It was 56 years ago today, Decca said the Beatles couldn’t play

On a very cold New Year’s Day in 1962 the Beatles arrived in West Hampstead for their audition at Decca Studios.

The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein had several record shops in Liverpool and had a meeting with the marketing people at Decca. They told Dick Rowe – Decca’s A&R (Artists and Repertoire) manager – about The Beatles and he sent his assistant Mike Smith to Liverpool to see them at The Cavern on 13 December 1961. Smith was very impressed by the audience reaction and an audition was arranged in London for 1st January 1962.

Back in 1962, New Year’s Day wasn’t a public holiday but Dick Rowe was away, and it was left to Mike Smith to organise the session. Brian Epstein travelled to London by train, but John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and drummer Pete Best, had to drive down the previous day in a van with their equipment. The freezing weather, with fog and snow, meant the journey took ten hours instead of the usual five. After getting lost, The Beatles finally arrived at the Royal Hotel in Woburn Place around 10pm on New Year’s Eve. Pete Best (who was replaced by Ringo Starr later that year) recalled what happened:

“Brian Epstein had read the riot act to us before we went down to London. You know, be good little boys, you mustn’t be out after 10 o’clock. And there we were with everyone else in the middle of Trafalgar Square as drunk as skunks. We were late getting to the Decca Studios the next day. Brian was there before us. He was livid and tore a strip off us left, right and centre. John said, Brian shut up, we are here for the audition’. (From: Love Me Do; the Beatles ‘62, TV documentary 2012).

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The boys arrived at the Broadhurst Gardens studio at 11 o’clock and were not at their best after a long journey and a night of heavy drinking. Mike Smith was more than hour late himself, having been held up by the snow, and Epstein was very annoyed. They briefly met Tony Meehan who went into the producer’s box. He had grown up in West Hampstead and been the drummer with Cliff Richard and the Shadows before working as an assistant producer at Decca. The Beatles started to set up their equipment but the Decca engineers asked them to use the studio amplifiers as the group’s were in poor condition.

Over the next few hours The Beatles played 15 songs, mostly cover versions; only three were Lennon and McCartney originals (Like Dreamers Do, Hello Little Girl and Love Of The Loved). Epstein had persuaded them to do a set that he thought would show their range of ability, including Besame Mucho, The Sheik Of Araby, Money and Till There Was You. Lennon and McCartney later said they had wanted to include more rock numbers. Epstein thought the audition had gone well and he treated the boys to a meal at a restaurant in Swiss Cottage recommended by Mike Smith.

Mike Smith at Decca

Later that same afternoon, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes auditioned at Decca. After the auditions Mike Smith wanted to sign both groups but Dick Rowe said they could only take one and told Smith to choose. He went with the Tremeloes because their audition was better than The Beatles’ and he thought it would be easier to work with a Dagenham band than a Liverpool-based group. Smith lived nearby in Barking.

The Tremeloes at Decca

After numerous phone calls, Epstein was invited to lunch with Dick Rowe and the head of marketing on the 6 February. He was told that Decca had decided not to sign The Beatles. In his autobiography Epstein said he couldn’t believe his ears.

“You must be out of your tiny little minds! These boys are going to explode. I am completely confident that one day they will be bigger than Elvis Presley!”

He said that Rowe told him:

“Not to mince words, Mr Epstein, we don’t like your boys’ sound. Groups of guitars are on the way out …. Your boys are never going to get off the ground. We know what we’re talking about. You really should stick to selling recordings in Liverpool.” (From: Brian Epstein, A Cellarful of Noise London: Souvenir, 1964).

Dick Rowe strongly denied that he said this, and believes that Epstein was so annoyed that the Beatles had been turned down that he made it up. But the story stuck and Rowe went down in history as ‘the man who turned down the Beatles’. But this is unfair because it was Mike Smith who made the decision. And he wasn’t alone; as Rolling Stones manager Andrew Oldham pointed out in his autobiography, “Everybody turned them down. Columbia, Oriole, Philips and Pye turned the Beatles down, based on what they heard from the Decca session”.

