Tom finds fragrant food at Fiddies

I don’t need much persuading to dive into a bowl of gnocchi, devour some sea bass, or demolish considerably more pizza than is really necessary, so I was all too pleased to join Jonathan on a visit to Finchley Road’s Italian relative newcomer, Fiddie’s. Having heard impressive claims from locals, we were curious to find out whether the food could reveal the same good-time vibes as the cheery, colourful furnishings, and ubiquitous film-star prints on the wall..

Starting with some decent bread, oil and vinegar already mixed, and an enjoyable overflowing bruschetta, we browsed an appealing menu full of my favourite types of things (as I write this, I’m busy scoffing spaghetti with an overdose of garlic, plus olives, tomato sauce and salted anchovies..) – and ordered a Chianti. Fiddie himself [we have no clue if that’s his name!] was charismatic, jovial and happy to chat, and with the open kitchen in view I gauged a feeling of pride and confidence in what they were doing (which was to be demonstrated rather forcefully later…!)

Overflowing bruschetta

Overflowing bruschetta

I certainly enjoyed my sea bream en-papillote (or whatever you call it in Italian) – the outer wrapping of foil was peeled-back at the table (as should always be the case, of course), revealing lightly cooked, fragrant fish, which was accompanied suitably by a side of vegetables that were perfect; broccoli, mange-tout and roast potatoes clearly prepared by a chef who understands the importance of such things. My side salad was fresh, though perhaps a little more variety would have been nice – I always like a little raw onion…

Sea bream en papillotte

Sea bream en papillotte

Jonathan, eyebrows raised in appreciation, seemed very impressed with his oxtail in a rich tomato sauce (no company should be allowed to use that term on a tin of beans), but wondered whether his rigatoni was perhaps just the wrong side of al-dente. Upon hearing of this, an amusing scene ensued (not quite Faulty Towers, but still comical) whereby Fiddie brought out a side-plate taster of pasta from chef, with the idea (presumably) being to demonstrate that it was done exactly the same every time – to perfection! Jonathan maintained that some of the pasta had indeed been slightly undercooked, but I quite liked the self-belief and conviction chef had in his cooking.

I noted several vibrant-looking plates arriving at other tables; everything appearing colourful and inviting. The menu has plenty for vegetarians, too, with a broad range of pizza and pasta dishes. The restaurant was busy, with plenty of atmosphere; it seems this little place has caught-on quickly.

One can never have too many Italian eateries in the neighbourhood, and I’m looking forward to returning to Fiddie’s soon. As the old saying goes… if a diner’s tired of Italian food… that diner’s clearly tired of life.

Finchley Road towerblock: Are they having a (Sky)lark?

In the outer reaches of West Hampstead, where it abuts the Finchley Road (indeed next to Finchley & Frognal Overground station) is 317 Finchley Road. You may know it as the heavily locked former nightclub. It could be transformed into a ten (10!) storey building. Could be.

The statutory consultation period for this planning application has closed but the application is still under consideration so in reality it’s not too late to comment – see below.

Skylark Court image: via planning application

Skylark Court. Image via planning application

The proposed development, ‘Skylark Court’, is from Linea Homes, a small developer that has been increasing the size of its developments over the past decade. One of its earliest developments was in West Hampstead, converting a house on Fordwych Road into flats; a couple of years later it redeveloped a house on Holmdale Road. Skylark Court is on a different scale.

For 317 Finchley Road, Linea is proposing a contemporary development with floor-to-ceiling windows, which might look good in Berlin, but does anyone need that much of a view of the Finchley Road? The ten storeys will tower well above neighbouring buildings, and has been rationalised on the basis of the flats next to JW3 (which is quite a distance away).

You may recall there was another recent application to redevelop 317 Finchley Road, however this was for only part of the site (the old pub). This got planning permission for six storeys, but the developer then sold the site on to Linea, who decided to combine it with two adjacent sites – and add four storeys.

Previous consented scheme image: via planning application

Previous consented scheme (note five storeys, plus a sixth set back) image: via planning application

Alongside all the glass, the developer explains its choice of materials:

Materials, colour, texture, patterns, structure and construction were under consideration while sculpting and breaking down the mass against a multiple of further competing criteria, namely Network Rail, neighbouring daylight and sunlight amenities, overlooking, road noise and atmospheric pollution, street and townscape, fire escape’.

No, we can’t understand it either, but it appears they want to clad it in some sort of red stone (see illustration below). What’s wrong with good old brick?

Berlin or the Finchley Road?

Berlin or the Finchley Road?

One final thing to note is that Linea is proposing a completely new entrance to Billy Fury Way, between the development and the Overground station, while still keeping the old one, which seems a bit odd.

The previous application attracted only a couple of comments, but this one has already reached over twenty, 95% opposed on grounds of height. If you want to add your comments on the application (2016/2910/P) you can find the related documents here or  you can comment here.

Did Tom think all was good at Tuttobene?

Where better to enjoy a relaxing, peaceful Sunday luncheon than right by the busy Finchley Road? And that was my jovial line of thinking when I acted upon a tweeted recommendation, and settled into Tuttobene for a glass of wine (ended up three) and some Italian nourishment.

Now, if I seem a little harsh at points here, don’t let it put you off a visit; there’s a chef here who can most definitely cook, a warm, friendly and polite waitress, and a rather charming interior which manages the right balance of interesting, but uncluttered, with various bits and bobs adorning the walls and shelves in a cheery, random kind of way.

Tuttobene restaurant

My spinach and ricotta ravioli with mushrooms and onion was the highlight; a real bang of savouriness set off nicely by the tomato and cream sauce. The pasta was fresh and and the flavours engaging, even though I wasn’t sure of the presence of any ricotta, at least in any great quantity. I’ll dock a point for a cold plate; I won’t go into one again here on this issue, but it’s something I just cannot understand.

