The Arches – restaurant review

The quirky interior of The Arches is certianly different to anything else in the area. A multitude of lampshades dangle from the ceiling, interspersed with what look like dolls of witches. There are even (fake – please say they are fake) cobwebs on the shelves above our table. “It would be a perfect place for a Halloween party,” commented someone.

This wine bar-cum-restaurant has been a fixture of the South Hampstead scene for many years. It’s  a healthy 10 minute walk from West Hampstead tube station (Swiss Cottage is much closer) and has a loyal local following who enjoy sitting outside on Fairhazel Gardens with a glass of something good. We were there to road-test the food, however.

There is a bar menu, a restaurant menu, and a specials board. There’s no particular theme to the food, with some Asian, Mediterranean and resolutely British offerings. Never a great sign – I would rather have a chef who can focus on one cuisine.

Sarah and Laura plumped for the pumpkin soup of the day, which was deemeed to be woefully lacking in seasoning. “It tastes of cream and hot and pepper”, said Laura having added the pepper herself.

Not a good start. Tom and Holly went for the fried halloumi – a change from the squeaky grilled treatment it usually gets. Both seemed very happy, with Tom praising the salad dressing and the presence of sundried tomatoes, “always a winner”. This certainly looked the most attractive starter. The rest of us went for the smoked duck caesar salad, which worked well and was a generous starter portion, but was otherwise unremarkable.

Several of us went for main courses from the specials board. I had the pork chop with mash and apple sauce (a large quantity of both). Sadly the pork was overcooked and dry and any flavour eradicated. It wasn’t unpleasant, and the crackling was decent enough, but I was glad that there was an overdose of the very nice mash.

The roast cod special looked the best dish of the night. Tom, Lisa and Sarah all said it was very well cooked, although Sarah thought the portion was on the small side and was lusting after someone else’s side order of diced sautéed potatoes to replace her own boiled new potatoes.

Gary and Justin both went for steak – which was presented rather unattractively alone on a plate with quite a lot of similarly brown sauce (or was it “jus”?). Vegetables are included but, like the potatoes, they come separately to share. Mercifully the veg (beans and broccoli) were perfectly cooked. Justin declared his steak to be “fucking amazing” (he’s Australian so forgive the language!) and Gary also seemed happy (if not quite so demonstrably ecstatic) with his. Holly’s chicken wrapped in pancetta was on the dry side, but tasted good. Once again, Laura was unfortunate – her prawns from the bar menu were uninspiring and she reckoned she’d had much better for less money.

Full as usual after dessert we shared one each of the three specials: an almond and mango crumble (good taste, but too dry), a creme brulee (very good) and a cheesecake (dull).

As a wine bar – and allegedly with one of the best wine lists in north London – the choice of wines verges on the overwhelming. You can drop £1500 for a magnum of 1990 Chateau Latour if you want, but obviously most wines are more affordable. However, disappointingly, most of the cheaper wines beyond the most basic house wines have “Sold” pencilled in next to them. Even our first choice red (a Sicilian Nero d’Avola) turned out be sold out as well.

It’s a shame they haven’t updated the wine list to reflect the gaps in the cellar – or replenished the missing bottles. We ended up with a South Africa Pinotage and a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc both of which were good value.

Sadly, the woman who runs The Arches wasn’t working that night. She is a very welcoming character and without her the service was a little lacklustre, although in my previous visits that’s never been an issue.

Everyone liked the vibe, with its quirky neighbourhood atmosphere. There was a consensus that the food didn’t quite deliver on expectations, but as a local wine bar it’s hard to beat – and if you do need something to soak up the alcohol then the menu offers plenty of choice but you may want to choose wisely.

Food 7.2
Service 6.4
Value 5.9
Overall 7.8
Good for: wine lovers
Bad for: clutterphobes
The Arches
7 Fairhazel Gardens
Swiss Cottage
T: 020 7624 1867
Arches on Urbanspoon

The Bake-a-boo book launch

West Hampstead hosts its fair share of literary events, but few recently have been so eagerly anticipated as the launch of the Bake-a-boo Bakery Cookbook. Sadly, I was unable to make it to the party at the tea shop, but several whampers (and many others) were in attendance, so here’s what a couple had to say:
@Tangentical: “There may be debate as to whether Marie Antoinette actually said “Let them eat cake’, but none around the fact that she lost her head. Entering the haven of decorative whimsy that is bake-a-boo it is all to easy to lose your head and crave nothing but cake. Now, delightfully, we can recreate some of the gorgeous confections at home thanks to a new recipe book, which includes a selection of dairy and gluten free recipes.
The launch party was a 1940s-influenced cocktail affair with alcoholic and virgin fruity numbers served in dainty teacups, while jazzy tunes were provided by The Rockabellas.
Cakes aplenty were available and author Zoe Berkeley – the hostess with the mostess – was on hand to autograph copies for all the happy customers of whom I was certainly one.
@bubela “Bake-a-boo was even more crowded than usual at the launch of cookbook. The outside seating under a pretty white canopy was fully occupied by happy punters sampling the drinks and divine mini-cupcakes and sandwiches that were on offer. At the back of the café a terrific Andrews Sisters-type group were the entertainment, all making for a great atmosphere. Plenty of books were being signed and sold, one indeed to myself.

So, all in all, I missed out big time, but am now off to go and collect my copy. Congratulations to Zoe.

Photos courtesy of Rachel and Bakeaboo.

West End Lane’s changing streetscape

Ten days or so ago, it was brought to my attention that Best One – the mini-market on the corner of Fawley Road and West End Lane – was covered in memos from Sainsbury’s regarding an impending licence application.

I posted this on Twitter and got a few tweeted groans in reply, along with a more interesting response from local councillor @KeithMoffitt who said “Understand Sainsbury’s interested in Best One site but nothing finalised yet, so licensing notice odd.”

Yesterday, I noticed that the licence application had now been registered at Camden and is online.

Posting this elicited far more reaction, with the usual comments about the destruction of the character of West End Lane, the replacement of independent shops with chains, and the swamping of the neighbourhood with supermarkets. I think it is debatable whether replacing a franchised mini-market with a large-brand mini-market is particularly a bad thing, although it does serve to homogenise further the high street.

A broader issue is whether large chains can (and do) pay over market rates for rents and leases, thereby raising the market level and squeezing out existing independents as well as making it almost impossible for start-ups. I also think it’s worth looking at what we do have in West Hampstead.

I am building a directory of all the shops, restaurants, consumer services in the area and was astonished that I could tally more than 50 places that served food without venturing beyond the traditional borders of West Hampstead into Swiss Cottage or Kilburn. Yes, some of these are national chains (only four restaurants: GBK, Nandos, Pizza Express and Strada), especially in the take-away market, where some are franchises just like Best One) but the vast majority are independent.

We also – as everyone knows – have an amazing number of estate agents and a lot of charity shops. We don’t have very many ordinary independent shops – but we do have some, such as the electrical shop, the bookshop, the greengrocers and others, especially those tucked away along Mill Lane.

I’m not in the militant camp that thinks we should boycott chains, or who won’t shop in Tescos. When possible, yes, I do try and support local businesses but like most people I am also beholden to cost and convenience.

My request from this blog is simple: by all means berate the homogenisation of West End Lane, and by all means let your local councillors know your views on the matter (although remember that at the most basic level there’s little they can do to prevent individual shops from moving into existing retail units), but above all if you do believe in maintaining some independent shops in West Hampstead then please use them from time to time.

I know some of you don’t see the problem and are quite happy to see more chains move in as long as they’re selling things you want to buy. I also know that a lot of you do already make efforts to shop at independents where possible. But if you’re someone who always buys books from Amazon, why not – once in a while – buy or order a book from West End Lane Books; forsake Homebase for the electrical shop, the Iverson Road nursery or The Kitchener; or escape the congested fruit & veg aisle in Tescos and walk a minute up the road to the greengrocers. Not necessarily every day, but some days. Even if costs you a few pence more (and stop press folks: the chains in fact are not always cheaper), think of it as a small investment back into your community.

Comments welcome of course

Hidden Treasure – so is it?

Had we been rumbled? An enormous cake appeared that looked at first glance to be made almost entirely of cream. We hadn’t ordered this. It wasn’t anyone’s birthday. Yet here was a cake and our lively Italian waiter who seemed to be managing the whole place by himself told us it was on the house.