Epstein left the Decca meeting with the tapes of the audition. He stayed in London for a few days and on 8 February he met Bob Boast, the manager of the large HMV record shop in Oxford Street. They knew each other from a seminar in Hamburg and got on well. Boast was not very impressed with the recording tapes in Decca boxes and suggested that Epstein go upstairs where there was a studio that could make copies onto disk. He thought these would look better when Epstein approached the other record companies. The disk-cutter Jim Foy was impressed by the fact that Lennon and McCartney had composed three tracks, as it was unusual at this time for a band to write their own material. Foy told EMI’s head of publishing Sid Coleman who arranged a meeting with George Martin, who was then the head of A&R at Parlophone, part of EMI.

You can listen to 10 tracks from the Decca session for yourself in the video at the top of the article.

Most critics agree that it’s hard to appreciate the Beatles’ potential from this material. They didn’t perform well nor did their unique talent emerge. The original tapes were recently sold at auction to a Japanese collector for £35,000.

You can hear Mike Smith, Pete Best and Brian Poole talking about their memories of the audition after 40 years:

Epstein met George Martin on 13 February 1962. Martin was not particularly impressed by the Decca sessions demo either, but he admired the confidence Epstein had in the Beatles and he was struck by the freshness of the three original compositions. In May, Martin told Epstein that he wanted to sign the group and the deal was done on 4 June, two days before their audition at Abbey Road. The band recorded their first hit, Love Me Do, there in September. It was released on 5 October and reached number 17 in the charts. Their second single, Please Please Me, was released on 11 January 1963 and reached number 1 in the NME and Melody Maker charts.

Liked the Rolling Stones
Although Decca did not sign the Beatles, it did get the Rolling Stones. On 10 May 1963, Dick Rowe and George Harrison were judges at a local talent competition at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool. George told Dick Rowe about a band he had seen who were very good. Dick returned to London and saw the Rolling Stones at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond where they had a residency. Four days later he signed them to Decca. Their first single was Chuck Berry’s Come On, which was re-recorded at Decca Studios and released on 7 June. It reached number 21 in the charts. Shrewdly, manager Andrew Oldham wanted to retain the performing rights of the music and he produced most of the Stones’ other records at independent studios and then leased them to Decca.

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Despite being lumbered with the tag of the man who turned down The Beatles, Dick Rowe in fact had a long and successful time at Decca. He went on to sign The Animals, The Moody Blues, The Zombies, Them (with Van Morrison), The Small Faces, Lulu and Tom Jones among many others. He died from diabetes in June 1986 at his home in Greenwich.

A rich history
What of the studio itself?

The building in Broadhurst Gardens was built around 1884 as a workshop and then converted into West Hampstead Town Hall. Despite its name, this was not a public building but a private venue that could be rented for weddings and concerts.

In 1928, it became the recording studio of the Crystalate Record Company. During the depression of the 1930s, small independent record companies struggled to survive. Decca and EMI bought most of them and became great rivals. EMI opened its Abbey Road studios in November 1931, and in 1937, Crystalate was acquired by Decca which moved all its recording to Broadhurst Gardens. Thousands of records were made here by Decca until the company left in 1981. As well as many classical records, these included sessions by David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Tom Jones, Lulu, Van Morrison, The Moody Blues, and Eric Clapton with John Mayall.

In its final form there were three main studios at Decca:
Studio 1: straight ahead as you entered the building, with the control room upstairs above the studios. This was used for many pop records.
Studio 2: a smaller room, was downstairs and was the main rock & roll and blues studio.
Studio 3: was opened in 1962 at the back of the building, and was large enough to take a full orchestra. Bing Crosby made one of his last albums, Feels Good, Feels Right, here in August 1976.

In 1974, The Moody Blues did a deal with Decca and took over Studio 1 as their Threshold Studios. They had made their previous albums at Decca and they recorded Long Distance Voyager at Threshold.

In 1980, Sir Edward Lewis, who created Decca in 1929, died. The company was sold to Polygram, and is now part of the Universal Music Group. The building on Broadhurst Gardens is now Lilian Baylis House, used by the English National Opera who took it over in November 1981.

Back in October 2017, I was asked by a Dutch radio station to give them a tour of the old Decca studios – it was also filmed and you can watch it here (the first bit is in Dutch, but the rest is all in English)

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.


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.

Grab yourself a FREE yoga class at Yoga London Club

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Yoga London Club is West Hampstead’s brand new premier boutique yoga studio, situated in the heart of West Hampstead on Broadhurst Gardens. To celebrate the opening of the studio we’re offering all West Hampstead Life readers a FREE taster session during August* To try out a class for free just drop Matt an email to get your taster session booked in.

