An Insight into: Mill Lane Barbers

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

Always a cheery welcome at the Mill Lane Barbers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An action-packed day at MLB

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

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

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

An Insight into: Curled Leaf

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

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

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

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

The arty (and veggie) Curled Leaf on Mill Lane

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

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

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

Feeling hungry?

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

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

The Kitchen Table bows out after 10 years on Mill Lane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Insight into: Achillea Flowers

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

What brought you to West Hampstead?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

Clare and Kate outside their serendipitous shop, Achillea.

What is your first/fondest memory of the area?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s for lunch?

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

Describe West Hampstead in three words?

Better than Hampstead

An Insight into: The Kitchen Table on Mill Lane

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

What brought you to West Hampstead?

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

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

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

What is your first memory of the area?

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

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

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

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

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

Food glorious food

Food glorious food

What’s for lunch?

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

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

West Hampstead in three words?

Community, ever-changing and… gossipy

Tiny art exhibition on Mill Lane

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

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

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

This disco diva is still be found

This disco diva is still be found

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

Where did this little blighter end up?

Where did this little blighter end up?

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

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

Who gave a home to this granny?

Who gave a home to this granny?

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

An Insight into: Monsters of Art on Mill Lane

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

What brought you to West Hampstead?

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

Dan at Monsters of Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

And inside the store, art and tattoos.

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

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

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

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

What’s for lunch?

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

West Hampstead in three words?

very pleasant indeed

Residents concerned over Beckford School road closure plan

Camden Council has announced plans to implement a temporary road closure near a primary school in West Hampstead, angering many local residents. There are public meetings to discuss the proposals this Thursday.

The affected area is around Beckford School on Dornfell Street. Camden’s proposal is to close Broomsleigh Street at the Mill Lane end at the beginning and end of each school day, preventing traffic from entering Dornfell Street, Glastonbury Street and Ravenshaw Street from this direction. This would come into effect for a six-month period, after which a further decision would be made whether to make the scheme permanent.

The council’s rationale for the possible traffic changes, as outlined in a letter to residents last week, is to create “a safe and pleasant environment” around the school when children arrive, and to encourage families to walk or cycle to school as part of its “Healthy School Streets” initiative. Since the school year started in September, it points out, two school children have been struck by motor vehicles in the area immediately around the school.

However, people living in and around the affected roads are not happy with the street closures, which if approved would come into effect in early June. On the West Hampstead Life forum, many residents have commented that although well-meaning, the plans are misguided and do not take into account the needs of residents and businesses.

People are concerned that they will be unable to reach their homes by car at the restricted hours of 8.30-9.15am and 2.30-4.30pm, deliveries will not be made, and elderly residents will not be able to be picked up for appointments. Margaret McKillop, a forum commenter, queried  what would happen “if for instance we need a doctor or ambulance during the hours between 2.30 and 4.30”?

There is also scepticism that Camden’s scheme will do much to encourage parents to walk their children to and from school, and that instead Ravenshaw Street will become “an unspeakable nightmare” with traffic moving in both directions on an already narrow road. Avril, another forum member, wondered “how many parents will actually support their children cycling to Beckford School” – as this would inevitably mean cycling along busy Mill Lane.

There will be two meetings held at the school this Thursday, March 19th at 3.45pm and 6.30pm, to explain the reasons behind the plan and give parents and residents a chance to ask questions.

Do you live in the affected area, or are you a Beckford School parent? Join the discussion on the forum.

The busy junction of Broomsleigh Street and Mill Lane

The junction of Broomsleigh Street and Mill Lane under discussion

Locals dig deep to push Alliance fundraiser over target

The organisers of the campaign to raise funds to send the body of Natalia Czekaj back to her mother in Poland would like to express their gratitude to locals for giving generously to the cause. In total, they raised £8,400, which means that they can also help Natalia’s mother cover the funeral costs as well.

Dear Friends of The Alliance, Mill Lane, West Hampstead,

The sudden and tragic loss of Natalia has revealed that we are blessed with a local community full of kindness and generosity. The fund, originally set up to repatriate Natalia’s body to her mother in Poland, has been swollen by your goodwill to such an extent that we can hopefully now cover the funeral expenses as well.

Of course, we cannot ease the emotional suffering that sudden bereavement brings, but we have shown a devastated family that we care about their loss, and that Natalia was a loved and appreciated member of our community.

The funeral has been arranged for Saturday 31st January so it is our intention to close the fund on Friday 30th January.

Please accept our sincere thanks for your generosity and kindness; on behalf of Natalia’s family and the staff of The Alliance.


Small Business Saturday takes local business to Downing Street

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

You can find out more about Small Business Saturday here.


Middlesex star opens relocated Mill Lane pharmacy

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

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

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

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

Pharmacy owner Sanjay Patel with John Emburey

Aqua Pharmacy owner Sanjay Patel with John Emburey

John Emburey cuts the ribbon

John Emburey cuts the ribbon


Tom’s Eggsuberant about The Kitchen Table

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

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

Tom_Kitchen Table

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

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

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

Eight week Mill Lane closure

Mill Lane closure

Part of Mill Lane will be closed for eight weeks starting on Tuesday May 6th. There has been surprisingly little notice of this. The work is to replace metal gas mains with plastic mains.

The National Grid says

“The closures and restrictions will be introduced in phases as the work progresses from Shoot Up Hill towards Westbere Road.