Another gripe made itself known via the side salad. Iceberg lettuce has as much right to be on a dinner plate as an ice cube. It is utterly pointless, and remains the only vegetable-based food I would actually choose not to eat. The presentation was artistic and thoughtful, though, and the tomato segments did actually taste of something – though hampered by being straight out of the fridge. Dash of balsamic, cucumber, a bit of onion… As a ‘mixed’ salad? Not bad, but not inspiring.

Across the table, my friend (coincidentally somewhat comically named Mark Italy) very much enjoyed a chicken dish (with neat little fine-cut chips) in an apparently excellent dark and devilish sauce; I forget exactly what was in it, as by this time I was getting properly stuck into the wine, an Italian Pinot Noir which was an absolute delight. Tangy and refreshing, with a sour edge – I could have happily self-medicated with two bottles of the stuff with my main and another with dessert. (Checking the menu at, I now note that Mr Italy’s dish was pan fried chicken breast with peppers, onions, olives, mushroom & tomato. Let’s add a point back on for including olives in the sauce).

Tuttobene chicken

Chocolate fudge cake was ordered: “Is it served cold?” – “Well, we can heat it up?” – “No, no, no, no, NO!!” (don’t get me started again on cakes being needlessly returned to the oven – or even worse – the microwave). In the event, perhaps such a crime might have helped, as this proved a rather dry and hence slightly underwhelming affair, though all was polished off (obviously!)

Tuttobene cake

All in all – I’d like to go back. The room is lovely; light and airy (air-con a touch cold though), and the atmosphere would be great with a few more people in there, though I could well do without the naff music. I’d like to see some details smoothed-out; some of the mains were £17+ before sides added, so with the above faults in evidence, one might be a little wary.

Pizza, pasta, Italian wines…I never tire of such pleasures. I love a good Italian restaurant within walking distance. Only next time, I’m not walking anywhere, I’m getting ******* mashed on that wonderful Pinot Noir and taking a cab home.


DIY food at Seoul is the way to go

A couple of weeks ago we took 24 people to Seoul on Finchley Road for #whampdinner. It’s not a restaurant most people were familiar with, so what did we think?

Tom: I was interested to see what Seoul was all about, having not eaten Korean for quite some time, and only done the table-top cooking with such cuisine on one previous occasion. In the event, my table bottled-out altogether, with not a single one of us mustering up the courage to try what is clearly their main speciality!

Vegetable dumplings with a soy dipping sauce were fine, and got things off to a positive start.

However, trying a seafood noodle dish, curious as to how this might vary from a Chinese, or Thai, equivalent, didn’t prove to be the most inspired decision. The thick udon noodles were pleasingly “chewsome”, but tricky to manage with the (very charming) thin steel chopsticks (albeit I am like a drunk stick insect when juggling such utensils). My bowl included one prawn, which being in its shell was even trickier to actually eat, as was the solitary mussel. There was plenty of squid however, which was most definitely on the rubbery side, though not inedible. Not unenjoyable, then, but all a little flat.

Other plates such as those where you mix a raw egg into a hot mixture of rice and things, were generally lacking in seasoning. Service was fine, though it proved very taxing for the kitchen to get main dishes out together.

So in summary, no major food crimes in evidence, but for those choosing simple options, I’d like to see a little more heart and “s(e)oul” in evidence. (Apologies – pathetic!)

Jonathan: Both the other two tables embraced the barbecue concept with gusto and overall it was pretty good. Our waitress really looked after us and made sure everything was cooked properly. We had rice on the side and a small selection of starters including gyoza-type dumplings and the obligatory kimchi.

Barbecue meat at Seoul- photo with permission by LondonEater

Barbecue meat at Seoul- photo with permission by LondonEater

If you fancy something filling and not too expensive then the bimbimbap dishes aren’t going to leave you hungry even if, as Tom suggests, they’re not exciting. The bulgogi and the barbecue meat in general though is well worth trying – and it’s a fun way to spend the evening with a group of friends. It’s the second time I’ve been to Seoul and I think it’s well worth the trip if you fancy a change from West End Lane.

O2 Centre looks to start-ups to boost food offer

People don’t tend to salivate at the prospect of shopping centre dining. Indeed, in some places it seems we’ve barely moved on since the days when a jacket potato with chilli was considered cutting-edge cuisine.

Yet, on the eve of another restaurant opening there – Frankie & Benny’s starts trading Monday – the O2 Centre on Finchley Road is showing signs of becoming a dining destination, especially as two more intriguing eating places have popped up in and among the more familiar chains. Not that it’s easy for these start-ups to mix it with the big boys. It take determination and a keen understanding of what the centre looks for from restaurants.

Falafel City, on the upper floor, was founded by Mitan Sachdev and his wife Kajal in 2011. It took them two years to refine their recipes and bring their product to market – and, crucially, to find the right location to open their first restaurant.

Mitan and Kajal Sachdev

Kajal and Mitan Sachdev

Mitan gave up his career at accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to follow his dream of becoming a restaurateur. Kajal developed all the recipes. “She’s an amazing cook”, he says. The couple has created what they believe to be a unique concept: freshly-cooked falafels with an international twist, served in a bright and buzzy fast-food environment.

One of the main hurdles for the fledgling business was finding suitable premises to rent. From the outset, the Sachdevs knew that they wanted their business to be surrounded by premium brands, but with no track record of running a restaurant, many retail landlords were reluctant to take them on.

The O2 Centre unit was ideal, says Mitan, who’s far removed from the clichéd streetfood vendor parking a van in a south London carpark. “We’re grateful to the O2 Centre management for taking a bit of a punt” he says. Perhaps reflecting his corporate background he adds, “I always wanted to be near a Vue, and near a Virgin Active.” How convenient!

It’s clear that branding has played a big part in Falafel City’s success. “If you want to play with the big boys, you have to look the part,” explains Mitan. Indeed, Falafel City, with its distinctive rotating sign, fits in comfortably alongside its nearest neighbours Byron and Yo! Sushi.