That saved us ordering dessert I guess. Not that any of us were especially hungry. Hidden Treasure‘s seemingly infinite combinations of seafood and carbohydrate (mostly in pasta form) had satisfied our appetites. There are other things on the menu, although it’s hard to be sure that you’ve actually seen everything on offer – it was only when I was having coffee that someone mentioned the specials that were written on a tiny chalkboard above and behind me.

Navigating the main menu and its various inserts had taken us all long enough and with so much to choose from, the decision to share various antipasti along with a vitello tonnato was met with relief.

The Grande Antipasto of meats, olives, cheeses was certainly made for sharing, the bruschette looked good but for some reason never made it to my end of the table. The grilled mixed vegetables seemed like they’d been grilled some time ago and then marinated almost to the point of pickling. This is not to say that they didn’t taste good, but I don’t think it was what we were expecting. The vitello tonnato was disappointing, the sauce lacked flavour and was an odd consistency. I certainly didn’t want more than one mouthful of this dish that is sublime at its best.

Maybe we should have expected that for a place built around seafood the standout starter would be the clams. They were excellent – a very generous portion of sizeable juicy clams and the garlic and parsley sauce was perfect. Frankly a bowl of those and a glass of wine would have left me very happy. They were so good that Jess boldly tried her first ever clam and emerged unscathed.

We were drip-fed main courses which came out more or less one at a time, although feeding a party of 8 from what must be a small kitchen in a small restaurant is not easy. Indeed although the service was not the quickest, it was probably the most engaging and friendly we’ve had at any of the restaurant reviews.

Seafood was the theme of the day for most people. Simon bucked the trend with his chicken saltimbocca, while Matt pushed the boat out with the half-lobster special – a cunning dish that looked spectacular but wasn’t actually as big as it seemed at first glance.

All the dishes were served on oversized fish and crustacea shaped plates, which adds to the slightly kitsch décor (there was talk of deducting points for the (fake) zebra skin that hangs on one wall). The plates were a talking point, but would have been more impressive if they’d been hot – mine at least was stone cold.

The wine (a white Pinot Grigio and a red Cabernet Franc) flowed, spaghetti, tagliatelle and linguine was twirled, gnocchi was.. er… forked and the shells of various molluscs were discarded. The visual impact of the dishes was great, and overall everyone was agreed that the taste was good too. There were of course minor quibbles: Andrea‘s risotto wasn’t quite unctuous enough, Sarah‘s seafood/spaghetti combo was on the oily side, and Matt’s garlic sauce “lacked zip”. But Tom‘s gnocchi dish had an unexpected depth of flavour and my own bowl of tagliatelle and seafood was only an extra squeeze of lemon, scattering of parsley, and perhaps sprinkle of chopped chilli away from perfection.

Jess’s variation on penne all’arrabbiata was “superb” but it was Sue who was by far the happiest. She confessed to having grown too accustomed to proper Italian home cooking while living there to always enjoy Italian restaurants here, but then proceeded to rave about her classic linguine alla vongole, praising its authenticity and simplicity, “and I loved the atmosphere and the owners” she added.

Hidden Treasure has had some mixed reviews, and some locals have vowed never to go there again. Maybe we got lucky, but none of the eight of us were disappointed and I think we would all add it to the list of places to frequent. It’s not the cheapest restaurant around, and the final bill was high partly thanks to the wine consumption (think we might need to be a bit more frugal at future reviews!). However, sitting out front on what the restaurant calls a garden (but the rest of us would call a terrace) with a £10 bowl of pasta and seafood would seem to be a very agreeable way to spend a warm summer evening on West End Lane.

Food 7.5
Service 8.1
Value 6.7
Overall 7.9
Good for: seafood lovers
Bad for: interior designers
Hidden Treasure
311 West End Lane
West Hampstead
London NW6 1RD
T: 020 7435 5040

Hidden Treasure on Urbanspoon

Mill Lane Bistro – restaurant review: A new legacy?

Bar 77 was a West Hampstead institution. I was one of many sad people when the owners called it a day. What came in its place was Cini. No-one knew how to pronounce it and it seemed no-one wanted to eat there. I was among many who didn’t care at all when it finally closed its doors.

What now for this landmark address? The left-hand side of Bar 77 – once the venue for my 30th birthday party – is now a mini-market. But the right-hand side has become the accurately named “Mill Lane Bistro”. It’s rather nice.
Deliberately or not, the dark wooden tables hark back to those ’77’ days as does the friendly welcome. The menu now is a sort of hybrid British/French selection. It is short. Very short. I think this is good. New restaurants that try and maintain a high standard when the menu stretches across several pages are usually asking for trouble. There are three starters and three main courses along with a couple of specials. There is also a rustic bar menu too – making it very clear that you’re as welcome for a drink and a bite to eat as for a full meal. Despite the brevity of choice none of the eight of us seem to struggle with what to have. It’s short and it reads well. It also means we don’t take long to decide.
While the starters were being prepared we turned our attention to the wine, upgrading from glasses to bottles of a good white Entre deux Mers (£16) and a Pinot Noir (£24) that had @Ghoul_of_London in raptures. The wine list didn’t seem extensive, but what we had was good.

The starters duly arrived and everyone tucked in. Tom and @MarkLedder‘s asparagus looked great with large (hopefully English new season) spears topped with a poached egg (“slightly overdone”) and “not enough” hollandaise. @chinmj‘s decision to go for a bar snack starter of hard thin salami sausage with bread left him sawing away at the sausages but with no complaints about flavour. The beef carpaccio, although not thin enough to merit the name, was delicious and unusually the dressing was very lightly applied, which I appreciated. Scallops varied in size from normal to enormous, leading to some quite amusing looking plates but the chef had at least tried to balance them out agaist perhaps too much of the de rigeur pea purée.

Mains of ribeye steak, sea bream (the special), rack of lamb, and a vegetarian option of rösti for @uponair all came in generous portions but far less overwhelming than the plates at LoveFood a couple of weeks earlier. The bream was particularly well presented with a “spring festival” of baby vegetables underneath an ample fillet of fish topped with a light creamy sauce and mussels although @StyleOnTheCouch seemed less impressed than I was. Some would have preferred their lamb a little pinker and we were surprised not to have been asked how we wanted it cooked, however it tasted great. @DJStoney may have even used the word “sublime”. Steaks did come out as requested with @Kayskill‘s medium rare looking on the money.

Of course we had room for desserts: a classic lemon tart and a chocolate gourmand plate were both well received. @MarkLedder had spent the day caffeined up to his eyeballs in Paris dashing back on an earlier train so as not to miss #whampreview excitement. Immune to any further impact he joined me and @uponair in an espresso only to find that it wasn’t an espresso at all but just a small strong coffee. It’s a small thing but, for a French style bistro, worth getting right.

It sounds like I’ve picked out all the minor mistakes, but overall everyone had a great evening. Notably the overall score was quite a bit higher than the separate scores because the atmosphere is good, it’s comfortable and relaxed. Service was accommodating and as the place has been open only a few weeks, it is not surprising that it hasn’t quite reached perfection. I shall definitely be back and am delighted that the Bar 77 legacy has been revived. Indeed, there’s no reason why the Mill Lane Bistro can’t become an institution in its own right.

Food 7.4
Service 7.8
Value 6.3
Overall 8.4
Good for: convivial people
Bad for: perfectionists
Mill Lane Bistro
77 Mill Lane
West Hampstead
London, NW6 1NB
T: 0207 794 5577

Lovely food at LoveFood? Restaurant review

[Ed:LoveFood is now an upstairs café and the restaurant has closed]

If you love food in the sense that you enjoy it in large quantities, then LoveFood’s restaurant will not disappoint. If you love food in the sense of enjoying quality ingredients cooked exquisitely, then modify your expectations slightly, but don’t throw them out of the window.

Seven of us descended into the basement below the delicatessen/crêperie/café on West End Lane in West Hampstead a little unsure what to expect. Would we be the only diners? No. Would it be one of those soulless basement restaurants with the ambience of a doctors’ waiting room? No. Would there be a dish involving prawns and chilli? Yes.