Mill Lane will be closed between Shoot Up Hill and Fordwych Road with access maintained via local diversion routes

Fordwyich Road will be partially closed at the junction with Mill Lane, with access to properties being maintained via local diversion routes

Mill Lane will be closed one way Westbound between Westbere Road and Fordywch Road with access being maintained cia local diversion routes.

Some areas of parking will need to be suspended to facilitae excavation operations and traffic flows around our work areas.

It’s not clear whether these closures are just the first phase of closures or all the closures listed together. More information as we get it!

54 Mill Lane as C Bowler

A moment in time on Mill Lane

54 Mill Lane as C Bowler

54 Mill Lane in its former glory. Still from Conrad Blakemore’s short film

In 1991, local filmmaker Conrad Blakemore shot a short film for Channel 4. The Watchmaker was a snapshot of a day in the life of Mill Lane business C. Bowler Watchmaker and Jeweller.

Norman Clifford Bowler’s shop at 54 Mill Lane was postbox red and inside was an assorted jumble of watch parts. Mr Bowler himself seems to have been an amiable chap.

Born in Northumberland in July 1899, Clifford served in the Machine Gun Corps in World War 1 and by 1926 was on the electoral regiser at the Mill Lane address. He married Mabel in 1929 in Willesden.

In the film he recalls that he’s had customers for “40 or 50 years now. They always come to me first, to see if I’m still here. People are interested because they went to school in this area and although they have no repairs for me, they come here out of interest to see how many of the old shops are left and I’m about the only original one left now.”

Clifford died in January 1993 aged 93. Today, 54 Mill Lane is an empty premises, though it would appear several businesses use it as their registered address.

54 Mill Lane in January 2014

54 Mill Lane in January 2014


A plaque by the door commemorates the watchmaker

It’s nice to find, via Twitter, that the watchmaker’s shop – and the watchmaker himself – hasn’t been forgotten yet.

Thanks to Tetramesh for the original link and to Dick Weindling for additional historical detail.

Escott’s: Not the final curtain

Eagle-eyed readers of the Mill Lane pharmacy article will have spotted that as well as the two dispensing chemists’, a third business was mentioned – Escott’s Upholsterers. The family business closed its doors at 59 Mill Lane for the last time last Wednesday, leaving many local customers asking what had happened to this long-standing West Hampstead operation.


Until last week, Jean and Derek Browes ran the shop. Their nephew Mark Browes was also part of the team. Now retired, Jean and Derek have sold the freehold on the premises to Sanjay Patel of Aqua Pharmacy. However, Mark has taken over the upholstery business and will continue to run it from a new workshop near his home in Watford.

Escott’s has a long history in West Hampstead. It was established in 1895, originally based on West End Lane, and had operated from its workshop on Mill Lane for 45 years. The Browes family took over from the Escotts a few years before the move to Mill Lane, continuing to trade under the name of its founders as it was already an established and successful business.

This latest move reflects the reality of the rising cost of freeholds and rent in West Hampstead. According to Mark, it is no longer cost-effective to have the workshop here. He recalled a time, 30 years ago, when there were three upholstery businesses on Mill Lane. He is sad to leave the area. What will he miss most about West Hampstead? “The people. Over the years we built up quite personal relationships with customers. We’d have three generations of the same family coming to the shop.”

Mark was keen to point out that the move won’t affect home services; he will still be able to collect customers’ furniture and return it as he always has. Indeed, you can still contact Mark at Escott’s on the same number as before: 020 7435 6975, or via email: .

Don’t Dispense So Close To Me


Once upon a time there were two pharmacies on Mill Lane. They were about 200 metres apart. But not for long.

Aqua Pharmacy, at 102 Mill Lane, is planning to move to 59 Mill Lane, which has been occupied by Escott’s upholsterers for many years. This would bring it just 10 doors away from T. K. Impex pharmacy (81 Mill Lane). T.K. Impex isn’t happy. The move is planned for May/June.

At stake would seem to be the trade from patients walking back from the West Hampstead Medical Centre on Solent Road. Once, those that turned left would probably go to Aqua for their prescriptions and those that turned right would go to T.K. Impex. Aqua’s impending move means it becomes the nearest option for everyone coming up from Solent Road.

Sanjay Patel, the Aqua pharmacist, has owned the chemist for the past three years. He insists that there is nothing sinister behind his desire to relocate. Worried about ever-increasing rents, and with the lease about to expire on his current premises, he took the opportunity to buy the freehold on the Escott’s building in order to have more control over his business. Mill Lane may appear to have many empty ground floor units but the reality is, one local estate agent told us, that few landlords are willing to sell their freeholds at the moment.

Aqua plans to move in to where Escott's has been

Aqua plans to move in to where Escott’s has been

The Escott’s unit is about the same size as Aqua, he says, and he has ambitious plans to modernise it and improve his shop’s offering and customer experience. From his point of view, this is a sensible way of protecting his business. The advantage of being a freehold owner is, he says, “the only driver for the move”, and his intention is not to take business away from anyone else.

Unfair advantage?

Kim Khaki has run T.K. Impex for more than 30 years, and is unhappy with Aqua’s proposed move. He views the relative newcomer as a threat to his business and feels Aqua will have an unfair advantage because it will be the first pharmacy people see when turning onto Mill Lane from Solent Road. Aqua’s new premises is also very near the post office and bus stops, so he is worried that patients may go there for the convenience factor.

He also expressed concern that having two pharmacies in such close proximity is “not adding any value to the West Hampstead community” of which he feels very much a part.

