Called Toomai, this is another venture from the owners of Guglee just up the road. They invited West Hampstead Life to tour the new premises (where the short-lived ‘Grilled O Fried’ used to be) and more importantly to a tasting session of their menu.

photoweek188

The Toomai team are still refining the menu, but it will focus on street food – predominantly influenced by South East Asia – as well as more substantial curry and noodle dishes. We tried a range of dishes, from Chinese-style dumplings, to chili paneer, to some quite outstanding chicken satay skewers. It will be interesting to see how Toomai fares against nearby competitors Banana Tree and Mamako. It opens tonight (Thursday), though expect Friday to be more up to speed.

Staying on a street-food theme, the Sunday Food & Flea Market on the Thameslink forecourt has been open for four weeks now, with a variety of food stalls. Bad weather on a couple of Sundays has meant the market has been less than bustling at times, but we’d recommend going there to grab some very reasonably-priced lunch while browsing the vintage clothes stalls. So far we’ve tried the Iranian lamb chops (delicious, but somewhat hard to eat with your hands) and the Sri Lankan ‘kothu’, an appetising dish of chopped roti with vegetables and (optional) meat.

LambChops

The final course on this epicurean roundup takes place in Finchley Road, where Italian chain Rossopomodoro has just opened its eighth UK branch in the O2 Centre. Unlike other high street Italians, Rossopomodoro can proudly claim to have originated in Naples and promises “the same fresh ingredients from the same suppliers in Italy” it serves back home. Can it live up to the hype?

Photo via Rossopomodoro

Photo via Rossopomodoro

On our visit (a completely packed VIP launch night – there are clearly a lot of Very Important pizza fans in the area) we did find the dishes tasted fresh and the flavours were zingy; a cut above the average chain, and with its buzzy atmosphere a great new pre-cinema destination. We can imagine taking a seat on the outdoor terrace with a selection of antipasti and an Aperol Spritz, and feeling ourselves transported straight to Campania. Let’s ignore the small issue of the Finchley Road traffic.

Tom’s Eggsuberant about The Kitchen Table

The morning after a tantalising tasting menu at Ozz, on Lisson Grove (recommended – excellent high-level food), I realised that as wonderful as coconut water is, my hangover would need something more substantial to dampen it down. And so, off to The Kitchen Table for a rather grand breakfast.

Ferociously hungry, I quickly decided to add to my scrambled eggs on toast choice via the welcome additions of avocado (a real superfood – amazing things), field mushrooms, and beans. And from that point on, a very enjoyable start to the day was assured.

Tom_Kitchen Table

As usual, a very generous helping of eggs were in evidence, on excellent toast, with dark, meaty mushrooms and very decent beans. Avocado slices were, as anticipated, perfectly ripe, and the only quibble I could find would be with crystals of salt; I find you sometimes get too much salt on a forkful, and other times not enough (though the fact they use such salt is another sign of their attention to detail). Everything was piping hot and smile-inducing, and as ever, the place was busy and bustling.

Some roasted tomatoes arrived instead of an extra portion of eggs; without hesitation our waiter got this sorted out, and said have the tomatoes for free – a nice touch.

No need for any Saturday Kitchen egg wordplay jokes here. I’ll summarise thus: cook great food which people want to eat, be consistent, hire the right people, train them well….and customers will come back, it’s really very simple. No wonder The Kitchen Table poach so many customers from other local places these days!

Should Mamako focus on Malaysian food?

Many of you will know that our first visit to Mamako was a bit of a disaster. We did say, however, that the food was good and we’d give them some time to settle in before reviewing it properly.

That time had come. Last Wednesday, five of us went to give the place the once over.

Mamako retained much of the decor it inherited from Spiga but the cuisine has shifted from the Mediterranean to Asia. Perhaps too much of Asia, as Thai, Japanese, Malay, Koraean and Vietnamese dishes all seem to compete for attention. Malaysian cuisine is something of a hybrid of Chinese and Indian food with rich curries such as beef rendang as well as classic noodle and rice dishes such as Mee Goreng and Nasi Lemak.

Menus are flipside of the place settings and it’s hard to choose from so many options.

Mamako menu

Perhaps aware of the service issues that dogged our opening night meal, we were asked to order starters first and mains later. We shared deep-fried squid tentacles, chicken gyozas, vegetable Malay curry puffs, Vietnamese rice rolls and Toor dal fritters. The squid was the let down of these, the batter wasn’t crispy enough and the squid was perilously close to being undercooked. However, the other dishes more than made up for it, especially the toor dal fritters, which had a comforting warmth of spice to them, and the Vietnamese spring rolls, which come more generously stuffed than those at Ladudu. Gyozas were fine, though it’s getting to hard to stand out with this ubiquitous starter. The Malay curry puffs, which are a bit like samosas, were also good.

Toor dal fritters

Toor dal fritters

Chicken gyozas

Chicken gyozas

I eschewed all the other cuisines for my main course and went for what Mamako does best: Malaysian food. I’ve loved beef rendang ever since I first had it in a Singapore shopping mall severely jetlagged and with no clear idea what it was I ordering. The short-lived Ammis Curry in Kilburn did a kicking-hot version that oozed flavour. Banana Tree does a decent rendang though twice I’ve had it there and it’s been too dry (the sauce should be dry, but the meat should be tender). How did Mamako’s stand up? Very well. The consistency and texture was about right – I would have liked it a little hotter and that deep meaty aftertaste wasn’t quite there, but I’d very happily order it again.

Beef rendang

Beef rendang

I’d love to see Mamako have the courage of its convictions and become just a Malaysian restaurant without trying to offer food from around the whole continent. Malay food is definitely its strength and a more limited menu might help the kitchen overcome some of the timing issues that are still reported on Twitter, even though there were no holdups at all with our meal. But enough of what I think… let me hand over to my fellow reviewers:

Jane
It does seem odd that the menu is quite so pan-Asian – SE Asia would be enough for me – but I did enjoy all the regional foods we tried. The lentil cakes were delicious with their chutney as a starter. I chose the Mee Goreng for my main (not Nasi Goreng as I described it, gently corrected by Nicky who explained that Nasi means rice and Mee means noodles). Everyone was wide-eyed at how large my dish was but I ended it up eating it all because it was so delicious. I really like Mamako, especially for its fresh ingredients, careful preparation and lack of excessive sugary-salty-fatty sauces that some pan-Asian places rely on to satisfy our cravings!

Tom
Service was warm, and with more confidence than in their anxious, early days, and the whole place had a sense of things settling into a rhythm. Starters were enticing. The little parcels and morsels were flavoursome, with fresh, pungent spicing, and fantastic textures on the outside. Squid had wonderful, light batter, though were a little lightweight given the tentacles were best discarded.

Phad Kraphow with prawns

Phad Kraphow with prawns

My phad kraphow with prawns, chilli, garlic and sweet Thai basil, fried with vegetables, was also impressive, though more variety in the veg would have perhaps added an extra dimension. Everything we ate was well-seasoned, with deep flavours coming from various different angles. Sides of bok choy and egg-fried garlic rice were very good, while my noodles were a slight let-down as were overcooked for my tastes; too soft and mushy. Worth noting the Tempranillo, which at £3.75 for a (175ml) glass was a surprise; really, really lovely. Ending with a sake was pleasurable, too!

Nicky
Being a fan of Malaysian food (and half Malaysian myself) I was keen to try the unofficial national dish, nasi lemak. It’s coconut rice, traditionally accompanied by cucumber slices, egg, peanuts and spicy sambal sauce. Mamako’s version may not have had the ‘wow’ factor that won this year’s Masterchef title, but it was a good interpretation of the dish. Often eaten for breakfast in Malaysia, here it was made more substantial with some fried chicken and a small bowl of creamy – but fiery – curry sauce. The sambal tasted authentic with its inclusion of anchovy paste and chili kick, and there was also a welcome crunch and freshness from the pickles on the side.

Overall it was an enjoyable evening. The ambience is slightly sterile – be prepared to bring your own atmosphere – but the food is fresh, feels authentic and is reasonably priced. I’ll be back to Mamako to sample the rest of the menu, Malaysian and beyond.

Nasi Lemak Mamako style

Nasi Lemak Mamako style

Laura
We were made to feel very welcome at Mamako, attentive service without being crowded and the atmosphere was nice, with background music playing at the right level and good lighting (are those amazing lampshades a remnant of Spiga?!). The quality of the food was good and I would consider it very good value for money. Geographically the menu is pan-Asian, though I think we all plumped for Malaysian main dishes, which seem to be the speciality. The chicken curry was really well cooked, fragrant with a bit of a kick but not face-meltingly hot and a good size portion. The selection of starters we tried were all tasty, but for me the stand out dish was the dhal fritters, which were delicious and I could have eaten a whole plateful! We were all too full for desert, so I look forward to a return visit to sample more of the menu. A great addition to the local restaurant scene.

Nyonya chicken curry

Nyonya chicken curry

Mamako
182 Broadhurst Gardens
West Hampstead
London
NW6 3AY
T: 020 7372 8188
@MamakoLDN

Three gems in West Hampstead’s burgeoning coffee shop culture

Remon sign_ft

“Just imagine how awesome the Jubilee would be if it went to, you know, more exciting places,” said BuzzFeed earlier this year. I’ve been to three independent coffee shops within spitting distance of two local Jubilee Line stations that make the overlooking of West Hampstead even more unforgivable.

On Broadhurst Gardens, just around the corner from West Hampstead station and now helpfully signposted from West End Lane, is Wired Co. Back in 2012, John and Tom took the chance to open a pop-up coffee shop next to Rock Men’s Salon, which John owns, in the parade of shops on West End Lane just before they were all demolished for West Hampstead Square. The local appetite for speciality coffee encouraged them to pursue their vision and fortune smiled upon them as once again they were able to open next door to the relocated Rock on Broadhurst.

Today Wired has a strong local customer base and a big vision to introduce more and more people to the delights of speciality coffee. I dragged a friend to Wired when it first opened and his reaction: “You don’t realise how bad your regular coffee is until you have a cup like this”. This is exactly what John and Tom love to hear. Their mantra is “educate, not patronise” and they’ve certainly worked hard to de-mystify great coffee. A large board in the shop details the origins and flavours of the beans on offer whilst avoiding jargon.

Wired board

The beans, from Climpson & Sons, are kept to a house blend, a guest bean, perhaps a blend or a single-estate, and a decaf option. The flat white house blend I tried was deliciously smooth and sweet with a medium body. If that sounds like something from a wine bottle, it’s because Wired takes some cues from the Australian wine industry with its simplified labels.

Beyond the coffee, Wired has kept its offerings to a minimum. Its philosophy of “wanting to get things right before we start shouting about it” means that those looking for lunch will be disappointed – but that’s due to change soon. Breakfast, however, is on the menu, as are delicious cakes from Babycakes – home-baked in Kensal Green and also sold at West Hampstead Farmers’ Market. Now that summer’s on the horizon, look out for the iced lattes too – they went down a storm last year.