For those who remember when downstairs was an extension of the shop, the attempt to imbue it with atmosphere is impressive. Dark wood tables, and some Farrow & Ballesque paintwork make it an appealing venue, although one wouldn’t want to be the only couple there I suspect.

The menu is oddly imbalanced, with just six starters and five desserts but 13 main courses, which are largely chargrilled meat dishes (which meats? All.). Almost all come with the same vegetables – in our case sautéed new potatoes and a selection of (very nice as it turned out) seasonal veg. There are vegetarian options, such as the ultimate ironic dish of “spelt spagueti”.

To kick off, four of us dived into the borscht, which met with universal approval. It was not the beetroot purée that some were used to, but a thinner soup laden with pieces of beetroot at the bottom. Everyone was impressed. My own wild boar paté was good, with the right proportion of pate to toast.

Brad‘s houmous/pita/olives combo was similarly well balanced – a rare occurrence in my experience. Sue opted for the sweet chilli prawns, avocado and garlic bread. Having just returned from Australia she probably expected something light – Asian fusion perhaps. Prawns and salad and some garlic bread drizzled with some chilli sauce didn’t quite cut it. Spot the mistake? Yes, she did too. We asked our gangly slighty awkward waiter about the avocado and he disappeared. “Perhaps he’ll just bring you a whole one,” I said. Perhaps he heard me, as a few minutes later when the plate was nearly clean, a small dish with six slices of avocado appeared. Classy.

For main course, meat was the order of the day. James had sirloin steak (very thick and cooked correctly to order), Sue had lamb (from the world’s largest lamb clearly), Brad had chicken stuffed with Brie (for an extra £2 you can specify organic chicken), Jane and I both had the duck, which was nice, but mine at least cooked a little longer than I’d asked for. Sarah had calves liver, or possibly several calves’ livers, on a bed of mashed potato, and Tom had baked haddock (and the cleanest plate at the end of the day).

The food was generally well flavoured and, with almost all dishes under £10, definitely good value. In fact, there was really too much for almost all of us and perhaps separate shared dishes of the potatoes in particular would have made for less overwhelming plates of food.

There was a long pause and some waving at the security cameras before we got offered dessert – we chose to share three between us – a cheesecake, a honey & carrot cake, and a chocolate cake. All were excellent. Dessert wine seemed to come in larger measures than is customary (no-one complained) and by the end of the meal everyone could safely say that midnight snacking would not be required.

The bill was just £30 a head, including service and three bottles of wine – a very serviceable house red and two bottles of an acceptable if not outstanding Rioja. Service definitely let the place down – our waiter was well meaning but along with the avocado incident, we had to ask for things a couple of times and it wasn’t up to the standard of the food. But quibbles aside, for some decent food served in generous portions, this is well worth having in your back pocket next time your friends venture up to West Hampstead.

Food 7.0
Service 5.1
Value 8.7
Overall 8.0
Good for: hungry people
Bad for: people in a hurry
202 West End Lane
West Hampstead
London, NW6 1SG
T: 0207 433 3733

Summerhouse restaurant review

OK, it’s a bit outside the hood, but I don’t like refusing invitations, and it’s only a quick 187 bus ride from West Hampstead. Thanks to @w9maidavale aka Lord Elgin for this write-up. Dodgy photo is all down to me.

There are a lot of hungry people in W9 but not many places to eat out. So, a new restaurant is always a major event for the locals and there’s been quite a buzz about The Summer House – a temporary installation occupying the premises of the much loved Jason’s, right by the canal on Blomfield Avenue.

The PR spin has been about depositing The Hamptons in Little Venice. The website boasts of crisp summer salads, rosé wines and the best fish & chips in town, while the interior designers have ransacked Ikea and Habitat for a neutral, mildly nautical theme.

The dining room is lovely; light and airy with a splendid view of the canal. When it gets a little warmer there’ll be some fine tables on the terrace with the water lapping at your ankles.

Lady Elgin, a die-hard veggie, took fright at the menu, so Lord Elgin invited two hungry hyperlocal tweeters – @WHampstead and @stjohnswood1 – to help sample a wide range of fish-based dishes of variable quality. WH and SJW were scouting for girl-friendly date venues. Lord Elgin was hoping for a good local regular for evenings when he doesn’t want to cook.

The Summerhouse is primarily about fish. But it’s not a proper seafood joint. There’s no oyster bar, no catch of the day, no lobster bisque; in fact, nothing that requires a good nose and regular trips to Billingsgate. It’s seafood for people who don’t like seafood, who find de-boning a fish a bit of a struggle and who normally go for the fish cakes rather than the sea bream.

You are also allowed a cow steak, if you want, and the owners have put a single pinot noir on the list in its honour. Otherwise, it’s purely heavily marked up whites leavened by the occasional rosé, all rather underwhelming WH.

Lord Elgin’s a bit of traditionalist and began with clam chowder – plenty of potato, packed with bacon, no discernable flavor and no clams in sight. SJW was more fortunate with the smoked salmon and WH’s ample portion of calamari certainly qualified as “crispy”..

Mains were a mixed bag too. WH was satisfied with his prawn tagliatelle and said it was almost as good as the one he’d cooked himself the previous evening. SJW loved his swordfish steak – done just right and not too many weird sauces. Elgin, as host, was allowed to have the £16 fish and chips. Soggy batter, sickly tartar sauce and the eye-popping price tag disappointed. The chips, to be fair, were perfect, but you can have these on their own from the “Accessories” section of the menu. SJW deducted a point for this bewildering pretention.

No complaints about the portions. Full up with fish, three grown men only managed a single Pimm’s jelly between them for dessert.

The Summerhouse will do well. There’s plenty of W9-ers who’ll flock to the pretty canalside room for fishcake and chips and won’t blanche at the £30-£40 a head they’ll pay for the privilege. But it’s a missed opportunity to create something a bit more fishy that would attract a more discerning crowd from further afield. SJW and WH announced that the watery setting wasn’t enough to swing their next big date the Summerhouse’s way.

West Hampstead bookshop “lock-in” success

Last night saw an experiment in West Hampstead. West End Lane Books threw its doors open from 9 to 10pm to @WHampstead twitter followers (and a few others!). There was wine, there was chat, there was 15 percent off everything. A dozen or so #whampers decided that the election debate on TV wasn’t enough of a lure (or recorded it) and getting to know a few fellow locals was a far better option.

It was great to see a mix of familiar faces such as @bubela, @TheWetFishCafe and @SamWong1 along with some first-time whampeventers including @designbyday, @jenny23232323 and @tractorgirlie.

Photo by @designbyday. Original here

Plenty of books were bought (lets not forget that if we want to keep our independent bookshops we do, at least occasionally, have to buy books from them and not Amazon), a reasonable amount of wine was drunk, and hopefully everyone had a good time!

Other bookshop / @WHampstead tie-ins are being mooted, so keep your eyes peeled and follow the #whampbooks hashtag. The bookshop also organises lots of its own events.

West Hampstead area forum report

Transport, Tesco, important recycling news, the library and schools. It can only have been a West Hampstead area forum. #Whamper @Marciamac31 went along to the meeting last Tuesday and reports back

“Unfortunately, nothing new on the tube closures: Keith Moffitt, council leader, said they will ‘keep plugging away’ at TfL, particularly to try to prevent several lines being closed at once. Meanwhile, Camden is trying to ‘manage the traffic’ in a way that will make it easier for replacement buses to move around, and Moffitt also said he would contact TfL to try to fulfil requests from the floor for a senior executive from TfL to speak at an area forum; last time they sent a junior who was just a little out of his depth.

Tesco‘s new store on Fortune Green Road – the second opened in West Hampstaed within a year and just a few minutes’ walk from the first – raised hackles throughout the audience. Councillor Flick Rea made it clear that there was nothing Camden could do to stop Tesco going into the new development because planning for A1 retail use had already been given; councils do not have the power to decide what type of retailer goes into the space. Camden could have some impact on unloading times, but the planning permission  includes permission to load on the street from 8.00-18.00 weekdays and 8.00-16.00 Sundays. Permitted unloading hours on West End Lane will be changed from a 9.30 start to 10.00 in an attempt to ease rush hour congestion.