T.K. Impex, somewhat confusingly, is also known by its trading name of H. V. Thomas (the name of the previous owner who ran the pharmacy for 45 years before Kim took over). It is, however, testament to the current owner’s personality and dedication that despite the various names above the door, the shop is known to its regular customers simply as “Kim’s”. He does seem to have an extremely loyal client base of his own, with some customers signing a petition to protest against Aqua’s application to move closer.

Indeed, Kim is proud of the longstanding relationships he has built up with patients, and the personal service he and his staff provide. On our visit to the traditional-looking chemists, a steady stream of customers arrived for prescriptions, advice, or just a chat, including eminent local historian Morris Beckman who, at 94, has been a regular visitor to the shop for many years.

Sanjay certainly believes that regular customers tend to remain loyal to a particular pharmacy, having built up a trusting and personal relationship, sometimes over many years. He expects Aqua’s regular clientele to follow it down the road to its new address and, likewise, for the regular users of T. K. Impex to keep going there. He is keen to emphasize that he “will not be changing the patient base”.

Kim accepts that there is little he can do to block the move, but feels that it goes against an unwritten pharmacists’ code of conduct. Any pharmacy move needs regulatory approval but as Aqua is moving only 140 metres and will continue to provide the same services, it will almost certainly be deemed to be a “relocation which does not result in significant change” to local patient groups.

Kim, however, asserts that as well as damaging his business, Aqua’s relocation will inconvenience patients at the other end of Mill Lane, who will now have to walk farther. He believes it would make more sense for Aqua to relocate in the other direction, as the nearest chemist’s that way is far away on Manstone Road off Cricklewood Broadway.

Sanjay counters this by pointing out that Kim’s chemist is nearer to the Cholmley Gardens GP practice, so patients there will continue to take their prescriptions to their regular chemist. He is confident that there are enough customers in and around Mill Lane to support both businesses, and that as they offer different services and products, they will each keep their regular clientele.

Will this be a case of “let battle commence”, or is it more likely that each pharmacy’s loyal customers will stick with what (and whom) they know?

Go Gaga over Emmanuel’s Christmas Fair

After this weekend’s excitement of the West Hampstead Christmas market and the Beckford School winter fair, next weekend it’s the turn of Mill Lane’s Emmanuel School.

The school’s Christmas fair runs from 2-5pm on Saturday December 7th. Alongside the usual primary school Christmas fair excitement, everyone gets a raffle ticket on entry and prizes include “a celebrity sold-out music event with Lady Gaga”.

I’m not entirely sure what that means, or whether it’s the sort of thing impressionable young minds ought to be over-exposed to. Still, better than Miley Cyrus I guess.

Do go along if you can and support the school – the Beckford event was a huge success, and I’m sure Emmanuel’s will be too.

Get involved with new local nature reserve

Behind the new apartments at 1 Mill Lane lies land that has been given to the public as a conservation area. Camden wants to keep the site as a wildlife area with limited public access.

Although it was initially going to be called the Mill Lane nature reserve, the access will be from Minster Road, and thus it will now be called… wait for it… the Minster Road Nature Reserve.

Whatever they’re called, these sort of areas don’t manage themselves and Camden is keen that local residents who are interested in the site should establish a Friends Group to participate in the reserve’s management and maintenance.

If you’re interested in being part of this, there’s a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the use of the site and how it can benefit to the local community while fulfilling its role to provide a refuge for nature and wildlife.

The meeting is at the West Hampstead Community Centre (17 Dornfell Street) at 8pm. For further details, please e-­mail .

A hands-on experience: Tui Na at Yi Dao

In the first of a regular new West Hampstead Life column, my health & beauty correspondent @ZENW6 investigates an alternative to a sports massage at a new Mill Lane clinic. Over the coming months, ZENW6 will look at everything from hair salons to fitness studios in and around West Hampstead. Do with any comments or suggestions for articles.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I was invited to the Yi Dao clinic for a complimentary Tui Na massage. Google had helped get me up to speed: it’s a traditional Chinese physical therapy encompassing eastern body movement principles such as Tai Chi. But that wasn’t very detailed, so I was slightly apprehensive. Much as I enjoy a relaxing massage, was this the latest extreme health fad that I’d soon see endorsed by Madonna in the pages of Grazia? Would there be chanting?

Husband and wife team Zarig Cooper and Conny Duxbury, who took over the clinic (formerly The London Health Clinic) on Mill Lane around three months ago, were on hand to explain more. Both passionate and knowledgeable about eastern healthcare techniques, they talked me through the treatments they offer. They are both experienced Tui Na practitioners who have studied and trained in Chinese hospitals. Conny also specialises in acupuncture. I got to look at some interesting photographs of their last visit to China, including pictures of dedicated Tui Na massage wards; apparently it’s a very mainstream treatment offered in hospitals there and Conny’s dream is to make Tui Na therapy mainstream here in the UK.

“When people suffer from back pain they don’t need to automatically reach for painkillers or anti-inflammatories, or in extreme cases undergo unnecessary surgery,” she explains. Having been a Tai Chi teacher for 10 years (and with the enviable posture to prove it), she firmly believes that most people’s muscular aches and pains are caused by inefficient movement and bad posture, which put undue stress on the body over time.

What’s different about Tui Na from massage techniques we’re more familiar with? Zarig and Conny argue that it’s not a quick-fix solution for specific aches and pains that can then recur later, but more a way of living and moving. So, although they use Tui Na therapy to treat injuries, for example as an alternative to conventional sports massage, Yi Dao’s wider mission is to analyse people’s lifestyles and observe their breathing patterns and movements to help them break ingrained “patterns of tension”.