Affia Bioh has a similar story. Affia gave up her job in banking to start selling Ghanaian food. After successfully testing the market with a chilled range, which Selfridges took on and still sell in its food hall, she wanted to branch out to a “Chop Bar”. The result: Chop Pot, which sits opposite Waterstone’s on the ground floor on the way to Sainsbury’s and sells hot takeaway food.

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

Affia Bioh at Chop Pot

The O2 Centre was a logical location for Affia, who was born and raised in the area – she attended South Hampstead School for Girls and St Augustine’s in Kilburn. She likes the diversity of the local population. “Local people are very inquisitive about different cuisines and want to try them”, she says. She’s happy to talk customers through the different dishes, which are Ghanaian street food classics such as Jollof Rice, a spicy one-pot rice dish, and a deliciously rich chicken and peanut stew.

Like the Sachdevs, Affia is pleased with the support she has received from the O2 Centre and recognises that it’s taking a chance on a small start-up business, and proud to be offering something different. “I’m carrying the torch for West African food in the O2 Centre,” she says proudly.

Jason King, who manages the O2 Centre on behalf of owner Land Securities, says he welcomes the arrival of both Falafel City and Chop Pot. “There’s a lot of pressure on the shopping centre industry from online businesses, so the whole experiential side, such as food and leisure, is increasingly important.”

For Jason, it seems that creating an environment where well-known chains rub shoulders with smaller players is an important means of differentiation. “It prevents that feeling of ‘every shopping centre looks the same’ which can creep in if you’re not careful.”

He sees it as mutually beneficial: start-ups gain exposure and visibility, while the centre gets credibility by being able to boast a wide range of dining options. “In terms of the variety, we have a good mix. Byron is a great brand for us to have. Nando’s is still one of the big movers and shakers, and Yo! Sushi is a worldwide brand. It’s great to have them alongside small startups like Falafel City and Chop Pot, which is a lovely story of someone setting themselves up in business with a great product and lots of enthusiasm, but who have also got their branding to a level where it can fit in amongst the bigger players.”

Once again, the importance of branding comes to the fore. “It’s got to feel right,” says Jason. “We’ve got a design guide in terms of what we want to see from shop fits. We’re not looking for conformity, but looking to set the bar at a certain level.”

Anna Adamczyk, restaurant manager at Zizzi, one of the centre’s long standing tenants, agrees. “The new developments here are exciting for everyone – the local community and existing businesses. Hopefully by having more options for customers, the O2 Centre will become a destination for those looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat.”

Centre manager Jason’s enthusiasm come to the fore as he talks about the changes underway; three new restaurants (Wagamama, Rossopomodoro and Frankie & Benny’s) are opening on the top level next to Falafel City. The work is scheduled to be completed by June or July, and the centre is planning a big launch event to promote itself as a dining destination. Zizzi also confirmed that its restaurant will be getting a refurb in July. It’s taken a while though, Wagamama and Rossopomodoro were first mooted at the start of 2013.

Jason King has been at the O2 Centre since Land Securities bought it in 2010. The place has changed quite considerably in that time, both in terms of the brands it’s brought in and the physical changes to the building. The company is intent on creating the kind of place that people in the Swiss Cottage/West Hampstead area – and beyond – will want to spend time in. Goodbye Jurassic Park-style fake rock interior and Hello outdoor terrace, which will be shared between the three new restaurants, bringing al-fresco dining to the centre – even if al fresco does mean “view of Finchley Road traffic”.

What do you think? Has the O2 Centre transformed into a dining destination, or is it still more of a pre-cinema pitstop? As ever, feel free to leave your comments below.

False alarm as JW3 suspect package closes Finchley Road

[updated 6.45pm]

A suspect package that caused Finchley Road to close this morning turned out to contain t-shirts and flyers.

Mitzvah Day, an organization based at JW3, the Jewish community centre on Finchley Road, received a large package this morning, which it deemed suspect. Police cordoned off a large section of Finchley Road from Blackburn Road to Frognal Lane.

Road closure - photo via @stephenbudd

Road closure – photo via @stephenbudd

Traffic was forced onto Fortune Green Road and West End Lane, causing jams in the area.

With Lymington Road closed from West End Lane to Finchley Road, it became apparent that JW3 was the focus of police attention. An hour later, and CST – a charity that helps Jewish organisations deal with security and antisemitism – tweeted that it was confirmed as a false alarm and the police cordon was being lifted.

Police had carried out a controlled explosion, which was when it transpired that the package was in fact promotional material, including t-shirts, that Mitzvah Day had ordered.

The West Hampstead hotel guide

Can you recommend a hotel in West Hampstead? It’s a question we hear surprisingly often from locals.

Many people don’t have spare rooms available for when friends and family come to visit, so it’s useful to know about local accommodation. For this guide we’ve cast our net wider than we normally would, as there aren’t many options in West Hampstead itself. Kilburn, Finchley Road and Belsize Park are all good bases for a few nights’ stay and are within easy reach on foot or by public transport. Prices given are for comparison from the hotel’s quoted rates, but can vary quite a lot, so check with the hotels themselves.

West Hampstead

Charlotte Guest House 


Describing itself as a “traditional guest house”, this is more B&B than hotel, which is summed up in the (mostly positive) Trip Advisor reviews. Guests praise the “friendly staff” and “value for money”, but also point out that though comfortable, it isn’t luxurious. It has a great location just off West End Lane on Sumatra Road. Example price: Double/twin ensuite: £60

274 Suites, 198 Suites, 291 Suites 

These three properties on West End Lane are all owned and managed by Magic Stay. There are around 25 serviced studio apartments in total, each with a kitchenette. Online reviews are mixed: some are critical of the noisy location and “dated” facilities but it looks like it could be a good option for a longer-term stay or if self-catering is a requirement.  Example price: Midweek advance bookings from £59 per night. Call 020 7431 8111 to book.