Camden – and local residents – could also hit back by trying to stop the sale of alcohol from 6.00-23.00. An application is being considered: if you object, write to the local licensing authority now. Better still, vote with your feet and your pocket: if you object to Tesco, don’t shop there.

Recycling in Camden is turning over a new leaf in June when food waste will be collected separately from ordinary rubbish. Senior recycling Officer Claire Howard explained that households – but not blocks of flats – will be given a medium sizes brown bin for food waste and a small one to keep in the kitchen, the idea being you transfer whatever is in the small bin into the one outside. Camden seems to have ignored the needs of flats in converted houses, though: in my building of four flats, we have four green recycling boxes, four rubbish bins – and no room whatsoever for anything else.

In addition to the food waste boxes, households will be given separate blue bags for paper and card, which makes up the majority of recycled material. In other words, we are going to have to separate all our recycling. As some compensation, white sacks for garden waste will be delivered and collected every week. The council insists the different types of collected material will not be put in the same lorry.

West Hampstead library will be closed 10-23 May for refurbishment, which, said Mike Clark, head of Library Customer Service, will include a new layout, making it easier to find what we want; new stock and a new stock security system; new enquiry counter; and self-service kiosks. Wifi is also going to be installed – despite the fact that users of the existing computers complain the network is down more times than it is up.

I do feel sorry for librarians and their bosses when I listen to some of the complaints voiced at the forum. One resident moaned about students taking over the library to study, surely one of the reasons why libraries were invented in the first place!

Louise Trewevas, communications manager, discussed the highlights of the new UCL Academy being built at Swiss Cottage, which will also lead to a new school for the deaf, to replace the existing building on the site earmarked for the Academy. Hampstead School will get some of the £200m Camden has to invest in schools, money that will be used to upgrade the arts and sports facilities. The community could benefit as Hampstead School plans to make its swimming pool available to the public. Parents interested in hearing more about the UCL Academy should attend the meetings on 17 and 18 March at the existing Swiss Cottage school; each day will feature a presentation by a different developer.

Finally, the first AGM of the new WH Community Association is being held at 8.00 on 9 March at the West Hampstead library.”

The Rotisserie, restaurant review

[Ed: This restaurant closed in early 2012]

Arriving in a a busy restaurant raises expectations. Attractive lighting glints off the metallic menus and bounces off the exposed brick pillars. First impressions are good and enhanced by the meaty aromas wafting through the restaurant. This is, after all, a steak restaurant. The menu however has ample choice, and even vegetarians are well catered for. The variety of other diners certainly suggests that most people are going to find something they can eat.

We all chose from the £16.95 for two courses menu, which still offered plenty of choice including two different (vegetarian) soups of the day. Tom had the asparagus soup (“a real richness to the croutons” and “souper” (he punned)), while Louise tried the mixed vegetable soup, which was also a hit. Brad and Jerry opted for the gravlax, which both deemed good but perhaps overly generous for a starter portion. Not the worst criticism. Jo and Jane stuck to the tried and tested avocado, mozzarella, tomato salad. Opinion was divided on the quality of the mozzarella, but unanimous on the unripe tomato. Arguably not a dish to serve if you can’t get all three ingredients right. Lulu and I opted for sausages – chicken peri peri for her, lamb merguez for me. Verdict: exactly what I would expect.
It is hard to stay away from steak at a steak restaurant and indeed several of us went down the rib-eye route. Everyone seemed happy with how their steaks were cooked although the bearnaise sauce on Jo’s plate was more a sort of grey butter and was sensibly left alone.
Louise was confronted with an enormous lamb shank, which she enjoyed. Brad and I had the peri-peri chicken. Another enormous portion of well-flavoured chicken although the breast was slightly dry. All main courses come with pommes frites, and most of us had a green side as well in salad or asparagus form.
It is refreshing to go somewhere as a party of 8 and for there to be no mistakes in the order – from my own predilections on salad dressings, to the various combinations of steak sauces and doneness of steak, everything was right first time.

As plates were cleared and thoughts turned to dessert it seemed only Tom had the spare capacity. Puddings tend to the heavy and with two already off the menu that night it was hard to get inspired. Not that this stopped Tom who merrily dived in to the cheesecake with gusto. “It takes a big pudding to get the better of me,” he said, grinning. “That’s both quality AND quantity.” This was after an astonishingly deft manouevre by Louise to pinch his(laughably unripe) strawberry garnish.

With service, and three bottles of perfectly decent red, the bill came to £31 each. After two disappointing local meals, it was great to go somewhere with both decent food and a good atmosphere. The Rotisserie may suffer ever so slightly from style over substance but is definitely worth having on the list or reliable local restaurants.

Food 7.8
Service 8.8
Value 7.6
Overall 8.5
Good for: steak
Bad for: weightwatchers
The Rotisserie Restaurant
82 Fortune Green Rd
West Hampstead
London, NW6 1DS
T: 0207 435 9923

Rotisserie on Urbanspoon

Camden helps West Hampstead small businesses

The Small Business Network is a group of small businesses and self-employed people who meet on the first Tuesday of the month at LoveFood in West Hampstead (and the third Monday of the month at Sable D’Or in Muswell Hill). @Marciamac31 – long-time resident, SBN member, and new tweeter – went along on Feb 2nd and reported back on the talk given by council leader @KeithMoffitt.

“Forty-six small businesses have succeeded with the help of Camden’s one-to-one outreach ‘turnaround’ service. This provides tailored support for companies struggling to survive, while advice for micro businesses – sole traders and companies employing only one or two staff members – includes a review of the firm’s or individual’s business plan, a look at the viability of the product or service being offered, and advice on marketing and public relations.”

Good food for a good cause

Last night saw 40 people, including quite a few #whampers, back at The Wet Fish Café for the second supper club. This time there was a Sicilian twist to the gastronomic experience, but a very local twist to the evening overall as we raised money for #whampforgood cause The Winch.

For a review of the evening, let me hand over to Jo Hodson, a veteran of the November supper club:

“Another fun evening at The Wet Fish Café!. This is such a simple idea that works so well – André and his team put on a three course meal with three different wines and all the guests sit at long tables and enjoy the evening.

What makes these evenings so good? Well for a start, André and his team create a relaxed and convivial atmosphere – it’s like going to a perfectly hosted dinner party. The restaurant is beautifully lit and the long tables mean the the diverse but always interesting guests are encouraged to mingle. The wines were expertly introduced by Victoria Curatolo, a very glamourous Sicilian, whose family-run vineyard, Villa Tonino, supplied the wines for the evening.

The menu this time was built around the wines; crab with avocado and a chilli and red pepper sauce – a perfect balance of texture and taste. I’m no wine buff but even I could tell that the wine served with this (Grillo, Villa Tonino, 2008) further enhanced the flavours of the food leaving a nice lemony tingle on the tongue. This was followed by fillet of beef with pink peppercorn jus, cheesy mash (divine) and broccoli, washed down with a lovely smoky red wine – Baglio Curatolo, Villa Tonino 2006. Finally, and in my opnion, the pièce de resistance – almond tart, marsala mascarpone and raspberry – melt-in-the-mouth pastry! The fruit and nut flavours of the Marsala Riserva Superiore served alongside went perfectly with it.

It was a really pleasant way to spend a Monday evening – the atmosphere, food and drink alone would have led to that but it was all rounded off nicely by a thank you from Paul of the Winchester Project a local charity who were benefitting from the night. All in all everything combined to leave a very nice taste in the mouth.”