Wired's coffee menu

Wired’s coffee menu

One stop along our beloved Jubilee Line, convenient for Finchley Road commuters, is Loft Coffee. Back in 2012 owner SungJae had a large estate agents – Elvis Homes – and an even larger passion for great coffee. He combined the two by creating a coffee shop from part of his business space, which he opened up with the help of Monmouth, the Bermondsey-based coffee roasters who supply Loft with beans and helped to train SungJae and his staff in the art of the perfect cup.

Like Wired, Loft has kept things simple and offers Monmouth’s regular blend, supplemented from time-to-time with guest single-origin espresso from Workshop Coffee. The flat white I drank was beautifully presented and packed full of smooth almond and chocolate flavours – and all the more enjoyable for being beautifully presented in a proper cup. The same Monmouth beans made for an espresso that friend Ben thought was the best he’d ever had. Loft is firmly on the ground floor but the space is pretty small, although there are some seats for non-commuters.

Small space, big ambition

Small space, lofty ambition

Loft’s menu might be limited by space, but it’s clear that thought has gone in to selecting what is on offer. For non-coffee drinkers there are teas from teapigs, soft drinks from Fritz and juices from James White. A recent adition to the menu are cupcakes from Primrose Hill based Sweet Things. A salted caramel cupcake got a huge thumbs-up from Christine. SungJae is clear though that his number one aim is to serve quality coffee. And number two? For the neighbourhood to get in to drinking it!

Coffee at Loft

Coffee at Loft

On the other side of the Underground tracks, just around the corner on Finchley Road, is Remon – the most recent addition to the local coffee scene. Owner Uri Remon has lived been in NW London for years and started out by selling coffee at Camden Lock. He opened his eponymous cafe last November with a big vision: the best coffee in London. When I dropped in, Uri’s passion and drive was evident in abundance and we soon got down to tasting eight different beans from his supplier, Smiths. Uri is developing his own house blend with the help of feedback from customers and hopes ultimately to offer around six blends or single-estate coffees at any point.

Remon coffee machine

Remon is the largest of the three coffee shops. Some of the space is filled with a large 1970s belt-run gyro coffee grinder which Uri imported from Denmark and restored. If you buy beans to take home (which all three coffee shops offer) you can have them ground in this imposing machine ready for your coffee machine or French press. Remon’s dedication to choice is seen throughout the rest of the shop. A wall-full of bags and leaves awaits the tea drinker and if you’ve come to eat there’s a range of delicacies, sweet and savoury, from Italian bakery Vitos. The pizzas are spoken highly of and I can vouch that the cannoli – both kinds! – are top notch.

Remon coffee

All three coffee shops are ideally placed for commuters, but if you’re looking for a coffee or something sweet in the evening then Remon is your best bet as it stays open to 9pm. Uri hopes to put the cafe to further evening use for community-based arts events.

For those seeking decent coffee slightly further afield, the good news is that the guys behind Wired have recently opened Cable Co opposite Kensal Rise station and Uri hopes to expand Remon to additional shops – perhaps even one with space for in-house roasting.

Loft and Wired Co are in The London Coffee Guide 2014.

Traffic at heart of Fortune Green shisha bar and college’s future

When is traffic relevant and when is it not in determining planning applications? This is the question in Fortune Green where a shisha bar and a higher education college are both seeking planning permission, which may hinge on the council’s understanding of congestion levels.

Earlier this month, Camden contacted the The New School of Psychotherapy and Counselling (NSPC) to tell them its proposed move into the empty unit next to Tesco in the Sager building, is unlikely to receive permission because it will generate too much traffic. It is deemed “unacceptable in principle”.

Meanwhile, Monte Cristo – the shisha bar that is retrospectively applying for change-of-use permission for the premises at 56-58 Fortune Green Road – doesn’t mention traffic at all in its application.

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

Photo taken April 23rd by Eugene Regis

No-one locally has objected to the NSPC’s application. The school went to considerable lengths to explain to local residents that its impact on traffic would be negligible and it has support from the local residents associations. The NSPC’s transport statement is here and the travel plan is included on page 14 of this document.

It’s worth remembering that the same residents kicked up a stink at the proposal to open a private primary school in the same building because of the traffic impact. Camden rejected that proposal on precisely those grounds. Residents are, however clearly convinced by the NSPC’s arguments despite being inherently nervous about the impact of any new use on that site (a site that has been empty since the building was completed a few years ago).

No such luck for Monte Cristo. Locals have objected in force to its application. Some objections relate specifically to the shisha smoking, but the majority refer to the parking and traffic situation that has arisen since it started trading.

Unlike the NSPC, Monte Cristo’s application has no travel assessment; its document states that these are “not essential” for the scale of the business. Instead, it says that “a high proportion of customers, thought to be about 75%, live within one mile of the premises”, and that the staff “arrive mainly by public transport”.

This may be the case, but it hasn’t stopped many complaints from local residents, mostly with concerns about the extra traffic and parked vehicles the café attracts. Comments close tomorrow, May 2nd with a decision expected June 6th.

Here are four extracts from objections already submitted to Camden:

“Since the opening, traffic problems in the area have boomed, largely because guests of Monte Cristo park with impunity on the pavements, driveways and other areas on a narrow bend in a major artery.”

“There is an increase in disruption, noise and pollution from customers, who predominantly drive to the shisha bar. The cars are parking on both sides of the road on double yellow lines on a regular basis causing congestion.”

“Currently, users of the cafe are parking dangerously on both sides of the road, causing poor visibility to road users and damaging the pavements in the process.”

“The people have now taken to parking outside on both sides of the road. That means traffic jams as the buses try to get down the road and the cars have to wait to let them through.”

There are many other objections, including general noise and the open charcoal burner on Burrard Road. The full application details, and objections are here.

Professor Emmy van Deurzen, director of the NSPC, said that it would be “a terrible blow” to her organisation if permission were to be refused, as they have already invested considerable time and money into preparing for the move.

Alex McDougall, planning officer for Camden, said that the NSPC would need to present a more robust travel plan. The council had been due to decide this week, but has granted them a two week extension to gather and demonstrate local support. Professor van Deurzen is now preparing further documentation, and is appealing to local people to show their support by writing to Alex McDougall at Camden’s planning department (ku.vo1519358432g.ned1519358432mac@l1519358432laguo1519358432DcM.x1519358432elA1519358432), quoting the following reference details: 2014/1403/P – Unit 5, 63 Fortune Green Road, NW6 1DR.

If the NSPC’s proposal, which has resident support and improves the diversity of employment in the area, is rejected on traffic grounds, it will be interesting to see whether Camden gives the go ahead to Monte Cristo in the face of considerable opposition – or asks it too for a more detailed explanation of how it plans to address the parking and traffic issues it seems to be causing.

“No change please”, say The Railway’s regulars

Yesterday afternoon, drinkers at The Railway gathered to show their support for the campaign to turn it into a community pub and upstairs venue rather than see the upper floors converted into office space and self-contained flats.

Railway_protest

Many of the regulars seemed unsure of what exactly the planned changes to the building entailed and what they would mean for the pub. However, one thing was clear as the group assembled for a photograph outside: they all love their local and don’t want to see it closed or changed.

John Brennan, who grew up in Kilburn and is a long-term West Hampstead resident, said “If the pub closes, where is the community going to go? It’s the only pub in West Hampstead with a real community spirit.”

Cathy Laing, 42, also grew up in the area and says she remembers when The Railway had sawdust on the floor. She said “I feel safe, as a woman, coming in here on my own – sometimes I just come in for a cup of tea. It gets so busy at the weekend and when there’s a big match on – why make it smaller? It would be a health hazard.”

Although Camden has already passed the planning application for this, the application to vary the licence is still out for consultation until April 23rd and can be viewed here. This would the last chance to object, although it’s hard to see what grounds there would be to object to the licensing as the hours are the same.

Could The Railway become a community pub?

Last week, Camden approved plans to convert the upper floors of The Railway pub into six flats, and to reduce the size of the pub’s floorspace by converting the raised seating area into a cycle storage facility for residents. One Railway employee has other ideas.

The Railway

The original planning application from the owners – the Spirit Pub Company – snuck in over the Christmas period and no-one objected. The pub will need to close for 18 weeks during the first phase of construction work. The facade of the building will be largely unchanged, with the developers promising to reverse some of the clumsier changes of recent years, such as the blocked up windows. All the documents can be viewed here.

The Railway, as many of you will know, has a proud musical heritage, although no mention is made of this in the planning documents. Right above the pub is an open space that was Klooks Kleek – a legendary club of the 1960s that has hosted some of the biggest names in pop & rock, including Hendrix and Clapton. After Klooks Kleek closed, the downstairs became the Moonlight Club, another successful club where bands such as Joy Division, the Stone Roses and U2, in their first ever gig outside Ireland, all played.

This first floor space will be converted into office space, with the living space above being turned into self-contained flats. It is unclear whether the pub will remain in its current guise or be turned into a gastro pub.

But what if…

Francesca Dumas, who works behind the bar at The Railway, is, for want a of a finer word, distraught. Although the venue space hasn’t been used since the mid 1990s it hasn’t been used for anything else and Francesca would like to return it to its former glory. She has a bold plan to try and raise the funds to buy the whole building. Whether the Spirit Pub Company would be willing to sell is a whole other question. There’s substantial profit to be made from the residential units as well as from the pub itself and the building of course is in a prime location in West Hampstead.

Francesca’s idea is to turn the building into a community pub – retaining the ground floor much as it is with the same style of pub, bringing the venue back into use upstairs and using the upper floors as a mix of accommodation and perhaps even a museum to commemorate the musical heritage. She admits these plans are at an early stage.

There’s a protest on Monday at 5pm, although it’s not quite clear what is being protested. Already on Twitter there’s been some talk that the pub is going to close permanently, which is not the case.

Get a Taste of Kilburn

Kilburn is teeming with eating options, but how many have you actually tried? Now’s your chance to sample something new during the first ever Taste of Kilburn food festival, which launches on Saturday.

At 11 am in Kilburn Square (the southern end of the high road near WH Smiths), the Deputy Mayor of Brent opens proceedings with a ceremonial cake cutting (rumours that the cake is a Belgian bun from Gregg’s are unconfirmed). You’ll be able to taste some of the participating restaurants’ dishes in the Taste of Kilburn gazebo. There will also be plenty of vouchers handed out by volunteers who, we’re told, will be fetchingly dressed as Easter bunnies.

It’s not just small restaurants taking part. Alongside old favourites such as the ever-popular Vijay, on Willesden Lane, and pubs such as The Earl Derby, some of the world’s biggest chains are also supporting the event, with vouchers and offers of their own: McDonald’s and KFC are joining in, and Nando’s have promised to dispatch some of their staff dressed in chicken suits (to compete with the bunnies perhaps?).