And there’s more good news from Yoga London Club, once you’ve had your free taster session you are then eligible for our fantastic intro offer of month-long unlimited yoga sessions for just £40.

Yoga London Club offers a wide range of yoga styles including Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga and beginners, taught by our amazing super-friendly team backed by a wealth of experience. The class timetable includes our unique Yoga Express classes, which are just 45 minutes long and ideal for those wanting a quick post-work or lunchtime stretch, with the longer XL evening and weekend classes for folk wanting a longer workout.

Inside the Yoga London Club studio on Broadhurst Gardens

Inside the Yoga London Club studio on Broadhurst Gardens

Each class at the Studio will have 12 spaces available to allow for a much more intimate yoga experience for the student. So whether you are an absolute beginner or a seasoned yoga pro, Yoga London Club will have the perfect session for you.

Yoga is fast becoming the go-to complete mind & body workout the world over. The practice helps to release both the physical and mental tightness and tension that have somehow become the default settings for human beings. In Yoga London Club’s classes, mind and body are balanced and a deep sense of peace and calm is created.

Yoga London Club founder, Matt Ryan

Yoga London Club founder, Matt Ryan

At Yoga London Club, we believe passionately that yoga is for everyone regardless of size, shape, age, sex or experience, and take pride in creating a welcoming environment for all.

Yoga London Club
192 Broadhurst Gardens,
West Hampstead,
London NW6 3AY
*for first-time students of the studio only

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

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.

Vera Lynn to Verdi: Go backstage at the ENO’s remarkable building

Welcome to the Tardis of West Hampstead.

Outside, people scurry past its flaking blue paint, barely noticing it’s there. But find a ruse to get in the door and you could get lost exploring for hours. There is a Bible Archive, but no holy books. There is a Rail Store and a Crew Room, which have nothing to do with the tube station across the road.

ENO building - Lilian Baylis House on Broadhurst Gardens

ENO building – Lilian Baylis House on Broadhurst Gardens

This is Lilian Baylis House, the English National Opera’s (ENO) rehearsal rooms tucked unassumingly down Broadhurst Gardens, and it is an unusual place. A meandering corridor concealed by Escher-like steps, which you must climb in order to descend, opens out into a vast hangar-like space. It’s disorienting. Are you underground or above? Which way did you come? And where is that singing coming from?

“Everyone who works here seems to love it because it’s so full of character,” says my guide Natasha Freedman. “There is something about the quirks of the building that make them nice spaces to work in.”

Perhaps its past plays a role. These walls have absorbed a century of celebrated musical history, with the ENO just the latest chapter.

Constructed as Victorian craftsmen’s workshops, the building served for a while as West Hampstead’s own Town Hall before becoming a recording studio in the 1920s for Vera Lynn and other big names of the day. Decca Records bought it in 1937. For almost half a century it recorded classical music and popular artists here, from big band leader Ted Heath, to Fleetwood Mac, the Rolling Stones and David Bowie.

Broadhurst Gardens could have been as famous as Abbey Road given its history – but Decca only had itself to blame for missing that chance. In one of the music industry’s most notorious mistakes, its talent men auditioned The Beatles here in 1962 but turned them down. “Guitar bands are on the way out,” the band’s manager was told.

The studios closed in 1980 and were bought the next year by the ENO, which had outgrown its Coliseum home near Trafalgar Square. Today, it still needs to hire other rehearsal venues, despite three large spaces here. The site is now a confusing warren of different levels, stairs and corridors connecting three converted studios, all of it adapted to new uses rather than rebuilt.

ENO named the building after theatre producer and manager Lilian Baylis, who in the first half of the 20th century ran companies that evolved into the ENO, The Royal Ballet and the National Theatre.

Studio 2, deep in the bowels of the building where Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli once played, now has a grand piano, a wall of mirrors with barres – and a basketball hoop high on the wall that seems in keeping with the premises’ lived-in feeling.

“There is still evidence of the past, like the glass window in Studio 2 behind which all the recording equipment was,” says Freedman, who heads the ENO’s outreach division, simply called Baylis, which aims to bring opera to people who could not afford it or might never think of it.