Zarig showed me around the clinic – there’s a nice softly-lit treatment room for western-style oil based massage but the Tui Na room was a little more austere and clinical, though still comfortable. My session started with a consultation to talk through my problems – I often suffer from a stiff neck caused by long hours sitting in front of a computer screen. Zarig demonstrated how limited my movement is; for example, I couldn’t touch my chin to my collarbone. We also discovered I have a chronic inability to relax; after a long day at the office, my back muscles were tense just lying on the massage table. There was a lot of work to be done here.

The massage wasn’t all relaxing; the tension in my back and shoulders meant that at times it was slightly painful and a bit ticklish. When I got used to the pressing / rolling movement it became much more enjoyable and soporific and I started to believe Zarig’s claim that some regular clients fall asleep mid-massage. I liked the fact that this massage can be carried out fully-clothed; there was no awkward disrobing or oil transferred onto your clothes.

Zarig’s style is down-to-earth. He was quick to reject any talk of “mystical energy flow” or any of the other unconventional terms often associated with alternative medicine. Rather, he believes that stress contributes to many conditions and that this manifests itself in physical terms. In short, the cumulative effect of tension and stress leaves the body in a tense and weakened state. I suspect it may be unrealistic for some to commit to incorporating these principles into their daily life, in which case the effect of the massage alone is not unlike a conventional sports massage or osteopathy session.

Would I go again? Yes, probably. I certainly left the clinic feeling more relaxed, calm and healthy than I had for a long time, and with a new found superpower of being able to turn my head to the right. Tui Na wouldn’t be for everyone – those expecting an indulgent treat may come away disappointed – but I liked the straightforward, scientific approach and think it would be a good treatment for those with sports injuries, or for anyone with ongoing mild aches and pains caused by the stresses of everyday life. If you’re looking for Christmas presents, you can get £30 vouchers for an hour’s Tui Na massage or oil massage (both normally £50). There’s no chanting.

Mill Lane must get creative to attract visitors

There’s a new momentum on Mill Lane. This motley collection of independent shops has tried before to unite behind some self-promotion but these efforts have largely come to nothing. Now, the West Hampstead street that’s often seen as West End Lane’s poor relation has some impetus behind it thanks partly to the arrival of Monsters of Art and the youthful enthusiasm of co-owner Abby Wells.

Several of the businesses on Mill Lane held a preliminary meeting this month to discuss how to boost the street’s profile. Since then, Abby has met with Kate Goodman from Camden Council (Kate ran the place shaping initiative that many of you will remember from earlier in the year), and more of the businesses have piled in with ideas.

What’s the problem?
Mill Lane has a few related challenges to overcome: it suffers from relatively low footfall; the popular businesses are spread out along the street so there’s no focal point; it has one of the highest vacancy rates in the borough (18% in June 2010); and many people, especially those new to the area or passing through, simply don’t know that there are shops down there. Glance down the road from Fortune Green Road and you would be forgiven for thinking it was a predominantly residential street. Yet, as the star prize at whampgather proved, there are enough businesses on the street to create an amazing hamper of goodies. From The Tiffin Tin to The Alliance, Mill Lane has plenty of gems.

Isn’t this the council’s job?
Camden’s West Hampstead placeshaping document, published earlier this year, recognises the pressures facing Mill Lane and sets out ways in which the council could help. It explains that the council cannot fund direct business support, and that its role now is to act “as an enabler to small businesses through signposting them to national and regional growth support organisations.” This also includes pointing retailers to information and providing support to trader groups.

There are some specific actions in the placeshaping plan that refer to Mill Lane.

  • Facilitate engagement with local landowners and landlords to consider how the private sector can help to support a thriving shopping area and reduce the vacancy rate in Mill Lane.
  • Investigate opportunities to carry out further public realm improvement works to the northern part of the town centre and Mill Lane.
  • Lobby TfL to include Mill Lane neighbourhood centre shops on the Legible London signs, to help increase footfall to the area.

This may sound a bit like throwing a life jacket into the ocean, but it’s better than nothing and if it helps the businesses coalesce into one group that can form a consensus on what would most benefit the area then that alone is a big step in the right direction.

The relatively new West Hampstead Business Association could have a role here. However, a separate Mill Lane group that collaborated with the WHBA might be more effective than the WHBA acting as an umbrella group for all local businesses, given the different needs of West End Lane and Mill Lane.

The latest draft of the Neighbourhood Development plan also singles out Mill Lane as in need of its own section. Specifically, it suggests the following six policies should be applied to developments in Mill Lane:

  • A presumption in favour of preserving the look of shop-fronts.
  • A presumption in favour of rejecting proposals to convert retail space into residential use.
  • Encourage a more diverse range of shops and businesses.
  • Improve pavements, signage and traffic calming; remove street clutter.
  • Co-ordinate the developments on the north side of Mill Lane where they back onto properties on
  • Hillfield Road.
  • An urgent need to level the pavements on the north side of Mill Lane.

All this tell us that the problems of Mill Lane are widely recognised. But at a time of limited (read: non-existent) public resources to help tackle them, the onus falls on the existing businesses to overcome these obstacles. Which brings us back to the latest wave of energy washing over the street.