Dawson House Hotel

This is more South than West Hampstead, but within easy walking distance of both West End Lane and Finchley Road. Recent Tripadvisor reviews praise the “friendly and helpful” staff and good breakfasts. A double room is £109, or £90 if you book online.

Finchley Road/ Swiss Cottage

Holiday Inn Express


The 3*-rated Holiday Inn’s location on busy Finchley Road may not make for the most restful stay, but its proximity to many shops and restaurants (it’s right opposite the O2 centre) will appeal to some. It’s described as “clean and comfortable” though rooms are “small”. It’s also near Finchley Road stations, and West Hampstead is a short walk away. Double rooms start from £94 per night.

Langorf Hotel

Quality Hotel Hampstead

Double room at the Quality Hotel Hampstead

Double room at the Quality Hotel Hampstead

These two hotels are both set just off Finchley Road, on Frognal. Both are classified 3-star, and have reasonable online reviews, though the Langorf loses points with reviewers for the “tired” state of its interior decor. The Langorf is offering advance bookings starting at £65, and the Quality Hotel’s rate is around £119 per night, though discounts are available.

Marriott Regent’s Park

Large, clean business-style hotel (rating 4*). Many reviewers praise its “friendly” staff and “great customer service”. Don’t be fooled by the name; the hotel is nearer to Swiss Cottage than to Regent’s Park, and it’s on the good old C11 bus route which is handy for West Hampstead. Rate: from £139 per night for a double room.

Maida Vale/Kilburn Park

Marriott Maida Vale

Another large 4* Marriott Hotel which is a bit confused about its actual location – this is situated on Kilburn High Road in close proximity to Kilburn Park station. It boasts a swimming pool and gym, as well as the bizarrely-named Bar Hemia. The lowest rate I found on the website was £112 per night. Reviews mention that it’s “good value” though a little more “dated” than would be expected from a Marriott.

Quality Maîtrise Hotel

Like the Marriott, the 4* boutique-style Quality Maitrise Hotel is at the southern end of Kilburn High Road, convenient for Kilburn Park tube station and a 15-minute walk from West Hampstead. Reviewers comment on its “modern and stylish” appearance, but the rooms are small. Room rate for a standard double is around £120.

Belsize Park

Haverstock Hotel


Compact 3* boutique hotel near Belsize Park tube station and within walking distance of Hampstead Heath. Rooms are on the small side, but well-equipped and clean. Reviewers mention the “amazing” showers. Breakfast is available at the hotel restaurant next door, but it’s worth noting that you need to leave the hotel to access the restaurant. Double rooms are around £120. West Hampstead is an easy C11 bus ride away.

See all these hotels mapped in our business directory.

Free tasting at Finchley Road’s newest coffee house

Set along the Finchley Road heading towards the O2 Centre is Remon, a little artisan bread and pastry bakery and coffee house that specialises in rare hard-to-find coffees and fine teas, authentic Sicilian Cannoli – traditional sweet ricotta cream pastries – and Arancini (risotto rice balls).


The shop has a mostly rustic appearance, yet you soon discover the quality of the breads and pastries.

Freshly-baked pastries

Freshly-baked pastries

The coffee is pretty good too, we’re very knowledgeable about our coffees, which are sold as beans, or ground or to drink on the premises. Our house blend is a strong smooth mix of Central American and African Arabica beans, which will change regularly to keep up with the variations that come from every fresh batch of coffee.

Remon Coffee House is offering a free coffee and tea tasting morning this Sunday, February 23rd, between 10am and midday. This will include a professional tasting of some of the rarest coffees, including Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona coffee, and teas such as Gushan silver needles and other first flush white/herbal and black teas.

A selection of Remon's specialist loose tea

A selection of Remon’s specialist loose tea

The event will let us welcome the local community into our coffee house to taste the many varieties of coffees and tea we offer. We hope it will establish us firmly amongst the finest coffee houses in London. We look forward to seeing you there.

For further details please see our Facebook page or come visit us at 225 Finchley Road, NW3 6LP.

Sponsored post

Support food poverty by dining out

Whether you’re in a hurry for a curry, savouring a sushi platter, or tucking into some tapas, now’s your chance to eat so that others can eat. Dine2DonateNW aims to bring the community together to support food poverty.

From February 9th to 13th, participating restaurants in West Hampstead and Finchley Road will donate up to 30% of your food bill to local foodbanks in Chalk Farm and Kilburn, run by The Trussell Trust. The goal is to raise £10,000.

Interested? To support this event, simply present an event flyer when you dine at one of the participating restaurants, or book ahead directly quoting “Dine2Donate”. Some restaurants are even offering discounts of up to 15% on food spend. Look out for flyers being distributed on the streets at the start of next week, or simply print your own. The flyer and list of participating restaurants can be found on the event’s Facebook page or here (or at the bottom of the page).

If you’d like to make a donation, you can at Dine2DonateNW’s JustGiving page.

Dine2DonateNW was founded by 32-year-old software engineer and local resident Anthony Schiller, who has lived in West Hampstead for three years. Struck by the rising number of people living below the poverty line, and with a keen interest in health, he came up with the initiative to get local restaurants and the community involved, and has been pleased with the enthusiastic response so far.

Anthony has high hopes that the community will embrace the event and that it will continue to grow:

“Success would create a real opportunity to expand the event and tackle food poverty on a greater scale. The interest from local businesses is definitely there. Some restaurants have even asked if the event can be repeated more often and expanded to other areas of London. From there, who knows how far this initiative could reach.”

“Funds are needed to open and develop foodbank projects. They help prevent crime, housing loss, family breakdown and mental health issues. The Trussel Trust supports more than 300,000 people every year across the UK through its network of foodbanks. Let’s support these projects!”

The participating restaurants are: Bombay Nights, Caffe Zaza, La Voss, Lahore Tikka House, Little Sichuan, Seoul Korean Restaurant, Sirous, Spice Tree, Subway (141 Finchley Rd) and Sushi Kou.