There’s a very swish video of the evening here

(Photo: James Leigh)

The Wet Fish Cafe on Urbanspoon

Giraffe launch party

Thanks to Mark (@DJStoney) for this write-up of launch night at Belsize Park Giraffe
“As a fan of the Tootsies American style restaurant that occupied the site, I was dubious about Giraffe taking over. After all, the first ever Giraffe (of 40 UK branches) is exactly 5 minutes walk away. However, the advantageous large format open-plan restaurant offers a different dining experience to the cosy (and brunch-tastic) Giraffe up the hill. Indeed, each and every site seems to have a local adaptation, which is a rare credential iun ‘concept restaurants’.
I walked in to a personal greeting from the lovely @giraffetweet and the buzz in the place lent it a party feel. I was here for dinner, but the vibe was good. As I walked over to our reserved table my dining companions were waiting and smiling as they said they were recovering from ‘the niceness of the staff’. No bad thing!
Giraffe has a world-influenced menu with representative dishes from all over including curry, stir-fry enchilada and steak. This, combined with the piped world music, gives a truly international feel to the place and the ‘something for everyone’ menu is great for families, mixed groups and kids.
We shared some nachos and mixed mezze for starters, which tasted good. Main courses involved chicken kiev, tasty ribs and our veggie diners were most satisfied with their super-food salad and pizza. An extensive drink menu including excellent smoothies (my fave is a GiddyGiraffe: papaya, fresh mint, banana, orange, lime juice) kept us going.
We shared the desserts, including the most popular choice on the menu: Banana Waffle Split (waffle with roasted banana, vanilla ice cream, chocolate & butterscotch sauce). We also had a chocolate brownie that they kindly customised due to my strange request of marshmallows (served on a saucer with teaspoon).
The food and service were faultless and the comments from the other #whampers who braved NW3 for launch night @WHampstead @mayfield22 @sorchapadmore @lisafparry @anna_black and @bubela) suggested they all enjoyed themselves. Thumbs-up all round.”

Disclaimer: all the people mentioned above received a complimentary meal from Giraffe. Mark points out that as a professional mystery shopper, the freebie doesn’t stop him from dishing out the criticism where necessary. Photos by @WHampstead, @DJStoney and @bubela.
Giraffe, Belsize Park
196-198 Haverstock Hill
020 7431 3812

Whamplunch on track at The Railway

It was great to see some new faces at #whamplunch today. Alongside #whamp regulars @DJStoney and @mayfield22, we welcomed @Ghoul_of_London who hadn’t been put off by his experience at Le Petit Coin, @kerrypolka and @Frangelina as well as non-tweeting Marcia – a long-time West Hampstead resident – who used to be an active member of the now defunct CityNeighbours forum.

The Railway proved more than capable of meeting our lunch needs, the standard pub menu was good value for money, and Danny the new(ish) manager made a real effort to make sure we were looked after. Conversation revolved around feral squirrels, Shakespeare’s history plays, the origins of Queens Park, the best local Iranian food, and whether the Neverending Story was fundamentally misnamed.

Next up… #whamptea at Bake-a-boo. More on that later…

Le Petit Coin, restaurant review

(NB: Le Petit Coin has now closed)

Game theory is a strange way to start any meal. Perhaps if you were at the Fat Duck you might expect a soupçon of deconstrutivist philosophy to accompany a deconstructed soup, but at a small neighbourhood French restaurant I generally expect bread and butter to be the opening gambit.

Le Petit Coin had two special offers – there was a food offer (£15 for two courses, £18 for three) and a wine offer (half-price on a selected white and a selected red – £22/£23 respectively). But you could only choose one offer. Ahhhhh… No doubt people much cleverer than ourselves could have devised a cunning plan to get the best value from this, but as no-one appeared to have an app for that, we all went for the food option.

Then came the bread and butter.

Our table of seven was the only one troubling the kitchen that night, and service was thus reasonably decent, although one suspects they’re not that used to catering for parties larger than four. Between us we managed to try most of the starters – the menu is not extensive, and is all the better for it. Portion size varied hilariously: Alison’s square bowl of French onion soup would have kept a clichéd Frenchman happy for days, while Jamillah’s whitebait (unusually arranged all ‘swimming’ in the same direction), was half what you’d get at Greenwich’s whitebait specialist The Trafalgar Tavern. Two Caesar salads were heavy on the dressing and light on the parmesan; baked oysters with mushroom ragout were neither baked nor accompanied by what most people would call a ragout, but were perfectly reasonable; deep-fried brie did exactly what it said on the tin; while the lobster and crab ravioli was “good”.

The mains emerged staccato style as the wine (a Rioja Crianza that was a little too chilled) flowed and conversation ebbed – or was it the other way round? Jane and Jamillah’s rabbit stew hit the mark, while Brad’s vegetable couscous was presented unusually in two chef’s ring-shaped roundels. In fact, chef’s rings featured prominently in every dish except Tom’s “slightly claggy” seafood risotto. My pork was cooked perfectly, and didn’t need the rather odd, thin, tarragon-laden sauce that was mercifully on the side, nor frankly the diced sautéed potatoes plated up inevitably in a chef’s ring and with unadvertised melted goats cheese completely unnecessarily drizzled in and among them. Tania and Alison had opted for the Wild Plaice [sic]. Can one even get farmed plaice? Sadly this simple dish was a disappointment – overcooked fish (this was the first dish to come out of the kitchen, and should have been the last), a beurre blanc that had gone badly wrong and a chef’s ring of ratatouille that, while opinion varied as to its standalone quality, certainly didn’t match the rest of the dish.
Desserts were a similarly mixed bag, and ordering wasn’t helped when we realised that between us we had two slightly different menus. Was the crème brûlée lavender or was it star anise. It was the latter, and was very good. The profiteroles were generous, but the apple crumble was tiny and noticeably non-crumbly.
The attempt to do fairly traditional French bistro food in what is a determinedly modern restaurant setting is always going to rely on getting the food right. Perhaps on a busier night the atmosphere might have led us to be more lenient, but sadly it was hard to get behind a place that was so inconsistent – even when the food is served by a very smiley girl who was doing her best.
Does West Hampstead need somewhere that’s such a gamble, even before you have to decide which special offer is right for you?

Food 5.0

Service 8.7
Atmosphere 6.3
Overall impression 5.7
Good for: food served in round shapes
Bad for: the mathematically challenged
Le Petit Coin
351 West End Lane,
T: 020 7794 1200

Competition time: Giraffe opening in Belsize Park

Family-friendly world food restaurant chain Giraffe is opening in Belsize Park (taking over the old Tootsies).
Very kindly, it’s given me 3 invitations for dinner for two on Thursday Jan 28th – opening week.
“How do i get my hands on these invitations?” I hear you ask.
“Simple”, I reply, “but you’re going to have to be quick off the mark.”
Take and tweet a photo that includes both a giraffe and something recognisably West Hampstead. You MUST (and this is important) use the #whampgiraffe hashtag in your tweet. So, for example, a giraffe soft toy getting on the Jubilee Line, or a cut-out giraffe in the window of West End Lane Books. Use your imagination.
I will then pick the best three in consultation with @giraffetweet.
Deadline: 5pm Wednesday January 20th
If the free meal wasn’t incentive enough, then you’ll be even more excited to know that I’ll be there that evening too*. I know!
*Giraffe has kindly given me these invitations to give away to fellow whampers, and has also generously invited me along too.

Boris comes to West Hampstead

Amid all the talk of ungritted roads, broken bones, and minor car accidents, a blond whirlwind struck West Hampstead on Friday morning.
Tory PPC Chris Philp had invited Mayor of London Boris Johnson to come and visit the neighbourhood ostensibly to have a “coffee and a chat” with locals about some of the issues that vex them. In reality, the Mayor artfully dodged most of the important questions with the wit and bluster that has carried him so far. He did manage, however, to give fellow Conservative Philp a ringing endorsement in far more direct terms.

Announcing the Mayor’s itinerary in advance is slightly unusual, but had the desired effect of generating buzz among residents – both positive and negative. Cynics mused that the sudden appearance of grit on the pavements on West End Lane was linked to Boris’s planned walkabout. Even the choice of Moment as the café was controversial, with many long-term residents still boycotting it due to its lack of planning permission when it first opened.