At the November meeting there was broad agreement that public awareness of Mill Lane’s offering was too low, and that the lack of a cohesive feel to the retail units hindered the appeal of the street as a shopping destination. Beyond that, the more ambitious challenge was to do something economically viable with the empty shops

Raising awareness
The immediate solution proposed was to get the council to implement better signage (which would partly fall under the Legible London signage action above), at the West End Lane end of Mill Lane, on West End Green, and outside West Hampstead tube station. Since that meeting, Kate Goodman has said that extra signage to the north of West End Lane will be installed, but played down the idea that there’d be tube station signage too.

The idea of preparing a small brochure to hand out has also been raised, although it’s not clear who would fund this. Camden have broadly supported this idea though, and may be able to help with some of the distribution logistics. Prod from Mill Lane Barbers, whose enthusiasm is also hard to beat, has suggested a caricature poster capturing the essence of the Lane and the businesses on it as well.

One idea that’s likely to prove popular is a late-night Christmas shopping event. It may even be possible to get some footprints laid on the pavement to draw people in from West End Green. Those businesses at the West Hampstead Christmas Market on December 8th could also help promote the street more generally, and there’s talk of having a board at the market showing the press coverage that some of them have received over the past couple of years.

One Lane
The shops also saw that Christmas would be a good opportunity to work on the look and feel of Mill Lane and try and make it a more unified shopping district. Something as simple as having the same Christmas lights in as many of the shops as possible could achieve this – these could be officially switched on at the Christmas shopping event.

An idea that I particularly like is that businesses up and down Mill Lane ‘donate’ parts of their property, (e.g., a back door, shutter, or any outdoor area), to professional artists who will then jointly produce a piece of street art. This concept has worked brilliantly in Middlesex Street E1. It has the potential both to improve the look of Mill Lane and attract visitors.

Breathing life into empty premises
Maximising the use of the empty (or almost empty) shops on the street with pop-up projects (galleries, retail space etc.) was a popular idea. This would help animate Mill Lane, and provide more of a continuous stretch of retail operations along the street. One idea was to collaborate with artists who might rent units for a short period for gallery and/or workshop space. Kate Goodman was in favour of the pop-up shop idea, and apparently there are nine empty shops on Mill Lane that could possibly by used. She is going to find out who owns/manages these properties and forward on their details – a good example of where the council can support these initiatives.

Both the pop-up idea and the street art idea certainly tie in with my own belief that Mill Lane would be well served by becoming an explicit artisan/art quarter. In the immediate term, the local business owners recognised that coordinating so many things popping up is a lot of work and perhaps would be too time consuming for them to tackle (after all they do still have their own businesses to run). A stop-gap measure would be to use the shop fronts as art installations, or hang something in empty shop windows.

Mill Lane needs a bit of love, so why not have a wander along there this weekend and refresh your memory as to what’s available. From carpets to cupcakes, you might be surprised at the shops and services you find.

Record breaking #whampgather

The trouble with taking over ever larger spaces is that it takes ever so slightly longer for you to feel confident that you’ll fill them.

As I rattled around The Alliance with a few early arrivals and a couple of helpful stalwarts I began to get that nagging feeling that maybe this was too ambitious. This was a large pub after all. Could we really fill it?

Such concerns evaporated all too quickly as locals started to trickle, then pour in. There was even a queue at one point. A couple of people got lucky as others dropped out at the last minute, and managed to squeeze in to the buzzing room. Mike, landlord at The Alliance, had ensured there were enough staff on hand and his manager Russell did a great job of making sure everything ran smoothly.

Bar staff were kept busy
Photo courtesy of Brad

DJ Stoney was plugged into the speakers while Nicky and Brad started working the room selling raffle tickets. Chris and Katie took over for the final push and after the money was all counted up we’d raised £600 for The Winch. That’s a new #whampgather record. Thank you to everyone who bought as many as they could afford and a massive thank you of course to all the businesses that contributed prizes (there’s a full list below). In total, 160 people came along – also a record – many for the first time. I hope we’ll see you all at another whampevent in the not too distant future.

£600 for The Winch
Photo courtesy of @Snowyt79

DJ Stoney
Photo courtesy of @Snowyt79

Raffle anticipation builds
Photo courtesy of @Snowyt79

Louise wins the star prize
Photo courtesy of @Snowyt79

For more photos, check out Mark’s complete set on Flickr.

Prize givers
If you ever think that West Hampstead is becoming too full of chains then bear in mind that every business that donated a prize is independent. Here’s the full list of contributors:

Forming the Mill Lane Pamper Hamper (our star prize) we had:
The Kitchen Table
Achillea Flowers
Mill Lane Barbers
Natasha’s Sports Massage
The Private Space
Vini Vivi
Prestige Dry Cleaning
Beauty Blossom

Restaurants and bars that contributed vouchers and meals:
The Wet Fish Café
Mill Lane Bistro
The Elgin
The Gallery

And other local businesses:
West End Lane Books
Rock Men’s Salon
Gloves Boxing Club
Monsters of Art
Dass Stores
Natural Shades

Is Mill Apartments £15,000 sweetener enough?

A couple of months ago I went to have a look round the show apartment at the Mill Apartments. Back then they were called the Mill Apartments Hampstead, though they have since been rebranded – extremely sensibly – as the Mill Apartments West Hampstead (although the website address hasn’t changed). I saw a 3-bed flat, which was very nice. And very expensive. £815,000 expensive to be precise for this first floor flat. The service charge would be in excess of £2,500 a year and a parking space was an extra £25,000. More hilarious was that if you wanted storage space in the basement “big enough for a bike and a couple of sets of golf clubs”, then you’d have to part with another £10,000. I think I laughed out loud at this point. Sounds like I might not have been the only one.