Whether your favourite local restaurant is on the list, or you’d like to discover somewhere new – now’s your chance to do so while also supporting a great cause.

New Overground station to be built next year

At the end of last month, Camden held its annual public meeting on transport issues in the north of the borough for the first time. A good proportion of the questions on the night related to the local area.

WHAT (West Hampstead Amenities & Transport) asked for an update on the platform and lifts upgrades at West Hampstead Overground station.

Work will start on new Overground station next year
Photo via James Lovett

Some context is needed here. TfL have recognised that the Overground station needs an overhaul. It handles more than 3 million passengers a year, making it one of the busier train stations in the country. According to WHAT, a new footbridge and station building, with lifts and wide access, will be constructed about halfway down the existing platforms. This will allow the station building to continue to function until the new one is ready. The first stage will be to lengthen and widen the platforms to allow use of 5-car trains on the Overground (which are due early 2015). Building work on the station is expected to take place during 2014, with completion hoped for in early 2015.

WHAT has lobbied for this for the last two years and wants to ensure that the provision of lifts is co-ordinated with the Ballymore housing development next door. The money that TfL allocated for installing the lifts was on a use-it-or-lose-it basis, but given the length of the Ballymore build, it will have to be applied for again. The consensus seems to be that there won’t be a problem in having it awarded again.

Cycle hire at West Hampstead Thameslink
Emily Turner asked whether TfL had considered expanding Cycle Hire to West Hampstead Thameslink? The existing plan is to expand the Barclays “Boris” Bike scheme around Westminster and the City of London where demand is greatest. TfL has no plans to expand further north-west. In 2012, the scheme extended to Camden Town, with the northernmost docking station on Castlehaven Road towards Chalk Farm. A further extension to West Hampstead would require a number of docking stations throughout the area to the north-west of Swiss Cottage, which, say TfL may presentsome topographical and operational difficulties.

TfL met with Camden officers in March 2013 to discuss Camden’s aspirations for Cycle Hire and these will be considered within wider discussions for the building programme in the King’s Cross area.

Personally, I think our part of NW London should look at one of the alternative bike hire schemes that are popping up elsewhere in the country. These require less infrastructure than Boris Bikes and would benefit people moving around the area rather than just commuting to and from work, which would lead to limited numbers of bikes being available during the day. I’m looking into this in more detail.

West End Lane disruptions
WHAT asked if Camden could outline how it plans to deal with disruptions, such as those occurring on West End Lane due to burst water mains?

The council explained the impact the bridges and train lines have on the options for road diversions around West Hampstead, which can lead to bus passengers being a long way off course. It also said that planning for unexpected disruptions is difficult and usually consists of diversions and these will be announced by the driver. On occasion a disruption will sometimes lead to a longer term response being required, which may include the use of information at bus stops.

Bus stops
WHAT (again) asked TfL for an update on bus reliability and on the use of information during bus journeys, and live information at key locations to keep passengers informed of changes and delays to buses.

TFL has a large amount of bus data available, which is used to measure performance by the bus operators and enforce service level agreements in contracts. Camden said it would consider paying for real-time bus information at key locations in West Hampstead through Section 106 money (the money paid by developers to offset the impact of new developments).

Jubilee Line
WHAT asked TFL to provide an update on Jubilee Line closures and the impact these have on the West Hampstead community, particularly during the Christmas period. It also pointed out that more explanation about the nature of the works would be appreciated, rather than “engineering works” being a catch-all term.

TFL confirmed that essential maintenance to reline a section of the tunnel near Bond Street started on June 16th and will require three remaining closures and two late Sunday starts in 2013, with some intermittent closures also required in 2014 and possibly 2015.A full list of all planned closures is available on the TfL website.

Around Christmas, the Jubilee Line will be closed from Waterloo to Finchley Road from Thursday 26th December to Monday 30th Dec.

Traffic lights and other issues
WHAT asked for an update on the proposal to improve the traffic lights outside West Hampstead tube station.

The installation of secondary signals at the West End Lane / Broadhurst Gardens junction is scheduled for this financial year.

June Perrin: Could Camden review the traffic light sequence at the junction of Kilburn High Road and Quex Road? 

An scheme is being developed in this area, which could include the phasing of the signals.

Mel Wright asked whether there are plans to improve pedestrian crossing times along Kilburn High Road, perhaps using the live countdown technology. 

TFL confirmed that Quex Road has been identified as one of 200 sites in London for the implementation of live countdown

Maryam Alaghband: Could TFL could comment on the traffic light system at Swiss Cottage gyratory where traffic going south onto Park Road collides with traffic coming from Avenue Rd and going to Finchley Rd? 

David Harris: Can the traffic lights from Finchley Road and Fitzjohns Avenue be timed so that both lights do not allow the traffic to move together in such a way that the traffic becomes a racing track where the motorists cross in front of one another in order to reach the right lane?

Same answer to both questions: “TfL is reviewing this site and although there are likely to be significant challenges in terms of maintaining network resilience at this location by the full or partial removal of the gyratory system, TfL will be seriously considering the options available and will welcome community involvement in the development of these plans.”

David Douglas: Can TFL plant more trees at the gyratory to combat air pollution; and can air quality information at Swiss Cottage be publicised?
The ground conditions along Finchley Road have proved to be very challenging for planting new trees. TfL proactively looks for suitable places to plant new trees, but on this occasion, the ground conditions meant that this area was not suited, and the trees would not have prospered.

An overview of pollution levels in Camden is published on the London Air Quality Network website and there is specific data for the Swiss Cottage monitoring station.

Byron opens for business in the O2

The O2 is undergoing something of a transformation, as we’ve discussed. Today was an important landmark in this evolution as Byron opened. Byron is a burger chain that began as an idea in 2007 and now has 27 locations in London and a few further afield.