“The building takes a good punishing, we’re moving equipment around all the time,” Freedman says.
Old soundproofing tiles still cover walls and ceilings, layered with pipes and cables that zigzag around the ENO maze. Doors in all directions are fitted with blue signs announcing the function of the rooms they guard, inside which are more discoveries.

“You can open a cupboard and it’s full of organised buttons – or another full of gentlemen’s shoes of every style,” says Freedman. “There’s one near our room full of underwear of all shapes and sizes.”
The building is long and thin and full of corners that never see daylight. It seems huge, having been extended to the back in the 1960s to house Decca’s giant Studio 3, which can fit a mock-up of a whole Coliseum stage.

During the opera season, the director, conductor, lead singers and chorus are here rehearsing for any of the three shows the ENO runs at one time. The singing you might occasionally just hear from outside will nearly always be in English, the language the company performs in.

The singers get fitted for their costumes here, occasionally giving a sense of time travel. “Walk down a corridor and you can hear a singer in one room having coaching and in the next, members of the costume department are doing fittings with their tape measures and pins,” Freedman says. Mozart’s doomed seducer Don Giovanni was here the other week to be measured up to meet his fate. Soon it will be the turn of the pitiful pirates and blundering bobbies of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera, The Pirates of Penzance.

Since 2015 “LBH”, as its inhabitants call it, has got more crowded. The ENO’s off-stage staff – marketing, communications, administration and Baylis – all moved in from offices in St Martin’s Lane to help the cash-strapped company save money.

Lovely as West Hampstead is, can West End Lane really compete with the West End as a place to work?
Freedman smiles. “Um… for [my team] it’s great being close to the rehearsal rooms,” she says diplomatically. “Stuff is being created and made all the time. This increasingly feels like our home.”

Freedman says long hours mean there has been little time to explore the attractions of the area but named three ENO favourites: The Sherriff centre “very good church-cum-post office-cum-wonderful whatever a real community centre should be”; Wired coffee shop outside their front door; “We love Wired, everyone goes there to keep going”; and Vietnamese restaurant Pham House – “really lovely people and delicious food”.

Unsurprisingly, West Hampstead itself is not a priority for the ENO, although Freedman says she would love to find local partnerships to help reach teenagers who have never thought of opera before. “Camden as a borough is relatively well served in terms of the arts. Our focus is more on Brent, which is very poorly served.”

The ENO has links with secondary schools in the neighbouring borough. Students regularly come to the studios to watch rehearsals and see what goes into a production, from making hats to shifting stage sets.
Around 50 students spent a week here in the summer to create a project linked to ENO productions which involves performance, set and costume design and investigating some of the moral dilemmas shown on stage.

“Opera’s not just a museum piece written 200 years ago but is storytelling through music, drama and design,” says Freedman. “Once you start talking about opera like that with young people they totally get it.”

LBH is not open to the public, so how can a local get in to have a look? You could join the 110-strong no-audition-needed ENO Community Choir which meets here on Wednesdays (and where warmup exercises, to stick to the Dr Who theme, can include singing like a Dalek).

Frenchman Julien Molinet, a West End Lane resident since the summer, joined the choir after checking out the ENO – which he had never heard of – online. “It all looked a bit derelict and at first I thought it was a closed factory,” he said. “It was a real surprise when I walked in, the size of this place!”

Or you could email Baylis to join its community mailing list and be alerted to the next “Know the Show” in the spring – a one-day singing and drama workshop open to anyone who wants to get a feel of what it’s like to be an opera chorus member. For details of these events, email .

In case you never make it but were wondering about those rooms … well, the Rail Store is for clothes rails and the Crew Room is for stagehands. And the Bible Archive? For “costume bibles” from every production going back decades, minutely detailing all the designs, sketches, photos and alterations so that one day, it can all be brought back to life.

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.



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.


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.

Rail replacement bus hits parked cars, blocks road

Broadhurst rail replacement bus crash

A rail replacement double-decker bus travelling down Broadhurst Gardens crashed into a series of parked cars just past the junction with Priory Road this morning causing significant damage to the vehicles though no passengers appear to have been injured. The bus became wedged against one of the cars and was unable to move. This led to the one-way Broadhurst Gardens becoming backed up with both replacement bus services and the C11.

Broadhurst rail replacement bus crash_4

The middle doors of the bus were also damaged in the incident.