In total, 27 businesses are taking part and offering special deals to customers which will be valid for the run up to Easter. It should be a great day out and opportunity to try new Kilburn restaurants or rediscover old favourites. If you miss out on the launch event, look out for the Easter Bunny handing out vouchers on Kilburn High Road, or visit the Taste of Kilburn information table at the Tricycle Theatre.

taste-of-kilburn-ft

Taste of Kilburn is an initiative set up by a group of local business owners, with the support of Brent Council, to celebrate and promote Kilburn as an eating destination. Find out more, and see a list of participating restaurants, here.

Unexpected items in the bagging area: West Hampstead grocer mixes staples with rarities

Last Saturday, West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables finally opened its doors. Local foodies had been excitedly awaiting its arrival, eager to get their 7 a day. There’s been a steady stream of customers since then, and tweets have been overwhelmingly positive. But is the range of produce more imaginative than the name above the door?

grocer_1_cauli

The shop, opposite Tesco on West End Lane, is Mel and Aziz Ahsak’s second greengrocer’s in the area. The husband and wife team also own Swiss Cottage Grocers on Finchley Road. Why did they choose to branch out to West Hampstead? They offer a delivery service and Mel said “We noticed we have a lot of customers in West Hampstead”. She confirms that in the few days the shop has been open, business has been brisk. “People have welcomed us, and we’ve had some lovely comments.”

The shop is extremely well-stocked with an array of vibrant and colourful produce, from everyday basics like potatoes and carrots to exotic fruit (fancy a fejoia or a yellow pithaya?) and fancypants heirloom tomatoes. There are also other groceries such as eggs, nuts and herbs.

Quiz: How many fruits can you name?

Quiz: How many fruits can you name?

Mel says that, where possible, produce is sourced from the UK, so expect to find apples from Kent and UK-grown mushrooms, as well as other local fruit and vegetable varieties in season. She and her team taste the produce themselves each day to make sure they’re happy to have it on sale – there’s even a small kitchen in the basement for cooking vegetable samples.

Do Mel and Aziz feel threatened by the nearby Tesco and Sainsbury’s? Mel is confident that their business is ready for the challenge. She points out that their opening hours are comparable (they’re open every day from 8am until 10pm) and that pricing is competitive. In addition to this, there’s a much wider variety of fresh produce than you’ll find at the supermarket, and it’s possible to buy the exact amount you need, rather than large packets that go to waste in the fridge.

All the mushrooms

All the mushrooms

If you’re confused about how to cook with the different varieties of produce – I counted seven different types of aubergine – the knowledgeable staff are on hand to help. Manager Artur Topolewski is a trained chef and can help pick out the most suitable specimens for whatever you’re cooking. A far cry from “unexpected item in the bagging area”.

If West Hampstead Fruit and Vegetables can continue as it’s started, we can see it being a big success on West End Lane.

OK, here are some of the answers...

OK, here are some of the answers…

Tom has a nice Chianti at Luigi’s

I’d been curious about Luigi’s, on Goldhurst Terrace, near Finchley Road tube station, for a while, so when Jonathan suggested it after I told him saying my brain had (again) malfunctioned and I couldn’t decide where to go for dinner, everything fell nicely into place.

After an apparently austere greeting, which made me wonder if I looked a bit of a yob with headphones tangled round my neck and even scruffier attire than usual (in fact, staff were warm, friendly, and reassuringly Italian), some simple white bread and pleasingly garlicky olives appeared (as did a £2 cover charge later, but as the added-on service charge was only 10%, that seemed OK), along with the sort of menu I really appreciate – simple, yet varied enough, without being confusing, and lots of things I wanted to eat, immediately.

Opting for the Chianti proved a wise choice; it was excellent, and I could have happily tanned two bottles of the stuff had I not had an important function on the next day (an evening of console gaming with nephew Sebastian, who, it transpires, seems to be following in my footsteps having been a bit ill after enjoying some very high strength Belgian beers).

Orders on adjacent tables (seemingly taken by happy locals – a good sign) looked wonderful, with colourful pasta, king-size portions, and plenty of seafood. Accordingly, I ordered swordfish livornese, and very nice it was, too. A satisfyingly savoury, orange-red sauce with cherry tomatoes, capers and olives bathed a mighty slab of swordfish, which I didn’t mind being a touch well-done at the edges as it negated the memory of my last experience of this fish, which was horribly undercooked elsewhere in the neighbourhood.

Swordfish Livornese

Swordfish Livornese

Special mention for vegetables, which were presented, and clearly cooked, with care. Neatly cut courgettes, carrot batons green beans and broccoli were right on the button of al-dente, and the little roast potatoes, whilst not super-crispy, were lovely all the same.

Seafood linguine

Seafood linguine

Seafood linguine was also a success, with a sauce just coating the pasta in the Italian way, and a touch of sweetness and spice, perhaps from nutmeg (says he, with a palate sensitivity level which can barely differentiate a lemon from a lamb chop – especially after a few reds).

Luigi’s food was wholesome, traditional, and (cliché alert) rustic. It made me smile in a happily stupid way. To sum up more succinctly; I’m planning on going back soon. And not just for the Chianti – though that will likely play a significant part in proceedings too.

O2 Centre looks to start-ups to boost food offer

People don’t tend to salivate at the prospect of shopping centre dining. Indeed, in some places it seems we’ve barely moved on since the days when a jacket potato with chilli was considered cutting-edge cuisine.

Yet, on the eve of another restaurant opening there – Frankie & Benny’s starts trading Monday – the O2 Centre on Finchley Road is showing signs of becoming a dining destination, especially as two more intriguing eating places have popped up in and among the more familiar chains. Not that it’s easy for these start-ups to mix it with the big boys. It take determination and a keen understanding of what the centre looks for from restaurants.

Falafel City, on the upper floor, was founded by Mitan Sachdev and his wife Kajal in 2011. It took them two years to refine their recipes and bring their product to market – and, crucially, to find the right location to open their first restaurant.

Mitan and Kajal Sachdev

Kajal and Mitan Sachdev

Mitan gave up his career at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to follow his dream of becoming a restaurateur. Kajal developed all the recipes. “She’s an amazing cook”, he says. The couple has created what they believe to be a unique concept: freshly-cooked falafels with an international twist, served in a bright and buzzy fast-food environment.

One of the main hurdles for the fledgling business was finding suitable premises to rent. From the outset, the Sachdevs knew that they wanted their business to be surrounded by premium brands, but with no track record of running a restaurant, many retail landlords were reluctant to take them on.

The O2 Centre unit was ideal, says Mitan, who’s far removed from the clichéd streetfood vendor parking a van in a south London carpark. “We’re grateful to the O2 Centre management for taking a bit of a punt” he says. Perhaps reflecting his corporate background he adds, “I always wanted to be near a Vue, and near a Virgin Active.” How convenient!

It’s clear that branding has played a big part in Falafel City’s success. “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to look the part,” explains Mitan. Indeed, Falafel City, with its distinctive rotating sign, fits in comfortably alongside its nearest neighbours Byron and Yo! Sushi.

Affia Bioh has a similar story. Affia gave up her job in banking to start selling Ghanaian food. After successfully testing the market with a chilled range, which Selfridges took on and still sell in its food hall, she wanted to branch out to a “Chop Bar”. The result: Chop Pot, which sits opposite Waterstone’s on the ground floor on the way to Sainsbury’s and sells hot takeaway food.

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

The O2 Centre was a logical location for Affia, who was born and raised in the area – she attended South Hampstead School for Girls and St Augustine’s in Kilburn. She likes the diversity of the local population. “Local people are very inquisitive about different cuisines and want to try them”, she says. She’s happy to talk customers through the different dishes, which are Ghanaian street food classics such as Jollof Rice, a spicy one-pot rice dish, and a deliciously rich chicken and peanut stew.

Like the Sachdevs, Affia is pleased with the support she has received from the O2 Centre and recognises that it’s taking a chance on a small start-up business, and proud to be offering something different. “I’m carrying the torch for West African food in the O2 Centre,” she says proudly.

Jason King, who manages the O2 Centre on behalf of owner Land Securities, says he welcomes the arrival of both Falafel City and Chop Pot. “There’s a lot of pressure on the shopping centre industry from online businesses, so the whole experiential side, such as food and leisure, is increasingly important.”

For Jason, it seems that creating an environment where well-known chains rub shoulders with smaller players is an important means of differentiation. “It prevents that feeling of ‘every shopping centre looks the same’ which can creep in if you’re not careful.”

He sees it as mutually beneficial: start-ups gain exposure and visibility, while the centre gets credibility by being able to boast a wide range of dining options. “In terms of the variety, we have a good mix. Byron is a great brand for us to have. Nando’s is still one of the big movers and shakers, and Yo! Sushi is a worldwide brand. It’s great to have them alongside small startups like Falafel City and Chop Pot, which is a lovely story of someone setting themselves up in business with a great product and lots of enthusiasm, but who have also got their branding to a level where it can fit in amongst the bigger players.”

Once again, the importance of branding comes to the fore. “It’s got to feel right,” says Jason. “We’ve got a design guide in terms of what we want to see from shop fits. We’re not looking for conformity, but looking to set the bar at a certain level.”

Anna Adamczyk, restaurant manager at Zizzi, one of the centre’s long standing tenants, agrees. “The new developments here are exciting for everyone – the local community and existing businesses. Hopefully by having more options for customers, the O2 Centre will become a destination for those looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat.”

Centre manager Jason’s enthusiasm come to the fore as he talks about the changes underway; three new restaurants (Wagamama, Rossopomodoro and Frankie & Benny’s) are opening on the top level next to Falafel City. The work is scheduled to be completed by June or July, and the centre is planning a big launch event to promote itself as a dining destination. Zizzi also confirmed that its restaurant will be getting a refurb in July. It’s taken a while though, Wagamama and Rossopomodoro were first mooted at the start of 2013.

Jason King has been at the O2 Centre since Land Securities bought it in 2010. The place has changed quite considerably in that time, both in terms of the brands it’s brought in and the physical changes to the building. The company is intent on creating the kind of place that people in the Swiss Cottage/West Hampstead area – and beyond – will want to spend time in. Goodbye Jurassic Park-style fake rock interior and Hello outdoor terrace, which will be shared between the three new restaurants, bringing al-fresco dining to the centre – even if al fresco does mean “view of Finchley Road traffic”.

What do you think? Has the O2 Centre transformed into a dining destination, or is it still more of a pre-cinema pitstop? As ever, feel free to leave your comments below.

Tom eats late at Yuzu

I’ve foolishly neglected Fortune Green when eating out recently. On my list are Bombay Nights (any excuse to eat more curry), and the renowned Nautilus for some good old fish and chips. Last week though, a late-evening pit-stop at Yuzu proved an interesting choice on the eve of the new F1 season (this doesn’t really work as the race was in Australia, not Japan, but never mind..)

Synopsis? I sense a really fine restaurant, but perhaps I didn’t see the very best of it on this occasion – not that it wasn’t enjoyable.