Its main claim seems to be that it does a good straightforward burger and it does it well, in a nice atmosphere. I thought I’d go along to the latest Byron and check it out, while keeping my Twitter followers up to speed.

There was some surprise that I’d never been to a Byron before, but to be honest I don’t go to burger places that often. I like a good burger for sure, but almost never have one in this country that delivers the whole package. I’m fortunate (if that’s the word ) to have been to some strange off-the-beaten-track towns in the US and even in some out of the way holes, you can still get burgers that put most of the premium offerings here to shame (kudos to the first burger joint here that can put bison burgers squarely on the map).

Anyway, back to Byron. The wide frontage is inviting and the glitzy showbiz sign fits in rather well.

All in all, a decent first day for them. My waitress was particularly friendly and smiley. I did mention that my burger was bizarrely unevenly cooked (although as I said to them, I actually prefer burgers slightly underdone so it didn’t affect my enjoyment of it) and as the manager came over to get my feedback I was willing to share the good and the disappointing.

The cinema crowd will be a big part of their business, and I expect they will do a healthy lunch trade from local businesses and kids during the holidays. It’s not the cheapest burger place around – even with the discount, although throwing in a fairly generous tip, my bill came to £20. But it fills a gap in the market and the formula is clearly working well for the chain to expand at the rate it is.

Just one teeny thing… here’s the card they give you at the end (it’s a three of diamonds on the other side – dunno why).

Yeah, so, it’s like, not Finchley. Swiss Cottage, West Hampstead, Finchley Road, NW3… all acceptable. Finchley is a lot further north. Tsk.

I leave you with the video from Byron’s website. Not because they’re paying me to (they’re not), but because I actually rather like it and I had the same trouble getting ketchup out of the bottle. The little book from which the photo earlier was taken is the stills version of this video.

JW3 centre nears completion

Those of you living up around the Lymington Road/Finchley Road end of West Hampstead will be all too aware of the enormous construction project that’s been taking place on that junction.

The 35,000 sq ft complex is going to house JW3 – a Jewish cultural centre. Why JW3? Well, if you hadn’t worked it out then this video explains it so clearly that a tiny child would grasp it. The opening sequence also implies that it’s in Glasgow. But these jibes aside, it’s a good introduction into what this landmark buidling will bring to London’s Jewish community.

Is Wagamama highlight of new O2 tenants?

As the O2 centre’s refurbishments draw to a close, there’s been much excitement about who’ll be moving into the space alongside the existing tenants.

This week, thanks to someone pointing me in the direction of this brochure, we got to find out some of the answers.

Noodle purveyors Wagamama, pizza & pasta restaurant Rossopomodoro, Danish furniture retailer BoConcept, and Tiger Stores – which sort of defies classification (see below) – are all moving in.

They will join hamburger joint Byron, which already has signs up, and Paperchase and Oliver Bonas, which have already opened. Of the others, only BoConcept is being trailered on the shopping centre’s website.

According to Nash Bond, which is letting the units on behalf of the centre’s owner Land Securities, there are two units still available. One large unit on the first floor (£190,000 annual rent) and one smaller one on the ground floor (£75,000 annual rent) tucked round the corner by the road to and from the car park.

£75,000 a year for this unit

The existing operations you know and (at least in the case of Camden councillor Tulip Siddiq and Nando’s) clearly love are all staying put although Sparkle Bar & Lounge will be no more – it was always a pop-up.

Yo! Sushi has already moved out of its unit to take up space between the escalators and the lift. Its existing restaurant spot will be occupied by Wagamama. Rossopomodoro will take the place of Sparkle (formerly Zuccato) and Byron is taking the designated burger spot of the Fine Burger Co.

The three anchor tenants are Sainsbury, Virgin Active, and Vue cinemas. It would be interesting to know how Habitat feels about BoConcept’s arrival, although furniture shops do tend to cluster together. One also wonders about Zizzi and Rossopomodoro sitting so close together, and lets not forget there’s a small Pizza Express just down the road too.

Is this a good thing for us? I would argue yes. I don’t think any of these operations are putting any plucky independents at risk. The O2 has always had chain tenants as you’d expect, and they compete with each other more than with anything further afield (and even less with businesses in the heart of West Hampstead). The attempt at an infographic that’s meant to lure retailers in talks about Swiss Cottage but makes no mention of West Hampstead, which is a bit surprising given that the centre clearly pulls people in from the West End Lane area.

Click for full-size

Whether some of the other noodle options on Finchley Road, especially Oriental Star, might find Wagamama too hot to handle remains to be seen. Credit should also go to Land Securities for trying to make innovative use of the empty space as and when it came up, with various pop-up ideas, especially in what used to be Zuccato.

Here’s where everyone’s going to end up

Which brings us back to Tiger.