Digest sadly didn’t receive a personal invitation to sit at the feet of BoJo, so rocked up to Moment at the appointed time to find a gaggle of local Conservatives outside, including deputy leader of the council Andrew Marshall, and an astonishing number of people inside. As I couldn’t get in, I briefly pressed my nose against the glass and saw a shock of hair at the back of the room holding forth.
Unable to get up close and personal with the Big B, I retreated to The Wet Fish Café and followed the various tweets from those inside. Both @bubela and @kerrypolka were present and their accounts of the excitement follow.
@bubela “Boris and his entourage breezed into Moment on West End Lane, shaking hands all the way to his table at the back. With his self-deprecating manner and colourful (inventive, even) language,he kept the laughs going and it was all very good humoured. He started by congratulating Chris Philp on his work keeping the police station open, and said he looked forward to working with him when he’s on the “green benches”.He asked what locals felt about the bike hire scheme and was met with general murmurs of approval. “Some people aren’t keen, but I have serene confidence: it’s clean, green and…what else is it? Oh yes, healthy!”
Questions also covered a wide range of local issues, starting of course with the Jubilee Line problems. “The delay is intellectual”, said Boris confusingly, before going on to blame Brown for the “crackpot” PPP initiative that was “a licence to steal for the contractors”, and means “Tubelines can effectively funnel huge sums of taxpayers’ money down the gullets of its own shareholders”.
He had received a residents’ petition at the station concering the Jubilee Line closures, but was “sorry to say the stoppages won’t end until Autumn 2010”.At that moment a waiter started the noisy fresh juicer. “Even the orange machine objects!” interjected Boris. Given the icy streets outside, he said that he had spoken to Lord Adonis (Secretary of State for Transport) about the lack of grit in London and that “Brown should personally be sent to the salt mines to bring some back”.
Someone asked whether a pedestrian crossing could be put at the top of West End Lane? “I’ll look into it,” said Boris, “but every successful local campaign to hold up traffic for pedestrians has an equal adverse effect on drivers”. After a couple of other questions, someone congratulating him for protecting Hampstead views (“Now that’s the kind of question I like!”) and some photos outside with Chris Philp, it was on with the bike helmet and off on the bike, followed by the entourage in a car.”
@kerrypolka “When Boris Johnson addressed West Hampstead on Friday morning – or at least, a coffeehouse packed with those in West Hampstead who were free on a weekday 10:45 am, namely, Concerned Citizens, the retired, the freelancing and the unemployed – he was clear on three things:
1. He was earnest.
2. He was sincere.
3. Whatever it was, it wasn’t his fault.
He pinched the air in front of his navel between thumb and first knuckle with the gravitas of a public-school lecturer. A petition was passed to him before the talk began concerning the seemingly endless Jubilee line upgrades. “I understand your pain,” he informed the throng sincerely. However, he added earnestly, the problems were really all down to a contract Gordon Brown had arranged, as well as some “communist freesheets.” Glad to have cleared that up.
The Mayor also highlighted the importance of environmentalism, by saying the word “green” a dozen times regardless of context, and played up his office’s initiative in doubling the number of police patrol beats by reducing patrols from two officers to one. Could Livingstone have pulled off that kind of arithmetical coup? Doubtful. Nicknamed “The Bicycling Avenger”, Johnson of course showed off his own green crime-fighting skills in November, when he saved environmental activist Franny Armstrong from pipe-wielding thugs.
He answered the brief Q&A session that followed his talk with a potpourri of couldn’t-possibly-comments and I’ll-do-the-best-I-cans, all delivered with an unshakable air of earnest sincerity. We would expect nothing less.”
* * *
So, that was the view from two whampers inside. Here’s the text of the speech from the Camden New Journal; the bells and whistles Web 2.0 “Vote Chris Philp” version; the Boris-can-do-no-wrong version; and a piece from Richard Osley’s blog.

Sadly, there was no mature, considered response to the Jubilee Line fiasco; nothing to suggest he was helping broker some sort of agreement between the various parties to give passengers clarity on the closure programme for 2010. Finger-pointing politics once again ruled the day, whether the target was Gordon Brown, Ken Livingstone or TubeLines.

West Hampstead Digest No.12 – Review of the (er…) “Year”

Back in October, when @WHampstead had already been around for a good few months, it seemed like a good idea to take some of your messages and photos and aggregate them into a weekly round-up of the week’s whampevents. Encouraged by some excitement that week, Digest 1 went to press on October 11, the week that the leafy streets of West Hampstead were rocked by gun crime. Choosing the lead story for Week 1 was as easy as bumping into Ken Livingstone on the morning commute into work.

Week 2 was momentous thanks to the inaugural whampgather. I won’t lie. I was a wee bit nervous as I walked up to The Alice House. I didn’t think that nobody would come, but I wasn’t at all sure it was going to be a hit. My fears were swiftly allayed. A real big thank you to those of you that turned up that night and made it such a success. Of course one notable West Hampstead tweeter was absent but delightfully made up for it with a message that evening.

One of the long-running stories of the year was the power cuts that knocked out large chunks of the area with alarming frequency. EDF claims it is working on the problem, which involves a local substation, but the problem is big enough that it has its own hashtag now.

The billboards around the tube and train stations have prompted an unusual flurry of comments. Most recently, Tory PPC Chris Philp’s cherubic face has beamed down on us, but earlier in the year it was the typos in the adverts for Alfred Court that caught the eye. After getting it wrong first time, one might have thought that all efforts would be made to get the replacement sign right. One might have thought.

Whampers once again found that there was no local fireworks display – the Primrose Hill display having been cancelled many years ago due to health and safety concerns. Somehow the message hasn’t sunk in.

Travel problems have been the cause of most of the gnashing of teeth among Whamp tweeters. And it’s not just been the Jubilee Line. Thameslink commuters, already coping with the long-running line improvement works encountered a whole new problem in mid-November.

Week 6 also saw whampers undertake the first whampreview at the Czech Restaurant. Perhaps the less said about it the better.

Later in November there was a major breakthrough for tweeters living around Willesden Green when Brent MP Sarah Teather’s lobbying bore fruit and the Metropolitan Line stopped at the tube station when the Jubilee Line was closed. Hurrah.

A topic that always generates a surprising amount of interest is the opening and closing of new shops. Broadhurst Gardens was a veritable hub of retail comings and goings at the end of the month, with an eclectic mix of shops opening.

December brought the second whampgather – another roaring success, with a three-fold increase in attendees. Sadly, not all loyal whampers were able to make it. Their loss, some might say!

Bursting the bubble of whampeuphoria was news of the farcical Jubilee Line engineering works. TfL and its contractor Tube Lines played the blame game while passengers look like suffering.

In the run-up to the holiday season, we were all dreaming of a whamp Christmas and lo and behold, the white stuff began to fall. One short simple message captured everyone’s ambivalence to snow: yes, we love to wake up to a blanket of white; no, we don’t like to have to actually deal with it on a workday.

Finally, the Christmas edition of Digest threw a crossword at readers. Some attempted but only one succeeded. Congratulations to @bubela, who will be getting a free cappuccino. Here’s the solution.

So that was @WHampstead in 2009. Roll on 2010. The Year of the Whamp.

West Hampstead Digest No.8 Local news where you set the agenda

For a one-page PDF version, click here

Supper Club trend hits West End Lane

West Hampstead’s discerning diners were at The Wet Fish Café on Monday night for the restaurant’s first supper club. A few tweeters were present to sample the food including @mayfield22: “Andre the owner explained how he wanted to bring together local residents who enjoy food and wine in a more sociable atmosphere than usual. It worked; six of us at my end of the table quickly introduced ourselves and got on with setting West Hampstead and the world to rights.”

Each course was paired with a wine. The fish stew was outstanding – and a little too robust for the Spanish white from Monterrei. The main course of duck confit was paired with a Bordeaux-style red introduced by a wine specialist who surprised everyone by announcing it was an Israeli wine. Service was friendly and efficient, and the kitchen coped remarkably well with delivering great food to 35 of us simultaneously.

@lulupho also raved about the evening, “I had a fantastic time,” she said. “I’ve asked Andre to put a bottle of the Israeli wine aside for my next boozy lunch there.“ The community spirit is flourishing in West Hampstead. Read more about the event on the blog.
Jubilee Line delays continue to 2010
Inevitably, we learned that the Jubilee Line engineering works were going to overrun. Tube Lines (the contractor) and TfL argued the toss over who is to blame, but residents are forced to face 10 more weekends of disruption. The Bakerloo Line is the next to have long-term work, and we can only hope that we never get the Jubilee, Bakerloo and Metropolitan lines all down on the same day. LibDem PPC @edfordham was forthright in his view, while @dasilvajums mused as to how the rail replacement services affected TfL’s carbon footprint.
Tuesday’s West Hampstead ward meeting presented another opportunity for FCC and Network Rail to hear locals’ concerns about the new ticket office although apparently the session did not cover the topic. Instead, rail representatives were available for discussion before the meeting started.