Arriving after 10pm, the place was packed and buzzing, and service was excellent throughout. I note a “your recent requests” section on the website, showing people’s customisation of orders – nice work

My salmon teriyaki was delightful. How pleasing it is when salmon is just-done, pink in the middle, delicate and flavoursome. I was happy with the portion size of my mixed, crunchy, stir-fried vegetables, though the soy sauce had a slight bitter edge of which I wasn’t sure was deliberate? Of extras, I thought I was ordering a side of cooked greens, but in fact this was a salad – more obvious on the website menu where it is described as such. This was a large portion by default, which made for a rather pricey side dish, but with the nice touch of warmed cherry tomatoes, all was gobbled up.

Salmon

Salmon

Bream was declared all gone a few minutes after ordering, but sea bass replaced this in a subtle dish with red chilli, a citrus dressing and soy sauce, and which like everything else was elegantly presented.

Sea bass

Sea bass

An Argentinian Shiraz turned out to be a Shiraz / Malbec blend, and whilst having a decent finish and stiff tannins was perhaps a touch light, surprisingly. Not that I was making any effort to match grape and grub anyway; sometimes (OK, often) I’ll go for a heavy red when something else would be far more apt, I’m such a simpleton when gasping for a drink.

Glancing round, the various sashimi plates looked really impressive, and I’d certainly like to try more in general at Yuzu. It’s clearly popular with locals, and the staff were warm and enthusiastic, but in a nicely reserved way.

Please rest assured that my worrying phase of sharing desserts has passed for now; though in this instance I skipped pudding anyway. Actually, some might say that’s even more worrying!

“I had an absolutely brilliant time.” Get the scoop on Whampsocial

Mamacita_whampsocial

What’s the person on the right doing?

Last Wednesday, around 30 people crammed into Frida’s, the downstairs bar at Mamacita, for the first of a new regular meetup event: Whampsocial. A specially-created menu of delicious cocktails (only £5!) and filled tacos served in glazed roof tiles (amazing) were the accompaniment to some lively chat amongst local people keen to meet and mingle with their West Hampstead neighbours.

But don’t take our word for it; here’s the verdict from a few of the people who were there, kicking off with the night’s charming and welcoming organiser,

Rosie:

It was a really great night – the atmosphere in Frida’s, with its low ceiling and dimmed lighting, was perfect for it. A great mix of the usual faces and a few newbies, along with some delicious cocktails, was the perfect combination for interesting conversation and lots of laughter. Still trying to mull over which is my favourite Mamacita cocktail… Close call between the Hemingway daiquiri and the Elderflower and cranberry sangria! (Or maybe the Mamacita spritz?! Decisions, decisions…)

Daniel

WHampSocial 1.0 was everything it promised to be – casual, mingly, and boozey. It was great to see that right from the start people were bold enough to come alone, jumping right into the conversation. It was excellent fun to catch up with old and new local Twitterers alike, with a good mix of regulars and newcomers, with everybody fitting in nicely. The venue was great, nice and cosy with friendly staff. I stuck to the beers, trying all three proper ones (obviously skipped the Pacifico), having already nailed the cocktail menu on previous occasions. Two decent pale ales were a bit overpriced, but a good strong stout (6%!) got numerous encores, definitely contributing to painful, but worth it, morning after.

Jane

As a whampevent regular I expected to meet friendly, liked minded people…and I did….but I especially enjoyed this smaller informal event because it was even easier to chat. The delicious Frida’s cocktails probably had something to do with it!

Luke and Dana

It was our first time attending a Whampevent so, fashionably late, we wandered down the stairs of Mamacita with a little trepidation. The bar was buzzing with a good sized crowd of friendly faced, cocktail drinking locals and while we scanned the drinks menu we were greeted with smiles and hellos. Within minutes we were introduced to a nearby group and made to feel very welcome. The night, like all good nights do, seemed to fly by in no time at all and the details of exactly what happened are a little hazy. But I do remember: – Sampling most of the drinks on the special cocktail menu – Talking about the amorous couple in the corner – A detailed review of, and set of scenario based recommendations, for a local weekend Brunch

Anna

I had an absolutely brilliant time at Whampsocial. I was a little concerned as I was arriving late and on my own, but people are so friendly and welcoming that this was soon forgotten and I really enjoyed the evening. The atmosphere and cocktails were both excellent and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Richard

I was quite a late arrival so headed downstairs worried I might find myself alone. Or, worse, only Norm and Cliff propping up the bar (whamp youngsters, look it up). Nothing of the sort: the room was still packed, very friendly and Frida’s worked well as a venue. All in all, Whampsocial looks like a great new addition to the West Hampstead calendar.

Lucie

I really enjoyed the evening, I met very nice people (not so surprising only nice people live in West Hampstead 😉 )

Philip

I loved the relaxed-yet-funky atmosphere in Frida’s Bar – the decor is fun but not too obtrusive, the cocktails are original twists on old classics and really rather good, and the company was, of course, second to none.

The food was full of flavour, filling and modestly priced. I spent £10 on two shots of tacos (a Whampsocial special offer) which fully sated my large appetite. The chicken and chorizo ( I think this is what they were – my memory is slightly hazy) was succulent and juicy with a memorable taste, while the pork and apple had a wonderful balanced flavour.

Laura

What a lovely atmosphere at last night’s Whampsocial, it was great to catch up with some familiar faces and to meet some lovely new locals. We had some great banter about the rugby, as a Welsh lass I came in for quite a ribbing. They had pulled out all the stops at the cosy Frida’s Bar, with a tailor-made ‘mates rates’ cocktail menu, which certainly helped to get the conversation flowing! By the end of the night I was feeling the effects of the delicious blood orange cosmopolitans and it seems I have agreed to organise a night out at Lately’s. Oh dear.

Frida_whampsocial

Soft launch of One Sixty hits the right buttons

It’s been the most eagerly awaited opening I can remember in West Hampstead. The Smokehouse, now called One Sixty, has had tongues wagging and salivating ever since the news broke that the combination of Michelin-starred restaurateur David Moore, craft beer loving publican Sean Martin, and acclaimed chef Andrei Lesment were coming to West End Lane.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview tasting a couple of weeks ago and then booked a table this Saturday night for the soft launch. We’ll write a full review over the next few weeks but, as interest is so high, I figured it was worth giving my immediate reaction.

This is a place for meat-lovers. Many on Twitter have been asking what the vegetarian options are. Right now the only option would be the larger mac & cheese. There’s a lobster roll if you don’t fancy meat, but otherwise it’s mac & cheese, or pickles. It will be interesting to see whether One Sixty decides to extend the offer for vegetarians.

The menu isn’t extensive either, though it’s not clear whether it will change regularly depending what’s smoking – the printed menu last night didn’t tally exactly with the online menu, so there’s clearly room for manouevre. Personally, I prefer these shorter menus, which tends to imply fresher ingredients and dishes that have been perfected – there’s nowhere to hide after all.

OneSixty Menu

The front half of the venue is the bar – a large space with a few tables and what looks like a brushed steel bar adorned with interesting taps. The back half is the dark restaurant.

On our visit on Saturday, we shared all the starters – chicken wings, mac & cheese, and a half-rack of 8-hour smoked ribs. The wings and ribs were particularly good, sticky and tender without being impossible to eat. For mains, two of us had the 12-hour smoked ox cheek, and two the chuck steak burger. We tried all the sides. The ox cheek was excellent – although slightly drier than the version I had at the preview a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully they can get that moistness back. The burgers were a hit – “generously meaty”, if a little hard to eat. The “Iceberg & burnt onion” side was also very popular. Nothing disappointed in fact.

While one person worked his way through more of the beer menu, the rest of us tried a Tuscan red from the very limited wine list. It did the job admirably and felt fairly priced.

There was just one dessert on the menu and as we were far too full to contemplate it, we were generously given one to take home. I’ve just eaten it – it’s a banana & rum tarte tatin – and even a day on it was very good (and lighter than it looked, but I’m glad I reheated it).

One Sixty opens officially on Tuesday at 5pm at which point they’ll take you in off the street. I suspect it will be popular over the first few weeks, and both kitchen and front of house will find themselves tested from the start. I wish them well – it’s refreshing to see something genuinely different and independent moving into the area. I’m looking forward to giving it the full #whampreview treatment very soon.

Were we excited by Mamacita?

Mamacita was given a rough ride on Twitter when it opened last summer. Expectations were high so, when it got off to a shaky start, many people vented their frustration in 140 characters. West Hampstead’s only Mexican restaurant has weathered that storm, changed its menu, improved its service and come back fighting. We decided it was time to subject it to the whampreview test.

The downstairs bar has been a strong point from the get go, so we had to start the evening there sipping unusual but successful variations on classic cocktails.

The dark and moody bar is a sharp counterpoint to the multicoloured restaurant, decked out as if for a fiesta, and suitably buzzy for a Wednesday night. The Mamacita menu is reasonably concise, and is split into sharing startery-type things and substantial mains.

Click for larger version

Click for larger version

The startery-type things – tacos, tostados, quesadillas and the obligatory totopos (corn chips) and salsas – were among the more interesting things we tried though the corn chips & dips feel expensive at £10, especially as there’s always more salsa than chips but more chips is another £1 (and two of the dips have a £1 surcharge too).

Pork and apple tacos

Pork and apple tacos

My favourite starter by far was the Pork Carnitas and Apple Tacos (these are soft tacos, not the hard shells you might buy in supermarkets). Generously filled, though mercifully still easy to eat, the sharp apple nicely offset the rich pork – it’s a combo we all know works! The ceviche starter is more of a coctel de mariscos – a chilled soup of seafood – rather than the slices of cured fish on a plate. Perfectly nice, but not easy to share.

Burritos (here called burros) are served with the rice on the side rather than crammed into the tortilla. This leaves more room for the filling, which is a good thing in some ways, but also means that each bite is pretty similar. My “surf & turf” burrito was defintely laden down, but was pretty much all turf (beef) and not a whole lot of surf (garlic prawns). There’s the option to “go wet” with the burritos, which means a smothering of a delicious enchilada sauce and melted cheese. The sauce really adds something to the experience, but also adds £3 to the bill.

Surf & turf burrito "wet" (no cheese)

Surf & turf burrito “wet” (no cheese)

The churros (Mexican donuts) and chilli chocolate sauce are a must-have, and although we didn’t trouble the tequila menu on this visit, there’s always the option to wash them down with a sipping tequila (no shots here, thank you very much).

It’s fair to say that we had bill shock at the end – though we did get through three bottles of wine and two beers between six of us and our cocktails from downstairs were also on the bill. If you were watching the pesos then you’d need to keep an eye out for the extra charges such as the enchilada sauce or the £1 surcharge for guacamole. Better still, go for the early bird offer or just hang out in the bar drinking £5 cocktails at #whampsocial on March 12th!

Now over to the rest of this month’s whampreviewers:

Jon
I started with the Hemingway Daiquiri. Like the old man himself, it was sharp and unfussy – thankfully it didn’t come out with anything sexist or homophobic. The food had improved on my previous visits to Mamacita. The sauce in my enchilada was richer than the capo of a Tijuana narco-cartel. Combined with a particularly pungent chorizo it was perhaps all a bit much, but that was my fault for not going for the pork, chicken or sweet potato version instead. Best of all was the excellent Flying Dog IPA with which I knocked it all back. I’ll definitely return, chiefly for the drinks and the relaxed, lively atmosphere.