You might argue that £815,000 for a modern nice 3-bed flat in West Hampstead isn’t out of the ordinary. By the way, lets not kid ourselves here, while pretending these apartments are in Hampstead was presumably verging on some sort of property misdescription, they can hardly be said to be in the heart of West Hampstead either. Shoot-Up Hill is much nearer than West End Lane. Nevertheless, it is quite a lot of money for any flat around here outside the NW3/NW8 postcode. This is the cheapest 3-bed in the building, they go up in price as you go up the floors, so the 3rd floor 3-bed flat is £830,500.

Floorplan of the 3-bed apartments

Which brings me to the point of this story. To date, 17 of the 27 non-social housing flats in the development have sold (the three 3-beds have not). The prices for the four penthouses, which are just coming on the market now, are not on the website, but early communications said that the top price flat would be £1.5m, so I guess we assume that’s the price of the only 3-bed penthouse, while the cheapest penthouse is £1.35m.

Looking south from one of the penthouse suites

Given that the apartments don’t seem to be flying off the shelves, so the developer, Taylor Wimpey, is holding an open day and resorting to “buy now” discounts in the form of cash/cash-equivalent incentives.

If you sign on the dotted line this Saturday at the open-day then it will throw in either a luxury holiday, £15,000 to spend at Selfridges or a brand new Mini. According to the PR company, “Offering these incentives is a new trend for estate agents and house builders, in order to kick-start a property industry that has slowed in recent years.” Or in other words “we overpriced the apartments a bit”. Now, if you’re willing to drop £1.5m on a 3-bed apartment in what is almost Cricklewood, it’s debatable whether a £15,000 cashback deal (1%) is going to make much difference to your yes/no decision. Even for the cheapest apartment still available (£588,000), you’d only be getting a 2.5% discount.

The press release implies, although certainly doesn’t make clear, that that expensive car parking space might be thrown in as well (or a 2-year parking permit). That’s a far more valuable incentive, both financially and practically, but this is a common negotiating tool as far as I’m aware.

Anyway, if you want to go along on Saturday, then there’ll be drinks, nibbles and live music between 11am and 3pm. If you want to view an apartment (and surely that’s the only reason to go), then best reserve in advance by calling 0845 676 2377. Even if you don’t have half a million quid to spend on the day, us locals are apparently welcome. I quote: “It is also a fab opportunity for local residents to find out more about their newest neighbour!”. Which is very friendly.

What’s sold and what’s not by Sep 26th 2012 (penthouses not included)

Gather round The Kitchen Table

Did you know that The Kitchen Table on Mill Lane hosts a supper club? I didn’t, but Eugene did and he went along to April’s to see what it was like. Here’s his report:

“For those of us unfamiliar with Mill Lane, the Kitchen Table is a deli open weekdays and Saturday. Since I moved to the area, I’ve become a real fan of its home cooking. The specials on the menu change daily, the owners Jennie & Tom use high quality ingredients and the cakes are awesome. If I could, I’d eat there daily. That’s what I like about this area – you can talk to the owners of the shops, are made to feel welcome and I believe that small independents like this one are important to the social fabric as well.

Anyway, the owners decided to host a spring supper club. In Britain, we seem to have lost touch with seasonality when it comes to food, especially when supermarkets fly in their vegetables year round. This is not the case here. About 25 of us piled into the small unit, having bought in wines from Vini Vivi next door. The evening was well organised such that there was a wine suggestion for each course, both shops had cooperated to get the best out of the food.

  • Amuse: Stinging nettle bon-bons
  • Starter: Asparagus and braised chicory gratin with brioche and spenwood crust
  • Main: Anchovy & honey mustard braised loin of pork with peas, broad beans, courgette & mint and new potatoes
  • Dessert: Rhubarb and custard pannacotta with rhubarb crisps and honey lemon biscuit

There was some debate over the nettle canapés (like, what are they? Will they sting us?). However, once they were cleaned out and nobody was stung, the debate was over. With spring, asparagus comes into season. However, it was the smell of the spenwood that gave this starter away. Our table was debating what it was (cheese, obviously) – the strong smell wafted off the plate before we tucked in and complemented the softness of the asparagus.

For the main course, the pork joint was boneless, not too small and well matched with perfectly roasted potatoes. We all agreed that the sauce was buttery and smooth; it just rolled onto the tongue. Our table had 7 people on it and all plates were cleared.

Braised loin of pork

Finally pudding – I’m never a big fan of pannacotta; I like my desserts richer on the outside or more chocolatey. That said, these were great, just the right portion sizes and perfectly formed.

Overall, the evening was good fun. Service here was great, as usual, However, what makes this special is that Jennie, Tom and their team seem to like what they are doing, namely delivering a great product. If the Kitchen Table was on West End Lane or in St. Johns Wood, the standard of food would mean much higher prices. We should be feeling lucky to have it, especially with the next supper club coming up in May!”

Private Space holds private style party for locals

On Thursday evening, 30 West Hampstead fashionistas descended on The Private Space on Mill Lane for Whampstyle – an evening of fashion, food and free wine!

After the all-important mingling and sampling of some delicious food provided by West End Lane’s newest restaurant Ladudu, we gathered round to hear stylist Zahide Ozkardesler discuss this season’s trends (clashing colours seemed to feature), accessorising (it’s all about belts), and understanding your colours (I confess I got a bit lost here).