Broadhurst rail replacement bus crash_5

A group of workers from TfL’s engineering works came off the track to see what they could do. It appeared that the owner of the Golf was able to nudge the car foward, freeing up the bus which was then able to drive off.

Broadhurst rail replacement bus crash_6

The incident will raise questions about the suitability of Broadhurst Gardens for rail replacement services, given that it’s narrow with a tight bend and parked cars either side and that while the C11 drivers navigate it daily it’s not a common task for the stand-in drivers. It also throws into relief the poor planning this weekend, which has seen two sets of West End Lane roadworks, and the closure of both the Jubilee and Metropolitan Lines, the closure today of part of Belsize Road. Not to mention the 50,000 fans heading to Wembley for the England women’s football match.

Tom takes heart in The Gallery

Really delighted with The Gallery’s new venture hosting jazz in its basement bar. The room’s perfect for jazz; it has character, with sofas and chairs strewn around somewhat haphazardly, its own piano, great acoustics, and… available, as upstairs in the main bar.

Deciding something substantial was needed (I hadn’t eaten for at least an hour or so), I cleverly constructed an order comprising of the baked mushroom and cream cheese crêpes, with chips accompanied by mayo and ketchup. Clearly, my creativity knows no bounds.

I have to say I was most impressed by such a simple dish being so satisfying. Plenty of mushrooms in a well-made pancake, and the cream cheese flavours blending in to create a very decent dinner. A handful of ingredients, a plateful of enjoyment.

Chips were also very well executed; and fears that the little bowls of sauce might not be sufficient proved unfounded (I do prefer a bottle of ketchup on the table – makes me shudder with intense anxiety thinking there might not be enough).

Less pleasurable was the complete absence of the stated kale, and “purple sprouting” (let’s assume broccoli). Ironically, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment, as I only realised afterwards, but items entirely missing have to be classified by this greedy writer as a serious food crime.

But let’s focus on the numerous plus-points. A fantastic jazz band, good wines (I enjoyed a Hungarian Pinot Noir, which was delicious), a great atmosphere, and Sunday night pub food very nicely cooked.

Sunday night blues? Pah!

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:

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!

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!

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

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

182 Broadhurst Gardens
West Hampstead
T: 020 7372 8188

Broadhurst Gardens fire: 15 flats evacuated

[updated March 20th 11 am]

Fire crews rescued six people from 140 Broadhurst Gardens in the early hours of this morning after a fire broke out on the ground floor. Another woman jumped from a first floor window, against the advice of firefighters, and broke her leg.

At around 3am Tuesday, residents were woken by the smoke alarm. Five fire engines were quickly on the scene from West Hampstead and Paddington fire stations. Keith Vardy, one of the residents, said, “We assumed it was the fusebox because the fire started by the front door.” Later, residents understood that it seemed that something had been set alight and put through the letter box although the fire brigade is saying the cause is still under investigation. The fire caused damage to the ground floor.

Fire crews rescued a woman and two men from a first floor window using a ladder and three men were rescued from inside the property. It took an hour and a half to get the fire under control.

The property is a converted house with 15 flats. Residents say that 14 of the 15 flats are currently occupied though the other tenants were not in last night. This morning, the six tenants are still outside the property having been there since 3am. They are not sure where they will be put up tonight and are now waiting for Camden to find them emergency accommodation. The woman who jumped was taken to hospital.

Firefighter Keith Malecki, who was at the scene, said “The building was very smoky when we arrived, but we were able to quickly get in to rescue the people. They were woken up by their smoke alarms going off, which meant they could call the Brigade as soon as they were aware of the fire. The smoke alarms saved their lives.”

Depsite minimal damage to the outside, the ground floor is badly damaged

Depsite minimal damage to the outside, the ground floor is badly damaged

David Strain, Keith Vardy, Graziano Siciliano

Rescued:: (l-r) David Strain, Keith Vardy, Graziano Siciliano

CORRECTION: In the original version of this article, we stated that the residents were council tenants with a private landlord. This was incorrect. The residents are not council tenants.

Will Mario’s new life be sufficiently super?

I get asked regularly about Mario’s. Mario’s is the long-closed Greek restaurant on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West Hampstead Mews. It may soon be remembered only from photos.

The outer wall is straight. The building less so!

It’s now an overgrown empty building on the corner of a block that is slowly crumbling. The freeholders use it as a workshop occasionally. I even saw a pool table in there once.