Enchilada

Enchilada

Anna
We kicked the evening off with cocktails, I had a nicely balanced Elderflower and Cranberry Sangria – complete with decorative rosemary twig. It was lovely, and I’ll definitely be returning to sample more of the cocktail menu.

As the token vegetarian, I had a slightly different experience to the others with regards to food. The menu is fairly limited for us vegetarians (but in all fairness this isn’t unusual) and the options are… interesting. To start I had Hibiscus and Cucumber Tostadas. I’d never tried hibiscus (heathen that I am) so didn’t know what to expect; it was fairly sweet without being overwhelmingly so. I found it a slightly odd combination but I would order it again. I was then rather unadventurous and had a veggie burrito, which there isn’t a great deal to say about. It was tasty and very filling, but not the most exciting food I’ve ever eaten. In terms of the other options available I was particularly intrigued by the notion of ‘Sweet Potato Fries Enchiladas’ – the mind just boggles at what this could be. I’ll probably be returning in the near future just to find out!

Annamarie
Being a native San Diego transplant here in London, I tried to remain as unbiased as possible though for authenticity, the place gets pretty fair marks. The ambience is cozy and creative downstairs in the bar, but the tables upstairs are a bit too spread out for my tastes and the space could afford more oomph. Yes that’s a word.

The friendly but softspoken drinks bar serves up a range of uniquely blended, petite-sized margaritas though the beer selection could use a makeover; there are only two on there, one of which is a Mexican import. I ordered the frozen hibiscus margarita which was lovely and pretty, but not in a girly way. It was very tasty, so I greedily ordered another one.

Upstairs there was enough positive energy to indicate that people were genuinely enjoying themselves. And this is a reflection of the staff who are friendly and attentive. As much as Mamacita claims to be a Mexican Bodega, you must delve further into their website and you will see that they somewhere slipped in that they also blend Latin and Peruvian flavours into their dishes. Sorry guys, we don’t need fusion or contemporary. We want authentic. We want Mexican.

The menu is interesting enough; however too lacking not in variety but choice, especially for vegetarians. I was surprised to see Cotija cheese, a delicious, tangy soft farmer’s cheese, only used in a couple of the dishes. I was also a little disappointed to see the odd “aioli,” “fennel” and “ponzu” thrown my way. By the way, if you’re going to use chorizo, use the Mexican one, not the Spanish. They are TOTALLY different.

Totopos & dips

Totopos & dips

The starters were nice enough, especially the totopos and guacamole combination. The portions were a little small but the quality and freshness made up for it. I ordered the mariscos burro as my main. It contained prawns and was served lukewarm. A mortal sin in my book. However, being too polite to send it back, I tucked in and decided that the prawns were borderline raw, dully seasoned and didn’t work well at all with the contents of the burro. The red rice on the side was nothing to write home about. I am not sure what the puddle of creamy goo on the side was for either.

Dessert was fabulous and just what the doctor ordered. I enjoyed the best piping hot sugary churros I’ve sunk my teeth into in a long time. And the accompanying chocolate sauce with globules of chili oil: it works!

Mamacita is a colourful and pretty well-suited addition to the West Hampstead hood. I’d like to see some small changes to the menu and more tried-and-true authenticity though.

James
My blood orange margarita in Frida’s bar was gorgeous. Moving upstairs to the restaurant, we enjoyed a tasty selection of starters that reminded me of the wonderful sharing dishes at Wahaca. It would be a pleasant option to enjoy these for the entire meal. Sadly my main, the Mexican Baja fish and chips, was far better to look at than to eat. A fun display of four pieces of fried fish was surrounded by a generous serving of sweet potato fries, wrapped in a cone of branded paper for that authentic fish and chip wrap experience (with slaw and sauce on the side). But it was just too salty for me and the all-fried style of the dish was ultimately overwhelming. The fish pieces themselves were tasty, but I wish there had been more fish and less fries. Churros for dessert did not disappoint, along with the surprisingly spicy chocolate sauce. Next time I’m eating starters all night.

Mexican Baja fish & chips

Mexican Baja fish & chips

Nicky
Pre-dinner margaritas in Frida’s Bar downstairs went down very well. As usual, I opted for the classic margarita – delicious, but I did feel a pang of envy seeing my companions’ Blood Orange margaritas, which looked very pretty with flowers floating on the top.

The starters we shared were the highlight of the meal for me, particularly the unusual Hibiscus and Cucumber Tostadas hitting the perfect balance of sweet and sharp flavours. My main course, the vegetarian burrito, was very stodgy and filling (great if you arrive hungry!) and definitely benefited from the addition of a well-spiced enchilada sauce and melted cheese on top (this comes at a slightly pricy £3 supplement).

Overall I enjoyed the food and loved the ambience. I’ll be back, but perhaps more often for cocktails and light snacks rather than a full dinner.

Mamacita
202 West End Lane
LONDON NW6 1SG
t: 0203 602 0862
w: www.mamacita.co.uk
e: ku.oc1519358432.atic1519358432amam@1519358432aloh1519358432

Brinkworth Dairy is local’s crème de la crème

Winners

West Hampstead Farmers Market has a new champion. Over four weeks of online polling, customers have voted Brinkworth Dairy as the market’s “Favourite Stall” of 2014.

The dairy, which sells cheese, milk, butter and cream as well as serving top-notch coffee, gets to unfurl the coveted yellow banner for the next year over its stall, which is right at the end of the market.

The dairy farm is based in North Wiltshire, and has been in the same family since it was taken over by William Collingborn in 1910. It has bred Friesan cows ever since in a closed herd.

The cheese making business began in 2006, and 80 percent of its revenue is now from farmers markets such as West Hampstead. Ceri Cryer, great-granddaughter of William, and her husband Chad run this side of the business, while Ceri’s dad Joe runs the farm. Chad can usually be found manning the coffee machine at the stall.

Ceri explains what’s special about the Brinkworth approach:

Everything is really handmade. In the cheese making, we don’t even use any mechanical stirrers or cutters. This means the curd is handled really gently and means that the cheese is really creamy. It means we only produce small volumes (60kg) at a time. Even the milk is bottled by hand just using a small tap. Milk is better when it hasn’t been knocked around so much. The ice-cream is made in 3 litre batches at a time which makes it easy to do bespoke flavours. The yogurt is made in a unique way – again with little handling and our customers love it!

Ceri’s own favourite product is the cream. “It’s so thick! It’s not double but quadruple cream”.

Farmers markets may mean that producers can cut out the middle man, but they are still hard work. Brinkworth is at seven markets every week, two on a Wednesday, two on a Saturday and three on a Sunday (including Queens Park, where it won best stall last year). Different markets have different emphasis. Marylebone is all about the cheese, whereas milk and butter does well in West Hampstead as families use the market for more of their staples.

What makes them the customers’ favourite. Chad reckons (sotto voce) that it might be that they’re good value!

Brinkworth Dairy West Hampstead

Tom’s tongue is tasered at Guglee

Guglee was bang on form the other night when I needed some late-night sustenance after working long hours and not having had even a droplet of wine for several days (do not adjust your sets)..

Prawn kadai was again a top dish, but the one to note from this visit was the Coastal Goa Fish Curry; described as “a popular, mildly-spiced fish curry cooked with kokum, fresh coconut and chef’s secret herbs”. A tantalising bowl of goodness; I thought the spicing had plenty of heat to it, and the flavours were typical of Guglee – fulsome, layered and balanced. Not sure if my wine-battered palate is showing signs of wear and tear, but I was convinced there were peanuts in the sauce; apparently not, though plenty of coconut.

We were grateful to be given a taster of a second Indian Shiraz from the same Sula Vineyards as the usual one; this isn’t on the menu yet but proved another excellent and intriguing wine.

Guglee remains reliably good, consistently popular, and always with a cheerful, vibrant atmosphere. In fact, bring on the rain and snow so I have even more excuse to be hit for six by such fiery, tongue-tasering food.

Happy Birthday! Colour Division turns 40

If you’re interested in how West Hampstead has changed since the mid-1970s, you could do worse than have a chat with David Jacobs.

Dave, as he’s known to his staff and customers, has been running print shop Colour Division from the same premises on West End Lane since day one, exactly 40 years ago today. He still remembers when “the only place you could get a cup of tea was the Wimpy Bar”.

40 years and they still can't spell West Hampstead (never trustr a printer!)

40 years and they still can’t spell West Hampstead (never trust a printer!)

Things have moved on since then, not only on the West Hampstead gastronomic scene but also in the world of printing. Colour Division has seen huge changes since the early days when people queued out of the door to photocopy letterheads and fanzines. Today’s customers are more likely to request LinkedIn profile photographs or high-quality digital prints.

One thing that remains constant is the long-standing staff members; alongside Dave, Steve Twohill has been working at Colour Division for 28 years, and Debbie Harris for the past decade.

Dave and his team have built up a loyal local customer base over the years: “I think we’ve served virtually every small business in the area, many times over… from estate agents to doctors surgeries, to accountants and architects”, as well as innumerable one-person businesses and private individuals.
“We’re very embedded in the community. Everybody seems to like us and like the service. We’ve got clients literally from day one still coming here, and now we’re serving their children.”

Dave and Steve in action

Dave and Steve in action

Dave started the business with his brother Ivor who at the time was working for a magazine that needed a short-run printing service. Together with Fred and Sid Kenton, a couple of local printers, they set up Colour Division inspired by short-run instant printing services in the US. The business started under the challenging conditions of the Three Day Week – imposed by Edward Heath’s Conservative government to conserve electricity.

Dave recalls more glamorous stories from the early days though – such as West Hampstead’s lively music scene of the time. “There was a big punk scene in West Hampstead” he says, which was centred on The Railway (formerly Klooks Kleek).

He also told us about Colour Division’s role in the early days of iconic style magazine i-D, when it was produced from founders Terry and Tricia Jones’ house nearby. “i-D magazine started in West Hampstead. In the early days, the whole team used to come in. There were maybe six paste-up artists, they used to put it together here, and we printed it. It started off as a very basic thing.”

The area may have changed beyond recognition, but Dave still believes it has the same community feel as ever. He is relaxed about the arrival of big chains on West End Lane: “People knock all these big chains moving in, but actually everybody uses them.”

He continues “It’s a myth that West Hampstead is a village, but it does have a villagey feel. People have said to me ‘I’ve never been to a place where people say hello to each other’. Those are some of the best things. It’s the friendliness of everybody. It’s a people area.”

What are the downsides of West Hampstead? Dave says that the parking restrictions mean that he loses out on a lot of business. “The parking’s impossible, from a commercial point of view. I reckon we’ve lost the potential for 25% of business.” He’d also like to see new businesses come into the area: “There’s too much focus on people escaping during the day; we need more business units – more small studios would be good.”