Then Christian Croce, owner of The Private Space, gave some top simple hair tips for accentuating your look and a couple of brave volunteers were draped in clothes from the rack and quickly recoiffed before our very eyes.

There was a bit more mingling and we all polished off Bake-a-boo‘s colour-coordinated cupcakes before everyone melted off into the night. It was great to see some familiar faces and plenty of new arrivals both to the area and to whampevents. Big thanks also to The Social Metre

The next major event is the Secret BBQ on June 26th. It’s been filling up steadily so don’t leave it too late to put your name down.

West Hampstead & Fortune Green area action group

On a cold Monday evening, Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) kicked off the first combined area action group meeting. This is the successor to the local area forums. All six of the local councillors were present (all Lib Dems).

The audience – around 80 people, the vast majority being older members of the community – settled down as Keith mentioned that they had publicised the event on Twitter and on the two local blogs. He asked if anyone except me had come because they had seen it promoted online. No-one had.

A man behind me said sotto voce “Twitter is one of the most ridiculous pointless things I’ve ever heard of”. I wondered whether he’d ever even seen it. Keith introduced me, which I wasn’t quite expecting, but I sensed only mild curiosity rather than active interest.

There was a really quick rundown of projects funded by the £10,000 per ward improvement fund (inevitably that isn’t being offered again). These included two new benches (Agememnon Rd/Ulysses Rd and top of Fortune Green Rd); a “give-and take” event at Emmanuel School in March; new dog/litter bins and hanging baskets on Mill Lane.

One project – improvements to the paved area around the library – has yet to happen, but it is still being planned. A plan to use Mill Lane Bridge as a community art project had to be shelved due to health & safety concerns apparently.

Thameslink station
The session kicked off with a team from the Thameslink programme bringing us up to speed on the developments at West Hampstead Thameslink station. They had a powerpoint presentation that no-one could read, which was ill-thought out. The headline news is that the platforms will be ready for the longer 12-carriage trains by December 2011, but the new trains won’t be fully installed until 2015.

The plans for the station on Iverson Road have had to be adapted to bring it within budget. The changes are largely in materials although it’s clear that the initial plans were on the ambitious side. The station is also due for completion in December 2011.

As you all know, the pavement is being substantially widened on the north side of Iverson Road. The existing embankment is being built up and paved, and this should alleviate some of the congestion between the stations.

The design of the wall running from West End Lane to the station has been adjusted – and will now be a flat wall rather than with “profiled bricks”. There’s been an invisible change to some water flow issue and the zinc roof is becoming aluminium, so will look different from above but not from ground level (makes you wonder why they went for zinc in the first place).

Finally, the sedum roof (i.e. the one covered in greenery) is being replaced by a separate larger area of grass at ground level.

All the construction materials will now be delivered trackside and not by road, so there shouldn’t be road congestion. The timetable is also designed to ensure that work takes place on weekdays during working hours.

There were plenty of audience questions, and rather a lot of talking at cross-purposes. Someone pointed out that with all the street clutter outside Starbucks, Costa etc., this was still a pinch point. Keith explained there would be a sizeable project in 2011 to widen West End Lane pavements, and that tackling this issue would be part of the January phase of that (the plan is for work to be done up the west side of WEL and then back down the east side. Expect more traffic disruption for most of next year then).

There was another question about how a car club has procured more spaces than it had apparently bid for, which went unanswered, and one woman appeared disproportionately angry that the pavement had been widened on both side of the street without consultation. Keith said he thought this might just have been a lack of clarity on the diagrams, to which she replied rather ominously, “Lets hope for your sake it is”.

There was a more measured question about lighting. Network Rail explained that there will be strip downlighting all along the wall between West End Lane and the station, and the footbridge will also be lit. This should minimize glare for residents, while ensuring enough light for safety.

The existing station on the north side of the bridge will close, and there will be ticket barriers under a weatherproof shelter there that will be manned (or left open). There will also be ticket machines.

Strangely, despite the longer platforms, there is no provision for extra platform signage. Given the frequent platform changes and running delays on the service, the information boards are of course very useful, but clearly they won’t be visible from further along. Roger Perkins, the communications manager for the Thameslink Programme, said he would look into this and that there may be some other sources of funding available. It seems crazy to extend platforms and not think about extra signage.

Roger then explained the service improvements. As was announced last week (and mentioned on my weekly round-up) the Thameslink programme survived the spending review but the completion date has been pushed back from 2016 to 2018. This drew inevitable groans.

The new trains won’t appear until 2015 (although there will be a few longer trains in service from the end of 2011 using leased carriages) but even then very few if any will stop at West Hampstead. Priority for the extra capacity will go to the fast commuter trains from Bedford that are fast from St Albans. Most of the trains that stop at West Hampstead head down to the Wimbledoon loop, where many of the stations can’t be extended.

It began to dawn on everyone that we’re enduring quite a lot of disruption for not much immediate benefit. Eventually of course, more longer trains will be rolled out and services that do not go down to Wimbledon will use them. The major benefit to locals will be that there will be new routes opening up beyond the Bedford-Brighton/Sutton services, but these routes are yet to be decided.

Roger also said that 5,000 seats had already been added to rush hour trains – but again, not necessarily to services stopping at West Hampstead.

Appropriately, Keith now announced that we were now running 20 minutes late.