Belsize ward, meanwhile, focused on more crucial matters. #whamptravel
Changing rooms
Tweeters are concerned about Karahi Master on West End Lane. If anyone has the lowdown, do let us know. The racing green empty property at 149 Broadhurst Gardens is being refitted. This quickly triggered the usual reaction to any possible new retail operation. A call to the agents revealed the truth.

That news didn’t sit well with everyone. A reminder that there’s also a whisky & cigar shop opening in Broadwell Parade, raising the prospect of a fragrant walk to the tube for local residents.
The new supermarket at 194 Broadhurst Gardens is yet to open, but signs have gone up revealing some of the treats that wait in store. #whampshop

First Whamplunch finds the mark
For locals around during the day, the first #whamplunch took place at David’s Deli on Thursday. @bubela gives us the lowdown: “Whamplunch was a great success. Meeting people I had only imagined when reading their tweets was fun, and the group of six gelled very well. The food couldn’t be faulted and the friendly owner kindly donated freebie felafels (+dip), which were much appreciated.” The next #whamplunch is December 16th at The Alice House. Please let @WHampstead know if you’d like to come. #whamplunch
Bizarre tweets from Elephant Walk
Hit-and-miss Sri Lankan restaurant Elephant Walk has joined Twitter. Rather than alerting followers to special offers or tempting them with photos of the food, it seems to talk the area down and focus on berating Stephen Fry. A highly individual approach to microblogging. #whampnewExciting tie-up with The Winch
We announced this week that The Winch will be our official 2010 charity. There’s much more about this on the blog, and please think about how you can get involved. #whampforgood

Supper Club at The Wet Fish Café

Thanks to Jane (@mayfield22) for this review of Monday’s first supper club at The Wet Fish Café.

I’m already quite a fan of The Wet Fish Café so when I saw a Twitter invitation to buy tickets to a special ‘supper club’ I was intrigued. The Wet Fish brings a welcome dose of sophistication to West End Lane and has the best cappuccino I have tasted north of Marylebone. But what is a supper club?
Thirty five guests arrived on a blustery Monday evening to sit at two long candlelit tables for the ultimate dinner party. Andre the owner explained how he wanted to bring together local residents who enjoy food and wine in a more sociable atmosphere than usual. It worked; six of us at my end of the table quickly introduced ourselves and got on with setting West Hampstead and the world to rights.

Each course was paired with a wine starting with a delicate fish stew paired with a white wine from Monterrei in Spain. The main course was introduced by a wine specialist who challenged us to taste and guess the red wine selected to pair with the upcoming duck confit. My companions guessed the Bordeaux style but were pleasantly surprised to hear it was from Israel. Dessert was delicious; a modern, light interpretation of trifle. Some of my table thought the rosé wine jelly too bitter, I disagreed but found the accompanying Australian pink Moscato too sweet.
As always the serving team were super friendly and along with the kitchen coped remarkably well with delivering great food to 35 of us at the same time. I think the music could have been quieter so that people could hear one another better across the tables but I think it’s a great idea and hope another will be planned in the not too distant future.

The Wet Fish Cafe on Urbanspoon

West Hampstead Digest No.6 Local news where you set the agenda

This week’s digest consists of the review of the Czech restaurant and a couple of other short pieces, including our first contributed piece. Thanks to @bubela. If you would like to write for Digest, drop me a line or DM me on Twitter. Access the one-page PDF here.

Literati on the Lane
by @bubela
Most of West Hampstead seemed to be squeezed into West End Lane Books on Thursday evening for Phyllida Law’s reading from her new book Notes to My Mother-in-Law. Several local actors were present along with the author of some people’s book of the year, Me Cheeta.

As well as some lovely back-chat with daughter Emma Thompson, Phyllida shared her views on living in the area for many decades, regretting the loss of fresh fish shops and butchers, but of course happy with the excellent book shop. #whampculture

Every which way but home
For once the tube was in everyone’s good books this week following the announcement that the Metropolitan Line would stop at Willesden Green when the Jubilee Line was closed for engineering works. A victory for Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather.

Anger shifted to the rail network with First Capital Connect’s timetable collapsing into disarray as staff worked to rule. First Capital Connect has agreed to compensate some affected passengers. Details on the website.

Saturday saw traffic chaos outside the O2 centre as a combination of lane closures and a broken-down car led to lengthy delays. @allaboutcarl kept us all updated.

The Czech & Slovak National House restaurant

Former Czech president Václav Havel smiled down at us from the wall. How could we fail to fall in love with the food and flock wallpaper?

We were guided through to the high-ceilinged dining room because we were interrupting the Czech sitcom on TV in the bar, or at risk of waking the guy slumped on the sofa. “It’s a bit like being in an old-fashioned hotel by the sea,” said Helen to nods of agreement. Sarah nodded too, but it was harder to see because she was standing up. Having lost the original reservation, the restaurant still managed to lay the table for only 7 rather than 8. Chairs were found, order was restored, beer was drunk.

The fin-de-siècle atmosphere of the parlour was heightened by the glamorous guests at the private party in the room next door whose beautiful dresses, elegant gloves and sharp tuxedos occasionally tumbled into the lobby. Bilingual conversations floated in to the restaurant, which was far more segregated between our raucous English chatter and the quiet Czech discussions at tables around us.A selection of starters appeared; insipid against the dark velvet of the walls, except for the Utopenec – a crimson mutant sausage designed to warn adolescent boys of the dangers of getting too close to the reactor. The Šopsky salad went down well, as did the potato pancake, which tasted much better than it looked. The avocado salad sadly looked more appetizing than it tasted – an avocado that requires a steak knife is never a treat.

Try as we might we just couldn’t polish off the last piece of fried bread topped with crumbled cheddar and the waiter punished us by leaving it on the table forlornly for the rest of the meal. Main courses arrived, ticking all the boxes in the I-Spy Book of Mitteleurope cuisine. There was goulash, there were schnitzels, there was wild boar, there was goose, there was sauerkraut, there were dumplings and there was Quorn. Yes. Quorn. In schnitzel form. More than that it was a Quorn “Club” Schnitzel, which meant it was liberally covered with – wait for it – crumbled cheddar. For real. Is this really traditional or did they just massively overorder the cheese this week?
Mark claimed his goose was “ethnically authentic” although his credentials for judging remained murky. If my goose was ethnically authentic, then I feel sorry for the Czechs. It was inedible. The meat was not so much dry as arid, while the sauerkraut had been lost in translation as it was horribly sweet. Dom manfully fought his way through a chicken club schnitzel – cheddar and all. Lisa said her Wiener schnitzel wasn’t as good as ones she’d had in Vienna (perhaps unsurprisingly). Matt barely touched his goulash, which “tasted like a school beef curry but, y’know, not spicy”. Helen declared the Quorn club schnitzel “excellent”, albeit with a deadpan expression that begged the question. Sarah’s chicken club schnitzel was “guilty pleasure comfort food”. Jerry’s wild boar and cream sauce had looked the best dish on the table and, based on his big smile and clean plate, it was clear what everyone would order should there ever be a return visit.

The bill (cash only) came to £153 for 8, service not included. Despite some disappointing food, the overall atmosphere was appealing in a mildly kitsch and unintentionally ironic sort of way. Quite what Václav would make of it I’m not sure – if he really liked crumbled cheddar then he’d probably love it, maybe write a play about it and thus cement its place in history. Which would be fitting, as the place feels far more rooted in the past than as a part of London’s contemporary multicultural cuisine.
Food 5.5
Service 6.1
Atmosphere 7.1
Overall impression 6.1
Good for: wild boar and nostalgia
Bad for: vegans
Czech Club Restaurant
74 West End Lane
London NW6 2LX
T: 0207 372 1193

(all photos courtesy of Jerry Barnett)

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West Hampstead Digest No.5 Local news where you set the agenda

(for a one-page PDF version: click here)

Whampagne Supernova

Photo (c) Jerry Barnett. See more of Jerry’s work at

Ever since Camden council closed the Primrose Hill fireworks, locals have had to make more effort to go and see a decent organized display (although some people still just keep coming to Primrose Hill armed only with ignorance and the phone number of the New Journal).