Mario’s has been closed, I guess, for about five years. It used to be a friendly neighbourhood restaurant and if you got take-away, they’d always throw in some chips or a free salad. One of the last times I went, David Soul (Hutch from the original Starsky & Hutch) was at the table next to us.

Despite being a large restaurant in a good location, the premises has been empty ever since Mario went back to Cyprus (where I hear he runs a very successful restaurant). It’s too big for most independents to take on – especially given the structural repair work needed; while the chain restaurants with deep pockets would always prefer somewhere on West End Lane, oblivious to the lively atmosphere on Broadhurst in the evenings, and the proximity to the tube station.

When the freeholder died some years ago, I understand that his sons inherited not just the Mario’s site, but the entire block, right up to (but not including) the ENO building that used to house Decca Studios (of Beatles rejection fame). Unfortunately, despite owning a rather valuable piece of real estate, the sons had no cash with which to repair it.

The whole block would be redeveloped

Full-scale redevelopment was therefore always on the cards, and appears to have taken a significant step closer to fruition. This week I received an e-mail:

We are preparing plans to re-develop the site to improve the quality of the ground floor commercial accommodation and the residential units above. The existing building is in a very poor state, both internally and externally. We believe a new build scheme will improve the area. We are having a public exhibition on the site between 4pm -8pm on 16th October 2013 to display a number of plans.

I have no inside knowledge on what the plans are in any detail, but I’m looking forward to finding out. I hope that the height of any new building would be in keeping with the buildings in the immediate vicinity.

This land falls just outside the West Hampstead growth area, so there is less presumption in favour of development. Nevertheless, much as it will be a shame to see the old red brick building vanish, with its faded advert on the side, and tenants who’ll need to find somewhere else to live, it will be good to see new life come to what was once a stalwart of the West Hampstead dining scene. I wouldn’t say no to another really good Greek restaurant.

The writing is indeed on the wall for this building

Fifty years since Bowie recorded in West Hampstead

He was just 16 and still known as David Jones, but this was his first ever professional recording session. He wasn’t even on lead vocals.

David Jones (via the David Bowie official website)

Die hard fans can visit the David Bowie website for the full story, but here’s the overview.

On August 29 1963, The Kon-rads, David’s band, quickly recorded just one song live at Decca Studios on Broadhurst Gardens in West Hampstead (now the ENO building). They laid down a new song of their own composition called ‘I Never Dreamed’. There were talent scouts waiting to give the thumbs up or down. This was just two years after The Beatles had been turned down by Decca of course.

Once again, Decca said no. The Rolling Stones’ manager Eric Easton followed suit, as did the bookers of TV talent show ‘Ready Steady Win’.

Bowie wouldn’t be Bowie for another few years – David Jones was too close to the Monkees’ Davy Jones – but this recording session would mark the stat of one of the most remarkable careers in pop music. Bowie was only on backing vocals, it would be another 10 months before Davie Jones and the King Bees recorded “Liza Jane”, also in West Hampstead.

Decca’s master recording of I Never Dreamed has vanished, but there were some metal acetate discs cut at the studio. However, none have ever surfaced and two of the Kon-Rads have lost their copies.

The Bowie website has, however, managed to come up with the original lyrics to this historic track:

I never dreamed
That I’d fall in love with you
I never dreamed
That your eyes could be so blue

Till I looked your way baby
And saw your tender smile
I wanted you so badly
My heart was captured for a while

I never dreamed
Your caress could hurt so much
I never dreamed
That I would shake to your tender touch

Till you held my hand
Run your fingers through my hair
The other guys all laughed at me
But I didn’t really care

I never dreamed
I never dreamed
I never dreamed

Klooks Kleek and Decca: help needed

Local historians Dick Weindling and Marianne Colloms are writing a book about the history of Klooks Kleek, a jazz and blues club which ran at the Railway Hotel, West Hampstead, from 1961 to 1970. The book will also look at the history of Decca Studios which was in Broadhurst Gardens until 1980.

If you worked at Decca, or have any memories or stories about KK which they could use in book please email Dick at,

In the meantime, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, do read my quick rundown of West Hampstead’s musical heritage.

No sign of first night nerves at Spiga

Last night Tom and I decided it was Our Duty to check out Broadhurst Garden’s newest restaurant, Spiga. It was opening night so I wasn’t really expecting to review it as there were bound to be first night issues and it’s not really fair to give a definitive verdict on such an occasion.