Seargeant Dave Timms of the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team spoke very briefly and wanted some input/feedback on how best the SNTs might be deployed. As he explained, they were suffering from funding restrictions like everyone else so they are very open to hearing how the public would like them to operate and whether the current organisation (where they are strictly ward-based) was appropriate. You can contact the team here.

New West Hampstead councillor Gillian Risso-Gill then discussed the issue of shops on West End Lane and Mill Lane. This is a emotive issue, as we know from the response to the “Changing Streetscape” blog from August.

She argued that West End Lane was faring relatively well in the aftermath of the recession, with very few units remaining empty for long. Glo of course being an exception and Mill Lane showing a more mixed picture. She argued that Tesco can live alongside independent shops and helps increase footfall. This met with a mixed reaction from the crowd.

Apparently, no-one other than Sainsbury’s had expressed any interest in the Best-One site. She also said that Penguin – the vintage boutique opposite the Overground station – is closing due to retirement rather than for financial reasons.

The main thrust of her talk was that we should look at other avenues for smaller retailers, such as markets. There was notable vocal support for a farmers market, although the issue of where it would be is tricky. The Christmas market, which is very clearly a retail opportunity and not a ‘festival’, will be on West End Green, but this is probably not big enough for a full-scale farmers market.

Someone asked what happened to the market that used to be at the O2 car park, which has moved to Eton Avenue (perhaps not realising that the car park solution was in fact temporary and the market was originally in Swiss Cottage).

A woman who works at West End Lane Books argued that the lack of parking was a big problem and stopped people from coming to West End Lane. This wasn’t especially well received by the councillors. Surely, if we’re trying to get local people to local shops then they can walk or use buses? It’s very hard to see much being done to increase parking in the area.

A more sophisticated issue is that of rates and rents and planning use. One local businessman said he knew of two chain restaurants that were actively looking to move into the area, but wouldn’t say which.

He also said he’d heard a rumour that M&S was going to take the Pizza Express site. This is an extension of the rumour a while back that Sainsbury’s was going to take that site, which a Pizza Express spokesperson categorically refuted when I put it to them earlier in the year. I am not convinced that site would work for M&S, but we shall see.

“Multiples” (as chains are called in the business) do of course bring footfall, but they can also afford to pay top whack in terms of rents, which raises the baseline level on the street, squeezing out smaller players. The audience member cited examples where rents had rocketed from £28,000 to £43,000 with change of use and suggested that the planning department could do more to control these changes of use.

Someone suggested whether Camden could turn a unit into a sort of permanent pop-up shop, allowing rotating use of the space. The idea was well received, but Keith pointed out that the council doesn’t own any units on West End Lane. Whether they could enquire/put pressure on landlords of empty units when they are available remains to be seen.

Not surprisingly, the issue of Tesco (and soon Sainsbury’s) delivery lorries came up. Fortune Green councillor Flick Rea explained that the Tesco on her patch had been expected to use a delivery point at the back of the building but it turned out the lorries couldn’t access this service area because it was too low. She is looking at getting a delivery bay built into the street as there is room there.

The West End Lane Tesco remains a problem as the company sees the constant parking fines as simply part of the cost of doing business.

A man from Fawley Road asked what he admitted was a NIMBY question about where Sainsbury’s delivery lorries would park. Flick said that she hoped it would be possible to have a conversation with Sainsbury’s about this, as they were more socially amenable than Tesco.

Budget cuts
The final topic of the evening was the budget cuts in Camden. By the time you read this, these will have been debated in the council chamber, and at this stage the programme of cuts is light on detail. Keith pointed out before the discussion started that legally this couldn’t be a party-political discussion as it is funded by the council*.

Given that much of this was hypothetical I shall keep this section short and wait until the budget plans have been approved for a longer discussion of how cuts will affect West Hampstead.

The nub of the issue is that Camden needs to cut £80 to £100 million of its budget, which is approximately 10%. Councils of course have statutory commitments and discretionary roles. Camden historically has been a council that has prided itself on going the extra mile but inevitably some of these discretionary services would have to be cut or provided by the voluntary or private sectors.

Keith also pointed out that there would be job cuts: 1,000 positions would go although many would happen through early retirement or posts not being filled rather than redundancies. However, plenty of jobs are on the line.

Libraries are one service that always receives a lot of publicity. It seems inevitable that some Camden libraries will close. Keith seemed reasonably confident that West Hampstead would not be one of them. However, whether it can remain in its current state is not clear. It is expensive to run (behind me a voice whispered authoritatively that it costs £290,000 a year to run WH library of which half is staff costs).

There was some confusion as to whether the mobile library service had already been cut or not. A tweet the following day from Camden suggested that it hadn’t been cancelled just yet and Alan Templeton from the Camden Public Libraries User Group (CPLUG) seemed to think that nothing had been definitively decided. However, he also believed that council officers had already decided which libraries were for the chop, suggesting Belsize, Chalk Farm and Highgate as the most likely casualties. He argued that no library was safe however, and locals should definitely adopt a “use it or lose it” attitude.

Other conversations discussed community centres and children’s services/play services. Keith mentioned the rebuilding/expansion of Emmanuel School, which has been discussed at length already. The issue of whether the possible new primary school on Liddell Road is the best location was also mentioned but not discussed.

And that was that. Not everyone had stayed to the end, and most scarpered off into the dark cold night as soon as the meeting was brought to a close. Surprisingly, no-one asked anything about the proposed student accommodation, although Keith mentioned it and there was a handout about it.

*unlike the conversation after the meeting drew to a close.

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.

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