He’s also upfront about the fact that, with ever-increasing overheads and decreasing margins, times are hard. “I’m enthusiastic about the business, but there’s more stress than ever because of the financial constraints. The banking crisis has been really tough on small businesses”.

Will Colour Division introduce 3D printing to West Hampstead? The business has managed so far to keep up with new developments in the industry and Dave isn’t ruling anything out. However, he says the technology isn’t quite there yet. “Maybe in a couple of years.” You heard it here first!

Dave is clearly passionate about hearing his customer’s stories. One of Colour Division’s services is professional portrait photography – they even have a studio downstairs – and as he flicks through his portfolio, it’s clear that he’s proud of the shots. He also knows what everyone does. “We like people. We want to talk to you about your job.”

"You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting"

“You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. That keeps it interesting”

It’s the variety of work, and the customers and stories behind each assignment, that keep things interesting for Dave. As well as jobs for large business clients, people come in with requests for photographs of newborns, or wedding invitations, or funeral orders of service.

In Dave’s own words, “It’s an unusual business, I would say. There are so many different types of jobs. You tend to remember the people behind the jobs. We’ve seen life here in the raw. That keeps it interesting.”

Since the demise of the Wimpy, where does Dave go for a cup of tea now? True to his comment earlier that people still use the chains, you’re most likely to find him clutching a Starbucks.

Free tasting at Finchley Road’s newest coffee house

Set along the Finchley Road heading towards the O2 Centre is Remon, a little artisan bread and pastry bakery and coffee house that specialises in rare hard-to-find coffees and fine teas, authentic Sicilian Cannoli – traditional sweet ricotta cream pastries – and Arancini (risotto rice balls).

cannoli2

The shop has a mostly rustic appearance, yet you soon discover the quality of the breads and pastries.

Freshly-baked pastries

Freshly-baked pastries

The coffee is pretty good too, we’re very knowledgeable about our coffees, which are sold as beans, or ground or to drink on the premises. Our house blend is a strong smooth mix of Central American and African Arabica beans, which will change regularly to keep up with the variations that come from every fresh batch of coffee.

Remon Coffee House is offering a free coffee and tea tasting morning this Sunday, February 23rd, between 10am and midday. This will include a professional tasting of some of the rarest coffees, including Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona coffee, and teas such as Gushan silver needles and other first flush white/herbal and black teas.

A selection of Remon's specialist loose tea

A selection of Remon’s specialist loose tea

The event will let us welcome the local community into our coffee house to taste the many varieties of coffees and tea we offer. We hope it will establish us firmly amongst the finest coffee houses in London. We look forward to seeing you there.

For further details please see our Facebook page or come visit us at 225 Finchley Road, NW3 6LP.

Sponsored post

Risotto

Tom falls between the cracks at The Alliance

A bit of a mixed bag at The Alliance on Mill Lane the other day. Let me explain.

Bread and olives were definitely of the ‘value’ variety; a warmed baguette with no butter or oil, with green olives of the brine / jar type; not a crime – but at £3, one might expect posher ones?

My main was a puzzling dish that was almost right, but just fell short: a generous sea bass fillet with a pleasingly crispy skin, placed on top of a tower of “crostini”, which was actually made up of an amusing series of toasted, sliced brown bread triangles! I’m not convinced this was chef’s original intention when the concept was conceived, but at least the toasts were nicely crisped. A caper vinaigrette and samphire worked well, though perhaps the orange-coloured sauce and dash of balsamic weren’t really needed; the chopped fennel was a sound idea but a touch underdone for my tastes. Overall, good elements, just a little over-complicated and confused.

Sea bass on toast

Sea bass on toast

Fries materialised rather than chips, because chef had “run out of them”, but with plenty of ketchup, that wasn’t too much of a problem.

Madame Fusspot was most definitely not pleased to find her risotto undercooked. This was a pity; with Parmesan, chopped peppers and char-grilled courgette neatly placed atop, the flavours were bang-on, but to send it out without finishing the cooking properly seemed altogether strange, though it has to be said this seems to be one of the most common, if inexplicable, eating-out errors.

Risotto

All in all I just wonder if The Alliance – a welcoming, friendly pub that’s always relaxed and mellow – is caught slightly between trying to do pub grub and something a little more elevated, without quite finding the right balance yet. Or perhaps I’ve just been a little unlucky on recent visits?

Still, there’s leather sofas, live sport (on TV, not actually going on in the pub – unless you count Wine Olympics) – and a fulsome breakfast menu too. Eggs Florentine and coffee while watching the downhill would have been fab. Alternatively, a traditional, hangover-busting fry-up with perhaps a more conservative use for those funny triangles of toast!

Caught in a whamp romance: 7 Valentine’s ideas

Valentine’s Day is happening (again!), and it’s happening this Friday. It’ll be pretty much unavoidable, so why not just embrace it. Once you’ve chosen the perfect card – I rather like the Pingu ones from West End Lane Books – what next? Here’s a by no means exhaustive list of some Valentine’s events in West Hampstead.

1. Cute and cosy

bakeaboo_valentines

Bakeaboo, on Mill Lane, isn’t just about afternoon tea. It’s hosting a special Valentine’s supper club – this will be the perfect low-key romantic setting with candles and fairy lights. There’s a supper club communal table, or a few tables for two if you’re after something a bit more conventional. Make sure to book in advance for this (020 7435 1666).

2. Hot and spicy

Mamacita_valentines

If your date loves Mexican food, Mamacita has a special 5-course menu for £28 per person, featuring dishes such as an “Oyster and Bloody Maria shot”, and churros and chocolate sauce to share. Add £20 per person for unlimited Prosecco, and the conversation is bound to flow. Booking on 0203 602 0862.

3. Chilled and single

Fridassign_700

Mamacita hasn’t forgotten about you lovely singletons either. Downstairs at Frida’s Bar it’s hosting a “Single & Mingle” night. It’s billed as a relaxed evening for people who want to meet other locals. The cash-only bar will be serving £5 cocktails all night.

4. Pampered and groomed

Macs valentine

Over in Kilburn, Macs salon is holding a free “pamper party” on Wednesday the 12th from 12-3pm with free champagne, treatments, and a “hair tutorial” so you can look your best on Valentine’s Day. Call 020 7328 9777 to book your place.

5. Classy and sophisticated

TheWetFishValentines

As you’d expect, The Wet Fish Café has a rather sexy Valentine’s menu, and it’s available all weekend. If you can hold out until Sunday, there’s also live music from Enchanted Strings – a string quartet playing movie themes and pop tunes. Three courses plus entertainment is just £24.50. Booking is essential (020 7443 9222)

6. Creative and arty

Art4FunValentine

Fancy something a bit different? Creative café Art 4 Fun on West End Lane is holding a special Valentine’s evening on Friday. Bring a bottle of wine and settle in to paint ceramics with your date. Sounds like it could be really romantic, like Ghost (except hopefully without any murder or supernatural activity). Booking is recommended (020 7794 0800)

7. Public and passionate

Remon Valentines window

Finally, a lovely idea from Remon, the new-ish café and bakery on Finchley Road. It’s transformed its window into a Love Board where customers can stick messages for their loved ones. Buy your beau one of Remon’s cannoli (delicious Italian pastries) while you’re in there, and you’re sure to win their heart!

Support food poverty by dining out

Whether you’re in a hurry for a curry, savouring a sushi platter, or tucking into some tapas, now’s your chance to eat so that others can eat. Dine2DonateNW aims to bring the community together to support food poverty.

From February 9th to 13th, participating restaurants in West Hampstead and Finchley Road will donate up to 30% of your food bill to local foodbanks in Chalk Farm and Kilburn, run by The Trussell Trust. The goal is to raise £10,000.

Interested? To support this event, simply present an event flyer when you dine at one of the participating restaurants, or book ahead directly quoting “Dine2Donate”. Some restaurants are even offering discounts of up to 15% on food spend. Look out for flyers being distributed on the streets at the start of next week, or simply print your own. The flyer and list of participating restaurants can be found on the event’s Facebook page or here (or at the bottom of the page).

If you’d like to make a donation, you can at Dine2DonateNW’s JustGiving page.

Dine2DonateNW was founded by 32-year-old software engineer and local resident Anthony Schiller, who has lived in West Hampstead for three years. Struck by the rising number of people living below the poverty line, and with a keen interest in health, he came up with the initiative to get local restaurants and the community involved, and has been pleased with the enthusiastic response so far.

Anthony has high hopes that the community will embrace the event and that it will continue to grow:

“Success would create a real opportunity to expand the event and tackle food poverty on a greater scale. The interest from local businesses is definitely there. Some restaurants have even asked if the event can be repeated more often and expanded to other areas of London. From there, who knows how far this initiative could reach.”

“Funds are needed to open and develop foodbank projects. They help prevent crime, housing loss, family breakdown and mental health issues. The Trussel Trust supports more than 300,000 people every year across the UK through its network of foodbanks. Let’s support these projects!”

The participating restaurants are: Bombay Nights, Caffe Zaza, La Voss, Lahore Tikka House, Little Sichuan, Seoul Korean Restaurant, Sirous, Spice Tree, Subway (141 Finchley Rd) and Sushi Kou.

Whether your favourite local restaurant is on the list, or you’d like to discover somewhere new – now’s your chance to do so while also supporting a great cause.

Pub quizzes in West Hampstead and Kilburn

Gallery pub quiz_ft

Starter for ten… where and when are the best pub quizzes in West Hampstead and Kilburn? This is a question we get asked a lot, especially during the cold winter months. The Black Lion on West End Lane seems to get a lot of love on Twitter for its Sunday night quiz, but what are the other options?

I set out to investigate the perplexing conundrums of which pubs hold a quiz, where are the biggest prizes to be won, and why are they all on a Tuesday?

The Gallery – Monday, 8pm

The Gallery, on Broadhurst Gardens, kicks off a week of #whamp trivia. It’s £1 per person to enter, with a maximum of 8 on each team. The winning team takes the jackpot, with runners-up getting a bottle of wine. There’s also a bonus point for the best team name.

North London Tavern – Monday, 8pm

General knowledge, sport and music rounds feature at the NLT’s quiz. There are also game show games, such as Play Your Cards Right, in between rounds to win free drinks. The entry fee is £2, and the winning team wins the pot. For the lucky team in second place, it’s free shots all round.

Black Lion, Kilburn – Tuesday, 8pm

The Black Lion on Kilburn High Road (quiz points deducted if you go to the one on West End Lane by mistake) is also £1 to enter. The winning team takes the pot of money at the end of the night, and there are bonus “free drink” questions along the way.

Earl Derby – Tuesday, 8pm

This is a music-themed quiz, so expect to hear plenty of song snippets from different genres to identify, as well as a picture round and other musical trivia. The winning team scoops the money pot, second prize is a bottle of wine, and the team in third place wins a “mystery booby prize”. £1 per person to enter.