As it was, our meal was verging on faultless. From a friendly welcome from front-of-house manager Marcello through to the cheery goodbyes a couple of hours later, it was refreshingly hard to find much room for improvement. The menu looks appealing, and there’s a set menu tucked away on the back page that has an early bird price option before 7pm. An interesting selection of bread appeared swiftly and we were assured it was made on the premises. While we struggled to choose from the tempting menu we ordered some stop-gap olives, which were not the usual dull overly-marinated selection beloved of so many restaurants, but a nice handful of vibrant green and black juicy monsters.

Tom will, no doubt, post his own review, so I’ll focus on my meal. I had carpaccio di polipo (octopus) as a starter. This was good, although not as good as I’ve had in Italy. I like the slices even thinner and a slightly spikier dressing, although that’s not to say this wasn’t enjoyable. It was served with a few more olives, and a rocket and potato salad. A good start.

Main course was rack of lamb. This was a very generous portion – a rack and a half of perfectly cooked meat. I’ve had lamb with more flavour before, but rarely as well cooked – certainly not in restaurants at this price level. The lamb had a Grissini crust, and this was the only element of the dish I was less keen on – too thick for me and I could see no benefit in it compared to a traditional herbed breadcrumb crust. It’s not on the menu, but main courses are all served with a pea and onion side – sort of like a stew and perhaps cooked in ham stock (vegetarians would want to check)? Sounds odd, tasted great – and again very generous portions.

We’d merrily drunk our way through a bottle of house red – a Sangiovese/Merlot blend that was better than I expected for £12.95. The wine list isn’t that extensive, but does befit the vibe of the restaurant. Those that remember the Green Room will recall the rather glossy boudoir look it had. Spiga has gone for a slightly retro 70s look, but it feels modern and welcoming. No red & white checked trattoria tablecloths to be found. I do think the lighting could be dimmer if it’s looking to create a more romantic atmosphere.

At this point, Sandra Royer, the French wife of one of the two Albanian brothers who own Spiga and are the chefs, came over to say hello and we felt it was only reasonable to reveal who we were. It turned out she was already an avid reader and fan of Tom’s Diner. That boy will go far! She explained that they’d hoped to open a bit sooner but some admin issues, delivery hold-ups, and a minor flood downstairs had pushed them back. It was good to see that we weren’t the only diners that evening, and although some punters clearly knew the owners there were others like us checking the place out (and we all stared intently at each other’s food).

Sandra told us that most of the food is sourced from Italy, so it is clearly going for the authentic angle. I was surprised to hear this was their first restaurant venture, although her husband has been a chef elsewhere – this was certainly no novice in the kitchen.

Tom grappled manfully with a large slice of chocolate torte and we both indulged in a grappa. We were joined by @moyasarner who saw us as she walked past and was immediately offered a basket of bread and a drink.

I was impressed with the service – friendly and professional throughout, even though the junior waitress was clearly a little nervous and made a couple of minor mistakes, which I heard Marcello pick her up on quietly afterwards.

The mark of a good restaurant is consistency. If Spiga can keep delivering the sort of food and experience that we enjoyed then it will do well. In ambience and menu it has kept itself suitably different from very close neighbour Sarracino and while I always found the Green Room to be style over substance, I think Spiga marries the two rather well.

182 Broadhurst Gardens
020 7372 8188
(website still under development!)

If you go, do leave comments below.

Cocoa Bijoux opens

It’s a hive of activity on Broadhurst Gardens at the moment. New Italian restaurant Spiga opens tonight (I know we’re all waiting for the verdict from Tom’s Diner), and Cocoa Bijoux opened with a soft launch at the end of last week. Senses of course closed a while ago (no great surprise), so there is another vacant unit up for grabs.

Cocoa Bijoux’s owner Stuart Daniel has been in the chocolate business for 20 years, and it’s clear that this is his passion. Having operated as a wholesaler he finally decided it was time to open his own place. Cocoa Bijoux occupies one of the small units in Broadwell Parade and sits between the cigar shop and Luli’s barbers.