Reaction to Tiger Stores moving to the O2 Centre

Storified by West Hampstead· Sat, Jan 05 2013 09:41:53

The "Tiger" moving into the old Walkabout at the O2 is in fact NOT a bar but a retailer selling, er, stuff Hampstead
@WHampstead Tiger is brilliant and you will not say a word against it.Nathan Hamer
@WHampstead the shop Tiger is brilliant. My friend gets fab stuff from the one in Harrow ;)Ruth
@WHampstead It’s actually got some rather handy stuff in. Kind of like Muji.Ruth
@WHampstead @njhamer I’ve heard good things too! Do we know when it opens?Paramount Properties
@WHampstead @njhamer fabulous, because there is a ‘build your own straw’ kit I want to get my hands on… whatever that actually is!Paramount Properties
@WHampstead @njhamer perhaps even some type of #whampchallenge… they have balloon modelling kits too, you see.Paramount Properties
@WHampstead I see. I’ve been to the one in Hammersmith, has some quite good/useful stuff.Jane Ennis
christ – i’ve unleashed some sort of Tiger Stores fan club outrage with that mild description. Thank god I didn’t say "pointless"West Hampstead
@WHampstead they sell some of the most pointless useless crap you could ever want.Lizzie
@WHampstead I guess that space is doomed to mediocrityPatrick Hurley
Further research seems to suggest that it’s a poundshop for the middle classes (Bearnaise Sauce for £1, 24 Danish flag stickers for £1)West Hampstead
@WHampstead Bearnaise Sauce for £1…? Stay well clear of it…!TheCrystalShip
@WHampstead really? Just what we don’t need!!Rach
@WHampstead I like ‘THIS IS A WEBSITE NOT A WEBSHOP’. Alright, alright, I wasn’t going to buy your crap anyway.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead I want to take stickers saying ‘THIS ITEM IS FOR SALE’. Just in case people get confused and need to know how a shop works.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead I would order them online but IT IS NOT A WEBSHOP.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead bored housewives might like the look of this…
@rach_1511 @WHampstead I was laughing at my desk so had to explain to my colleague. Sent her the link. She genuinely likes some of the stuffFiona Barrows
@fbarrows @whampstead but its not a web shop&some of things she likes might not be available!How ridiculous.I really can wait til it opens!Rach
@WHampstead They sell Tiger cornflakes and you can then make the box into a puppet theatre. JUST WHAT I ALWAYS WANTED.Fiona Barrows
@WHampstead But do they sell actual tigers?Davies
@WHampstead I can afford 329 things in there or one thing from Habitat next door. It’s a bizarre (bazaar, if you will) shopping experienceLewis Hill
@WHampstead @daviesinthecity I honestly think that shop looks brilliant and I will be visiting at my earliest convenience.nicky j
@WHampstead They do socks for £1 each. Something odd there.Phil Lunn
@WHampstead I own a harmonica purchased at the Tiger in Hammersmith. It doesn’t sound very good, but I’m 90% sure that’s my fault.Sam Wong
and on a similar theme:
@WHampstead poundland has a sale on, presumably to entice those people who thought a quid was a bit steep…Jen

West Hampstead stations will strain at the Olympic seams

Wembley and Finchley Rd as hotspots on Sunday July 29
(from GetAheadOfTheGames)

We’ve known for quite some time that TfL hasn’t deemed West Hampstead to be a hotspot during the Olympic Games, but will the narrow pavements of the interchange be able to cope with the increase in pedestrian traffic? After all:

  • Two of the three train lines through West Hampstead go directly to the Olympic Park
  • Seven Olympic venues (Wembley, Lord’s, Hyde Park, Horse Guards Parade, North Greenwich Arena, the ExCel centre, and the Olympic park itself) are on the Jubilee Line
  • The West Hampstead interchange is always congested during rush hour, or when there are big matches at Wembley.
Luton fans trying to get home
(photo via @stopsleyvicar)

What does it take to qualify as a hotspot? TfL’s Games Communication & Engagement Manager, Midge McCall, explained in an e-mail forwarded to local councillor Mike Katz back in June:

West Hampstead is a key interchange on the Jubilee and Overground and will be busier than usual, in particular on days when Wembley Stadium will be in use. However it is not considered to be busy enough to cause the type of queueing from 15 mins upward on a regular basis during the day on several days to be termed a hotspot station.

Councillors, the Safer Neighbourhoods Team, and many others including me have queried TfL’s assessment. The response has been consistent: yes, West Hampstead will be busier than normal during the Games but no, it won’t be so busy that it qualifies for “hotspot” status.

Finchley Road station is very much a hotspot station, as people come in fron the outer reaches of north-west London and the suburbs and change onto the Jubilee Line or travel to and from Wembley Stadium. Overcrowding on the platforms here seems inevitable, perhaps more than in the ticket hall. TfL recognises that this means some people (surely lots of locals) will walk up to West Hampstead to board the Jubilee there instead, where there will be a better chance of getting on a train. The full assessment of Finchley Road’s peak times is printed below.

Finchley Road estimated peak times
(click for full-size)

TfL has modelled the impact of the Games on the transport network based on passenger numbers at this time of year in a normal year, and on the postcodes of ticket holders. This allows it to work out what routes people will take to which venues. Download the relevant presentation (which also shows predicted numbers of spectators per venue on peak days) here.

So far, so smart. However, it fails to take into account two factors: people don’t always behave rationally (either deliberately or not), and the West Hampstead interchange is a narrow congested area that does not allow the smooth passage between stations that one finds at Kings Cross or even London Bridge.

The result, I fear, is that at peak times, West Hampstead will become clogged with people changing trains, which in turn holds up traffic and generally impedes people from moving around.

Here’s TfL’s response to a query made by the local Lib Dem councillors:

The website highlights stations where it is predicted that demand for services during the Games will exceed available capacity if people do not change their regular travel behaviour…

…West Hampstead does not appear as a ‘hotspot’ because the additional travellers predicted to use the station during the Games is within the available capacity for both the station and the lines serving it. For example, on one of the busiest days of the Games, Friday 3 August, approximately 16 per cent more passengers are predicted to use West Hampstead station. Based on this prediction, London Underground expects to be able to manage with minimal customer impact. Further, if regular travellers do change their travel habits during the Games, the situation will be further improved.

However, it is important to remember that these are only our best predictions of where and when travel hotspots may arise. The travel situation in London will be different each day and may change throughout the day, as crowds travel to and from the different sporting and cultural events. Therefore, my advice to customers using West Hampstead station, and indeed any other part of the transport network, is to refer to to plan their Games-time journeys and to check before they travel in order to avoid disruption to their journey. TfL will also provide real-time information to assist Londoners and visitors with their travel at stations.

So, it seems that some disruption is inevitable, and there’s no doubt that West Hampstead will not suffer in the way that most zone 1 stations will.