The Priory Tavern – every 2nd Tuesday, 7.45 for 8pm start

Quizmaster Ben Jones hosts each fortnight, with questions across a range of topics. It’s £2 entry per person, and maximum team size is six. The winning team takes 90% of the night’s money pot. The remaining 10% is put in a Prize Pig for the highest-scoring quiz team of the season (approximately 10 quiz nights). The winners can also enjoy a round of drinks for the table, as well as branded gifts – tonight’s is a set of Peroni pint glasses. This quiz has its own Twitter account – follow @PrioryQuizHead for sample questions.

The Alliance – Thursday, 8.30pm

The Alliance has the largest prize pot of all, as the jackpot gets rolled over each week the tiebreaker question at the end doesn’t get answered correctly. The total currently stands at £1,273, so get yourself to Mill Lane on Thursday if you fancy your chances. Questions range across the usual categories, such as sport, food & drink and general knowledge. The team with the highest score on the night wins a meal at the pub. There’s also wine for the winner of the picture round. £2 to enter.

Sir Colin Campbell – Thursday, 9pm

The Sir Colin Campbell’s weekly quiz features a picture round plus a good mix of general knowledge, some local and London questions, as well as a bit of music. There is also a cumulative jackpot prize after the quiz itself.

Black Lion West Hampstead – Sunday, 7.30 for 8pm start

The pub advises booking in advance for this popular quiz night, especially if you have a bigger team (maximum 6 people) and want to settle into a booth. Sunday roasts are available all evening in case you need to nourish your brain cells. Questions include a picture round, name the song, and a cryptic round. It’s £2 to enter, and the cash is divided in varying quantities between the teams in first, second and third place.

Over to you – Which NW6 quiz gets your vote? Have I missed any out? And why DO so many take place on a Tuesday? Comments are open below.

The Zest test

Zest_featured

Zest at JW3 has garnered positive reviews from all quarters, but had yet to be put to the stringent test of #whampreview. Last Thursday, six of us squeezed into the packed restaurant in the lower ground floor of Finchley Road’s enormous new Jewish cultural centre to deliver the only verdict that really matters.

Booking is essential (note that Zest is closed Friday evenings and all day Saturday) and a glance at the appetising menu shows why. Mezze dishes are the obvious way to open, and we merrily tucked into pimped up hummus (£5), heritage carrots (£4.50), some cheese-stuffed peppers (£5), a really delicious pickled aubergine dish (£5) that I tried and failed to keep down my end of the table, a top-notch tomato salad (£4) and labneh – a strained yoghurt dish (£4.50).

Zest_menu

Main courses are not cheap – the whole restaurant isn’t cheap – but the quality of the entirely kosher food is outstanding. My boned-out sea bass with currants, lemon yoghurt, cherry tomatoes and almonds was stuffed with mejadra (a mildly-spiced lentil and rice mix) (£19). It was superb, perfectly cooked and a wonderful combination of flavours that I’d never had before.

Zest_seabass

The Israeli Pinotage that four of us were drinking was good value by the bottle (£18). The wine list is very limited, and the per-glass price and the bottle price don’t match up for reds or whites, so plan ahead – you may find glasses are better value.

Unfortunately (and we weren’t the only ones to politely complain that night), the service was incredibly slow. Although our friendly waiter Luis took our order promptly, it was a long a time before any food appeared – even the bread and olives, let alone our drinks. In fact, the kitchen seemed to be so backed up that we were given dessert menus while we were still eating our mains.

This is uncivilised at the best of times, but when you’re paying fairly high-end prices it’s really not what you expect. It’s perhaps indicative of Zest’s biggest problem in attracting customers who are there purely for the quality of food and not because it’s a kosher restaurant. The bill came to £43 a head, but the vibe is more cafeteria than restaurant – the newspaper-style menus, the cluttered tables and the almost uncomfortable chairs all contribute to this.

But then came the desserts and all was forgiven.

There are four desserts, we tried all of them and they were all wonderful. I had the malabi (£6.50) – a sort of pannacotta topped with rhubarb that has probably gone straight to the top of the West Hampstead pudding league.

Zest_malabi

Malabi

Zest is an excellent addition to West Hampstead dining. Whether the atmosphere is conducive to the kinds of special occasion meals that the prices suggest will be a matter of personal taste. I think I’d go back for mezze and dessert and a glass of wine. And there’s always the less formal café, which has similarly enticing food.

Now over to the rest of this month’s whampreviewers:

Emily: The mezze selection was interesting, with the purple heritage carrots throwing in elements of Heston as the dish appeared to be beetroot. The addition of anchovies and egg to the hummus gave a standard dish an interesting twist. The fish burger (£15.50) was very tasty and I particularly liked the pickles – red cabbage on a fish burger works incredibly well.

Fishburger

My highlight was the wine and the rugelach dessert. Not being a bread and butter pudding fan I was nervous about ordering, but it was possibly my favourite part of the meal. A lovely flavour, but not so heavy to bring on a pudding coma. All in all, pleasant service, allbeit a bit slow at the start and too rapid at the end, tasty food and a lovely ambience. Clean loos (always important) and the prices were what I expected for that location.

Rugelach

Rugelach

Adrian: I can’t recall ever being given a dessert menu between mouthfuls of my main course, nor having to pay before I’ve finished my meal. But our Portuguese waiter was charming and largely covered gaping chasms in the service/production process that should have been ironed out by now. Still, the double-heighted, concrete-laden construction of Zest’s JW3 home offset the specially-commissioned, colourful crockery wonderfully. If you’re going to sit around for a while waiting for your food, it’s nice to have good side plates to fidget with.

When our starters did arrive, they were worth the wait – tasty mezze straight from an Ottolenghi photo shoot – fresh, zingy and accompanied by excellent freshly-baked bread. My main course of sardines wrapped in vine leaves (£16.50) was okay, if a little pricey, lacking a touch of refinement in process that wasn’t made up for in taste. The soggy slab of once-toasted bread underneath did nothing for its cause. On reflection, I should have had the fish burger – the mouthful I stole was incredible.

Sardines

Thankfully, dessert – a bread-and-butter pudding made from rugelach, a rolled pastry filled with cinnamon and poppy seeds and resplendent with poached pears and pistachio crumbs – was unctuous and comforting with bursts of tart cranberries setting it off a treat (£8).

I’d probably go back – not just for the surprisingly good wine – but would likely choose the café rather than the restaurant, which seemed to offer the same mezze and decadent desserts without the expensive (slow) service.

Debbie: How to choose? There was so much on this menu that looked enticing – luckily being a party of six we could order pretty much all of the mezze plates without appearing too greedy. Highlights for me were the Mixed Heritage Carrots, beautifully glazed purple carrots mixed with feta, and a wonderfully creamy hummus. The mains were equally intriguing, the sardines wrapped in vine leaves proved to be an excellent combination and were served on two slices on French toast which was perfect for soaking up a delicious green chilli salsa that delivered quite the kick. It may not have been the most obvious combination of ingredients but it worked brilliantly.

Dessert was the final culinary revelation of the evening, a very more-ish sticky date pudding with a fig compote (£7.50) that was just the right amount of sticky without being heavy and packed with flavour. My only complaint would be the overly long wait we had for our food at the beginning of the evening but with very affable staff and such excellent food (and company of course) this did nothing to spoil a highly enjoyable evening.

Sticky date pudding

Tom: With its “posh canteen” feel and lively atmosphere, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Zest’s food and wine. We had to wait a while for drinks, but the Rioja was good and the Israeli Pinotage excellent; a wine of real depth and character.

Mezze dishes were light, with fresh ingredients and subtle flavours. A decent start. My main dish was fascinating. Black tahini glazed cod, Swiss chard and harissa lentils, with brik noodles, all resting in a mushroom and truffle broth. At £21.50 I was keen to see if it delivered, and it most certainly did. I’m not even sure I totally understood the dish; a little awkward to eat, juggling a soup spoon with knife and fork, which were fiddly to use in the deep (but very attractive) bowl. But the ingredients, cooking, tastes and textures were sublime! Delicate yet bold, with gently-done chard, perfectly cooked cod, and spoonfuls of a magnificent broth with the noodles and lentils…so much to appreciate, yet it all married together so well.

Cod

Citrus and white chocolate cheesecake, with marinated sharon fruit and almonds (£7) was initially impressive for its generous size, then more so for being quite delicious. I’d have liked a slightly firmer, colder topping, but that’s a minor quibble about a lovely dessert.

Cheesecake

Nicky: The food at Zest all looks very attractively thrown together, on colourful glazed bowls and plates, but don’t be fooled by its casual appearance. When you eat these dishes it becomes clear that a very skilled team has put them together, and every component is there for a reason.

Even deceptively simple-sounding dishes like the fish burger are an exciting mixture of flavours and textures: the crisp and juicy fried fish, the piquant red cabbage relish and soft glazed brioche bun were the perfect combination. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I carried on eating it even when I felt pleasantly full – it was that addictive.

Prices are on the high side, so dinner at Zest would be an occasional treat for me – but I’ll definitely be back soon to sample brunch and the cakes in the café.

Zest at JW3
341-351 Finchley Road
London NW3 6ET
t: 020 7433 8955
w: http://www.zestatjw3.co.uk/
e: /ku.o1519358432c.3wj1519358432tatse1519358432z@ofn1519358432i1519358432

54 Mill Lane as C Bowler

A moment in time on Mill Lane

54 Mill Lane as C Bowler

54 Mill Lane in its former glory. Still from Conrad Blakemore’s short film

In 1991, local filmmaker Conrad Blakemore shot a short film for Channel 4. The Watchmaker was a snapshot of a day in the life of Mill Lane business C. Bowler Watchmaker and Jeweller.

Norman Clifford Bowler’s shop at 54 Mill Lane was postbox red and inside was an assorted jumble of watch parts. Mr Bowler himself seems to have been an amiable chap.

Born in Northumberland in July 1899, Clifford served in the Machine Gun Corps in World War 1 and by 1926 was on the electoral regiser at the Mill Lane address. He married Mabel in 1929 in Willesden.

In the film he recalls that he’s had customers for “40 or 50 years now. They always come to me first, to see if I’m still here. People are interested because they went to school in this area and although they have no repairs for me, they come here out of interest to see how many of the old shops are left and I’m about the only original one left now.”

Clifford died in January 1993 aged 93. Today, 54 Mill Lane is an empty premises, though it would appear several businesses use it as their registered address.

54 Mill Lane in January 2014

54 Mill Lane in January 2014

mill_lane_watchmaker_plaque

A plaque by the door commemorates the watchmaker

It’s nice to find, via Twitter, that the watchmaker’s shop – and the watchmaker himself – hasn’t been forgotten yet.

Thanks to Tetramesh for the original link and to Dick Weindling for additional historical detail.

Escott’s: Not the final curtain

Eagle-eyed readers of the Mill Lane pharmacy article will have spotted that as well as the two dispensing chemists’, a third business was mentioned – Escott’s Upholsterers. The family business closed its doors at 59 Mill Lane for the last time last Wednesday, leaving many local customers asking what had happened to this long-standing West Hampstead operation.