Clearly your experience of Bonfire Night rather depended on where you were. These two tweets were just 3 minutes apart:

Two hours later, the sporadic distribution of fireworks hadn’t changed. In just 8 minutes Digest received these three:

Digest went to Roundwood Park in Willesden for Brent’s firework display on the day itself, even getting the treat of a Bonfire Night sausage. The display was great, although the much advertised sound system didn’t seem to carry to where Digest was standing. Friday was a fairly quiet fireworks night although maybe they could be heard but not seen.

Come Saturday and the north London action was at Alexandra Palace. The crowds thronged, the fireworks did their whizz-bang thing, and this time the obligatory Star Wars theme music was clearly audible. A sizeable West Hampstead posse fought its way through accident-delayed traffic and walked up hill and down dale to get a good view of the pyrotechnics.
Despite grumbles and moans, there doesn’t seem to be any likelihood of organised fireworks returning to Primrose Hill anytime soon. Where do you think Camden could host a fireworks display without risking a crowd crush?
Commercial aspirations
Glo’s temporary closure has become permanent. The West Hampstead branch has been dropped from the company’s website and then a To Let sign went up in the window a couple of days later. Glo always seems to have struggled with its confused menu and slightly odd location. It was rarely full, and must have competed with the ever-popular and good value Banana Tree just up the road.
The local Twitterverse got all excited at the prospect of a new shop replacing the convenience store opposite the Thameslink entrance.
@Gitfinger spotted the sign and followed up to find out precisely what sort of staff experience the mysterious company wanted (one might argue they missed a trick with their recruiting poster: “Kitchener – your country needs you” etc.). Eventually though it was @bubela who was first to solve the (not very cryptic) puzzle:

The saga of the commercial units in Alfred Court continued. An agent explained to Digest that it neither the restaurant nor the retail space were likely to be a typical high-street chain. More about this on the blog.
Accident black spot
Wednesday morning got off to a bad start.

The stretch of West End Lane from Iverson Road to Broadhurst Gardens is particularly narrow, with three different buses ploughing down it and pedestrians frequently crossing at any opportunity. Accidents here are too frequent:

There was even an accident on the night of the first whampgather at the same Iverson Road/West End Lane junction. One cycle commuter’s views are clear:
Cycle accidents in London are on the rise, as more of us turn to two wheels in the wake of high public transport ticket prices. Ride carefully! #whamptravel
Good news/Bad news
The Jubilee Line was open south of West Hampstead this Sunday. Digest urged readers to make the most of it.
But Councillor Keith Moffitt quietly dropped a bombshell earlier in the week. Details were not forthcoming. I think we all dread to imagine. #whamptravel

Newcommers [sic]

A few new faces on West End Lane, and a continuing mystery in Fortune Green.

Alexis the bakery up the north end of West End Lane has shut. To be replaced by… a bakery. But a bright orange bakery, if that makes any difference. There’s a Dylan’s already in Willesden (170 Church Rd), so presumably orange is a tried and tested formula. The West Hampstead one hasn’t opened yet, so no review but here’s a picture of it in all its orangeness.

(by the way, the pharmacy next door looks like it’s closing down – it’s not, it’s just being refitted).

Further down towards the tube station, the unit that was X10 computers (a strange den of chipboards, cables and the owner’s aphorisms, which acted as some sort of test as to your worthiness as a customer) closed a few weeks ago. It has reopened as Matrix. Nice to see the “x” theme being carried through there. This one has nothing to do with motherboards and hard drives and everything to do with nails and extensions [CORRECTION: it appears to be just a hair salon, not a nail bar]. Perhaps it will make up for the nail bar that closed earlier in the year on Broadhurst Gardens.

Regular readers will remember the Photo of the Week from Digest No.2. Here it is again to refresh your memories.

Of course, they couldn’t possibly leave such a huge billboard up with such a bad typo on it, so the board has been changed.

To this. Oh dear.

The friendly girls who work in that teeny-tiny branch of Goldschmidt & Howland next door gave me a wry smile when I asked about it. It’s going to be redone again apparently.

I was actually in their really very small space to try and solve the burning issue of the day: what is the retail space going to be in the very development advertised above. Rumours (some started by @bubela‘s local shopkeepers again) have been pinging around, and as G&H are selling the flats I thought they might know. They don’t. They did try and find out though and I spoke to Sam from their Hampstead sales office who explained that they weren’t responsible for the non-residential units and he couldn’t say for sure what would be there. The consensus in the office was that a gym/health club was pretty much a given. There was also talk that there might be some sort of mother/baby centre (whatever exactly that might be), and a shop. But what the shop was no-one seemed sure. Fear not, I’m still on the case and if I find anything out I shall let you know – and if you hear anything then do pass it on.

For what it’s worth, my hunch would be that something like a Spar is the most likley. I would be surprised if a Waitrose/M&S would move there as it lacks the footfall they need. Would Tesco’s really open somewhere quite so close to its Express store on West End Lane? And would Sainsbury’s open a Local quite so close to a Tesco Express? My money is on a Spar or another of the franchise operations, which can be half-way decent when they are in ok areas.

Finally, there’s the unit on West End Lane next to Starbucks that was Prime internet café and DVD/video rental. It’s been closed for a while and is being refitted at the moment. Place your bets for what will move in there. My guess is that it might stay empty for a little while. But I’ll try and find out when I get the chance.

West Hampstead Digest No.2 Local news where you set the agenda

(for a one-page PDF version: click here)

“Whampgather” tweet-up makes the news The first ever whampgather took place on Monday 12th at The Alice House. An early glitch, when the staff were unaware that free drinks had been arranged, was soon rectified. There was a terrific turnout, despite tube and bus delays doing their best to slow people down. Sixteen people, the vast majority of whom had never met each other before, all chatted about their experiences of the area, and were able to draw all sorts of connections.

Having bombarded Stephen Fry with invitations, we were delighted when he finally saw one from @JudeStone and sent a reply.No awkward silences meant no time for the “Rename whampgather” competition, and the consensus was that we should stick to whampgather. Therefore, the draw to win an NW6 t-shirt from @ilovemypostcode took place on Tuesday – the winner seemed pleased.Whampgather excitement lingered late into the week as @SarahReardon worked some PR magic on the Camden New Journal. The article appeared in Thursday’s edition (although the paper is not readily available in West Hampstead) and online on Friday. The CNJ has said that it may even attend the next one. So, put on your best frocks and, again, doctors notes are the only acceptable excuses, although this one from @Choppsicle comes very close.

Music venues overlooked
Camden council listed 10 of the best live music venues in the borough but of local places, only The Good Ship made the cut. Readers had other ideas. There’s also professional music at The Railway, Lately, and even Pizza Express. Talking of which, @bubela had heard from local shopkeepers that West End Lane’s Pizza Express was going to be closed and turned into a Sainsbury’s. Digest contacted Pizza Express who categorically denied that the branch was closing, “West Hampstead is a really popular PizzaExpress,” according to spokesperson Alex Whitelaw.
On the campaign Twail
The general election has yet to be called, but unofficial electioneering has started. West Hampstead is in the new constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn and with redrawn boundaries, the Tories and LibDems are already arguing over which of them is the true challenger to Labour.
The three candidates are existing Hampstead & Highgate MP Glenda Jackson (Lab), Chris Philp (Con) and Ed Fordham (LibDem). Only Fordham is on Twitter, where he directs followers to blog entries about local architecture as well as to political material.
All three were at the Tricycle this week for hustings. Fordham posted extracts of the event – focused on his performance – on his YouTube channel, including a robust defence of Kilburn in the face of those who talk it down. Digest is more than happy to direct its readers to similar links from the other candidates. We will follow the progress of the main three parties up to the election, keep you up to date with the other candidates, and run some very unscientific polls to gauge your thoughts.
This will be the first general election where Twitter will play a part and, in the aftermath of Obama’s well-orchestrated online campaign, we can expect all the parties and candidates to up their digital game. #whampvote
Tube fares rise. What tube?
Another weekend of tube closures barely got a reaction from resigned locals. The midweek announcement of TfL price rises, in order to pay for improvement works, didn’t pass unnoticed however. #whamptravel
Photo of the week – Read closelyMaybe that was the spelling in King Alfred’s time. Thanks to @PkerUNO for spotting this West End Lane billboard.