BBC London’s travel correspondent Tom Edwards told me a while ago via Twitter that West Hampstead is not alone among areas that feel TfL has not built the local nuances of a given area into its model. I suspect we’ll find out within the first few days of the Games whether it’s made any mistakes – lets hope that if it has, there is also the flexibility built into its plans to make any necessary adjustments.

In the meantime, we will have to hope TfL’s prognosis is correct and that we don’t see repeats of the scenes we had when Luton Town played at Wembley recently and there was a dangerous crush around the Thameslink station that required police intervention.

Thankfully, while TfL remain unconvinced about the potential for overcrowding at West Hampstead, First Capital Connect seem to be taking more precautions. According to Cllr Risso-Gill, the rail operator has included West Hampstead Thameslink station in its Enhancement Plan. This means the station will be manned 24 hours a day and tensile barriers may be installed to manage any crowding.

Cllr Risso-Gill has also asked the council for additional signage on Iverson Road and West End Lane to give clear directions between the three stations and four entrances, particularly from the new Thameslink exit to the Jubilee Underground and the Overground stations. Sounds very sensible. Lets hope it happens in time.

O2 facade alterations

It appears that work is due to start soon on alterations to the O2 centre on Finchley Road. These are largely cosmetic. If you’re interested then the relevant planning applications then head off here, here, here, and here, but these are probably more of interest to specialist architects than to most O2 users.

Instead, I can offer you a picture of what it’s supposed to look like when it’s done (this is from a 2011 application and there have been some amendments since then, but they are all minor). There are some interior changes planned as well, but really everyon’e waiting to see what happens with the large premises immediately to the right as you walk in, which has been empty now for some time.

Finchley Road’s glacial history

A chance tweet yesterday drew my attention to this local fact: the glacier that covered almost all of the British Isles in the last age stopped – just like the Jubilee and Met Lines (and moving at about the same speed as the Jubilee earlier this week) – at Finchley Road. Change here for “milder temperatures”.

Thanks to @Tetramesh for then sending me the link to this BBC documentary where no less a glaciologist than Alan Titchmarsh explains more (ff to 23m57s)

Macaroon Mania at Waitrose Cookery School

As soon as you walk into Waitrose’s gleaming new cookery school, it’s clear they’ve splashed the cash. I went along to the Finchley Road branch, above which the school is located, to find out whether aspiring home cooks should do the same. Our aim for the evening: perfect macaroons.

The space is certainly attractive: there’s an expansive dining area with chunky light-wood tables (no doubt available from John Lewis), an attractive wall of wine and a modern bar.

Off to the side is the theatre, which looks like a TV studio kitchen, with seating for about 40 people. Separated from the dining room by a glass partition is the kitchen itself, which has a demonstration area, and then nine workstations, each with an oven, hob, fridge and cupboards and drawers filled with pans, utensils and gadgets. Around the sides more equipment sits on windowsills – behind me are umpteen Le Creuset pans, pots and tagines.

 It all looks good and of course it’s all immaculately clean (this is only the second night the kitchen has been open). The major appliances are John Lewis own brand and the stations are meant to deliberately mirror what most people have at home, although the food mixer we’re using is a top-of-the range professional one.

After a welcoming glass or two of champagne and a couple of canapés – one of which we’re accurately warned is tongue-scaldingly hot – we don our whites and gather round to watch head pastry chef James Campbell (formerly Gary Rhodes’ group head pastry chef) talk us through the macaroon making process.

When it comes to our turn, the ingredients have already been measured out although we have to separate our own eggs. We’re making Italian meringue because it is easy and stable, but it does mean pouring hot sugar syrup into whisked egg whites (a fancy digital thermometer tells us when we hit the 114 degree Celsius mark.).

We’re working in pairs, which I find a little odd – people are rarely allowed IN my kitchen, let alone permitted to pick up a spoon unless under close supervision! However, it turns out that my cooking buddy actually teaches cooking classes herself, although is quite scathing about wasting time cooking patisserie.

The vast majority of the people here are food bloggers who Waitrose has invited to this second preview night. The first one had been for the mainstream media. Celebrity Masterchef winner Lisa Faulkner had been there, and Heston himself had even made a fleeting appearance although Delia hadn’t graced the school with her presence.

There are no celebs tonight, but as the chefs introduce themselves, you realise quite quickly that it’s not just the fixtures and fittings that have cost money. Charming head chef James Bennington won a Michelin star at La Trompette, sous chef Eleni Tzirki casually namedrops Pierre Koffmann and Bruno Loubet as she introduces herself, while Aussie Wilson Chung, who’s in charge of cocktails tonight, has an astonishingly eclectic CV that includes running the kitchen at the Sydney Good Food & Wine Show.

One of the best things about the experience is the ratio of chefs to punters. As we’re busy worrying whether our peaks are stiff enough or our mixture smooth enough, one of the team is always around to advise.

While the macaroons bake, we head to the bar to learn how to make bitter orange cocktails (Grand Marnier, orange juice with maple syrup, ice – simple) and get the chance to practice our cocktail shaking technique. Then, while the macaroons cool we get a demonstration of how to make espresso martinis (these really aren’t hard either). Of course we get to drink all these things too. This isn’t an evening to have planned to drive home.

In the full version of this macaroon course, you get to make your own filling, but this has been done for us. We get to practice on some glittery pink macaroons, filling them with some berry mixture and a mulled wine flavoured liquid centre.

 For our own creations, there’s an apricot filling in the fridge and, despite some dodgy piping skills, they all end up looking pretty good. Certainly everyone seems happy as they pack the fruits of their labour into boxes to take home.

If we were paying customers, this evening course would set us back £105. Whole day courses are £175 and cover everything from Thai cookery to Boxing Day leftovers. I suspect the cookery school will be very popular with corporate events as there is so much flexibility to meet quite specific needs. It is not cheap, although I’m sure most people would enjoy the experience, and a quick trawl of other London options suggests it’s broadly in line with the market.

Waitrose Cookery School
Nearest tube: Finchley Road
T: 020 7372 6128