Escotts1

Until last week, Jean and Derek Browes ran the shop. Their nephew Mark Browes was also part of the team. Now retired, Jean and Derek have sold the freehold on the premises to Sanjay Patel of Aqua Pharmacy. However, Mark has taken over the upholstery business and will continue to run it from a new workshop near his home in Watford.

Escott’s has a long history in West Hampstead. It was established in 1895, originally based on West End Lane, and had operated from its workshop on Mill Lane for 45 years. The Browes family took over from the Escotts a few years before the move to Mill Lane, continuing to trade under the name of its founders as it was already an established and successful business.

This latest move reflects the reality of the rising cost of freeholds and rent in West Hampstead. According to Mark, it is no longer cost-effective to have the workshop here. He recalled a time, 30 years ago, when there were three upholstery businesses on Mill Lane. He is sad to leave the area. What will he miss most about West Hampstead? “The people. Over the years we built up quite personal relationships with customers. We’d have three generations of the same family coming to the shop.”

Mark was keen to point out that the move won’t affect home services; he will still be able to collect customers’ furniture and return it as he always has. Indeed, you can still contact Mark at Escott’s on the same number as before: 020 7435 6975, or via email: ku.oc1519358432.evil1519358432@stto1519358432cse1519358432.

Tom’s made to wait at Mamako

Interesting evening on Saturday at Mamako, the new pan-Asian place that’s replaced Spiga on Broadhurst Gardens. It was the venture’s opening night and what followed was a little chaotic!

Must be said right away, the food was certainly good and in parts excellent. Standouts included the Malaysian curry puffs – a chicken parcel thing with a quite exquisite pastry – some veggie gyozas with a delightful, soy-based dipping sauce, a Nyonya chicken curry and Nasi Lemak. My seafood noodle dish was nice, but not special, with everything cooked just a little too long in the wok; very soft noodles, slightly rubbery prawns and squid rings.

Mamako chicken curry

Large chicken pieces in a rich yellow curry sauce

The menu definitely veers towards Malaysia and Thailand, but there are a few Korean and Japanese items on the menu too.

The team seemed to have been thrown by a large party of a dozen people – one or two were friends of the owners, but they hadn’t realised such a big group was coming and the kitchen never recovered. For those arriving just afterwards, orders took an extraordinarily long time, and plates arrived in a disjointed fashion. Inevitably, there were a couple of polite walk-outs, and – as the last table left – we were given our meal on the house which was a nice gesture.

The waitress was endlessly polite and apologetic, and both the chef (who is clearly skilled and displays warmth and enthusiasm), and the manager, took time to chat with us at the end to explain their difficulties. We just felt that more communication as to what was going on earlier in the evening, and perhaps some nibbles etc. while waiting, would have gone down well.

All that said, the menu is enticing and there’s lots to intrigue the diner – get along there, but give them a chance while they find their feet. I’m sure we’ll be back to do a proper review before long.

Now, none of that ‘dry January’ rubbish for me, thanks very much; get some Port down you and keep warm the right way!

Loaves with heart at Hart & Lova

HartLova4

Andrea Hartlova gets out of bed at 3.30 each morning to cycle from her home in Islington to her new bakery Hart & Lova in Kilburn, such is her passion for her craft.

Together with master baker Nicolas Juaneda, she produces bread, pastries and cakes and serves Monmouth coffee from the attractively bright and airy Belsize Road shop and café, which opened earlier this week.

Andrea has an impressive baking CV. Having trained as a pastry chef at patisseries in her native Czech Republic, she moved to the UK 11 years ago, and worked at bakeries such as Euphorium in Islington. For the past couple of years she has baked cakes in rented premises in King’s Cross, and supplied her wares to outlets including Harvey Nichols.

HartLova1

Her ultimate goal, however, was always to open her own bakery; she just needed the perfect location. She believes she has found this in Belsize Road, as she wanted her business to be at the heart of a small community with regular customers – not an anonymous high street shop “where you never see the same customer twice”. Belsize Road already boasts some popular businesses: Ekin, Cocoa Exchange, The Priory Tavern and Little Bay all draw regular customers.

Andrea says she already feels part of a close-knit community. The process of renovating the shop – previously an empty unit that had once been a video shop – took six months of hard work, as the building was in a bad state of repair and needed rewiring and decorating. In that time she got to know many neighbours, who would regularly pop in to check on her progress.

Now the wait is over, and the residents of Kilburn and South Hampstead no longer have to go to West End Lane or Maida Vale for freshly baked bread and pastries. Hart & Lova looks set to be a great addition to the shops on Belsize Road and should do well, whether customers are after a coffee for the morning commute, a loaf of bread at the weekend, or a cake for a special occasion.

Judging by the delicious samples West Hampstead Life tried at the launch event this week, Hart & Lova should be around for some time to come.

Izabela Szypulska, café assistant, serves a croissant

Izabela Szypulska, café assistant, serves a croissant

 

Don’t Dispense So Close To Me

pharmacies

Once upon a time there were two pharmacies on Mill Lane. They were about 200 metres apart. But not for long.

Aqua Pharmacy, at 102 Mill Lane, is planning to move to 59 Mill Lane, which has been occupied by Escott’s upholsterers for many years. This would bring it just 10 doors away from T. K. Impex pharmacy (81 Mill Lane). T.K. Impex isn’t happy. The move is planned for May/June.

At stake would seem to be the trade from patients walking back from the West Hampstead Medical Centre on Solent Road. Once, those that turned left would probably go to Aqua for their prescriptions and those that turned right would go to T.K. Impex. Aqua’s impending move means it becomes the nearest option for everyone coming up from Solent Road.

Sanjay Patel, the Aqua pharmacist, has owned the chemist for the past three years. He insists that there is nothing sinister behind his desire to relocate. Worried about ever-increasing rents, and with the lease about to expire on his current premises, he took the opportunity to buy the freehold on the Escott’s building in order to have more control over his business. Mill Lane may appear to have many empty ground floor units but the reality is, one local estate agent told us, that few landlords are willing to sell their freeholds at the moment.

Aqua plans to move in to where Escott's has been

Aqua plans to move in to where Escott’s has been

The Escott’s unit is about the same size as Aqua, he says, and he has ambitious plans to modernise it and improve his shop’s offering and customer experience. From his point of view, this is a sensible way of protecting his business. The advantage of being a freehold owner is, he says, “the only driver for the move”, and his intention is not to take business away from anyone else.

Unfair advantage?

Kim Khaki has run T.K. Impex for more than 30 years, and is unhappy with Aqua’s proposed move. He views the relative newcomer as a threat to his business and feels Aqua will have an unfair advantage because it will be the first pharmacy people see when turning onto Mill Lane from Solent Road. Aqua’s new premises is also very near the post office and bus stops, so he is worried that patients may go there for the convenience factor.

He also expressed concern that having two pharmacies in such close proximity is “not adding any value to the West Hampstead community” of which he feels very much a part.

T.K. Impex, somewhat confusingly, is also known by its trading name of H. V. Thomas (the name of the previous owner who ran the pharmacy for 45 years before Kim took over). It is, however, testament to the current owner’s personality and dedication that despite the various names above the door, the shop is known to its regular customers simply as “Kim’s”. He does seem to have an extremely loyal client base of his own, with some customers signing a petition to protest against Aqua’s application to move closer.

Indeed, Kim is proud of the longstanding relationships he has built up with patients, and the personal service he and his staff provide. On our visit to the traditional-looking chemists, a steady stream of customers arrived for prescriptions, advice, or just a chat, including eminent local historian Morris Beckman who, at 94, has been a regular visitor to the shop for many years.

Sanjay certainly believes that regular customers tend to remain loyal to a particular pharmacy, having built up a trusting and personal relationship, sometimes over many years. He expects Aqua’s regular clientele to follow it down the road to its new address and, likewise, for the regular users of T. K. Impex to keep going there. He is keen to emphasize that he “will not be changing the patient base”.

Kim accepts that there is little he can do to block the move, but feels that it goes against an unwritten pharmacists’ code of conduct. Any pharmacy move needs regulatory approval but as Aqua is moving only 140 metres and will continue to provide the same services, it will almost certainly be deemed to be a “relocation which does not result in significant change” to local patient groups.

Kim, however, asserts that as well as damaging his business, Aqua’s relocation will inconvenience patients at the other end of Mill Lane, who will now have to walk farther. He believes it would make more sense for Aqua to relocate in the other direction, as the nearest chemist’s that way is far away on Manstone Road off Cricklewood Broadway.

Sanjay counters this by pointing out that Kim’s chemist is nearer to the Cholmley Gardens GP practice, so patients there will continue to take their prescriptions to their regular chemist. He is confident that there are enough customers in and around Mill Lane to support both businesses, and that as they offer different services and products, they will each keep their regular clientele.

Will this be a case of “let battle commence”, or is it more likely that each pharmacy’s loyal customers will stick with what (and whom) they know?

Burglary at The Wet Fish Café

Burglars broke into The Wet Fish Café on Sunday night. They made off with the safe, which had only a few hundred pounds in it. However, the burglars  also caused around £1,000 worth of damage to the building.

Owner André Millodot arrived at work on Monday morning but didn’t immediately notice the chaos. “I opened up as usual, put the lights on, put the music on… then noticed the smashed bathroom.”

IMG_1064

The burglars entered through the toilet window at the back, which is accessed from the small service road behind the row of businesses on West End Lane. They had managed to detach the grille that covers the window, which must have taken considerable force. Pulling down these bars also ripped away the wooden frame and surrounding brickwork.

An upstairs neighbour later confirmed that he’d heard “heavy banging” at around 11pm. “It was raining heavily and we closed early”, said André. The neighbour assumed that the noise was people upstairs moving heavy furniture about, so didn’t investigate further.

It’s the fourth break-in in the restaurant’s 10-year history.

Police and forensics investigated at the scene, and there is a CCTV camera in the service road, which hopefully will give some clues.

By the end of Monday, André confirmed that the toilet had been fixed and bars re-installed on the window. Although the restaurant had been closed over the Christmas period for a thorough sprucing up, the bathroom hadn’t been part of that work.

Despite the New Year setback, André is staying positive.”It could have been worse,” he said, even managing a wry smile at the joke they’d coincidentally chalked on the board outside earlier on the Sunday.

chalkboard

Headmasters comes to West Hampstead

Next Friday, January 10th, another hairdresser arrives on West End Lane.

Ice cream or a haircut?

Ice cream or a haircut?

Headmasters is a chain with 65 unisex salons in the UK and Norway, and its West Hampstead branch will be at 220 West End Lane. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that these are the premises previously occupied by Chez Chantal.

It is tempting in prospective customers with an opening offer for the first two weeks.

It’ll be interesting to see how another salon fits in to an already crowded market. From a first glance at the price list, it looks like the closest local comparison is HOB, with a ladies’ cut and style starting at £42.

Will you be giving Headmasters a visit, or staying loyal to your regular stylist? Let me know below or on Twitter @ZENW6