Stuart has two chocolatiers who create artisan chocolates – he’s less interested in the endless matching rows of classic Belgian creams that you might find at Fortnum & Mason’s, and more in offering something a little more unusual. Generously he let me sample a few. I had a lovely caramelised walnut coated in dark chocolate and dusted with cocoa powder. He uses very specific French walnuts that are less bitter than many on the market. Then I had a delicious Grand Marnier truffle, but unlike any I’ve had before (mostly because it was twice the size). And finally, I tried a salted caramel ball. Very fashionable right now of course and I have to say this was the best I’ve had. Not too salty, not too sweet and with a perfect liquid centre.

Stuart also sells English chocolates from Prestat, which come in gorgeously designed boxes, and all manner of other treats. He focuses otherwise on French and German chocolates rather than Belgian. Cocoa Bijoux also has a table inside and will have some chairs outside for coffee or hot chocolate (made from couverture chocolate of course).

It’s a slightly odd site, and a very small shop, but I could see this working. There’s not much competition, especially since Wilton & Noble up by Waitrose closed, and being next to another destination shop (the cigar shop, not Luli’s) can only help. There is a new chocolate shop – Coco Exchange – opening on Belsize Road, but that’s apparently going to have a Belgian focus.

Stuart also seems like he knows what he’s doing and is open to trying things out. I wish him the best of luck. He’s also generously donated a nice (large!) box of chocolates for the Whampgather raffle, which I thought was very kind given that he’d only just met me!

Those of you who bang on about supporting independent shops – here’s another one to add to the list. I know it’s not going to please everyone because it’s high-end luxury items rather than day-to-day goods, but we have to face economic facts – these are the sorts of shops that are more likely to survive.

I will add a few photos to this post soon – didn’t have my phone with me this morning.

The Railway’s musical legacy

It’s common knowledge that The Beatles auditioned at Decca studios on Broadhurst Gardens, now the English National Opera premises. The New Years Day (1962) session didn’t go as well as manager Brian Epstein hoped and resulted in the now infamous rejection: “The Beatles have no future in show business”.

Also fairly well known is that The Railway pub on the corner of Broadhurst Gardens and West End Lane had an upstairs function room that played host to big name acts including the Rolling Stones and London’s adopted guitar hero Jimi Hendrix. During this time it was called the Klooks Kleek and was a key component of the capital’s burgeoning blues scene. Supergroup Cream even recorded its first live album there. Along with Mick, Eric and Jimi, luminaries such as John Mayall and Georgie Fame graced the stage at Klooks – or would have done if there had actually been a stage. This article from Down the Lane tells the whole story.

Klooks was like an old Victorian drawing room, some 20 metres square and unlike other venues had no stage at all. The floor was carpeted, the walls curtained in red velvet and covered in flock wallpaper, all making for very good acoustics. There were no mixing desks, lighting rigs, sound/ lighting engineers or even sound checks, the bands just tuned up and played. It was a bit like a gig in your own front room

What I did not know until this morning was that even in the 1970s and 80s the venue was still pulling in big names. In 1979, an up-and-coming rock group played The Moonlight – as it had been renamed. It appears to be the first time Paul, Dave, Larry and Adam had gigged outside Ireland. The U2gigs site contains this short review of the set from an Adam Symons.

U2 were very intense and Bono was mesmerising. The small hot club with its low ceiling was claustrophobic in a good way, if that is possible. Their short set left a great impression on me…”

The Moonlight was also on the small circuit of London clubs that hosted the occasional southern forays by the new wave of Manchester bands. The Dark Circle Room blog has some of the recordings from Joy Division’s Factory by Moonlight gigs (note the spelling mistake in the sleeve notes of the live album).

Here’s a faster loading set list, photos of the entrance as it looks now, and an extract from the NME about the impending refurb of the club.

Of course West Hampstead has other musical claims to fame. Artists as diverse as Dusty Springfield and Slash were both born here; and that Decca audition might have put the Fab Four off NW6 but it didn’t stop them from recording some of their most influential material just down the road by the world’s most famous zebra crossing.

Live music can still be found from time to time along West End Lane: at the Lower Ground Bar, The Wet Fish Café, Pizza Express, even – once in a while – at The Railway itself. But local music fans have to trot down to Kilburn venues such as The Luminaire, The Good Ship or Powers, or hold out for the OxjamKilburn festival for their fix of anything redolent of the days when Keith Richards riffed through the clouds of his own cigarette smoke at Klooks Kleek.