Bobby F’s timewarp bar opens on West End Lane

Photo: Jane Lucken (model: unknown)

Photo: Jane Lucken (model: unknown)

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

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

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

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

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

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

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

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

Photo: Shalini Rawlley

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

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

Photo: Tom Vanheems

Photo: Tom Vanheems

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

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

End of an era: La Brocca changes hands tomorrow

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

La Brocca open for brunch on the Lockes’ last day

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

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

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

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

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

Simon Whiteside (right), next to David Locke

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

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

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

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

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

David Locke in 2011. Photo Moya Sarner

David Locke in 2011. Photo Moya Sarner

Tom tests his New Year resolve at La Brocca

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I had pondered was the vital importance of eating and drinking more than I did last year. With this remarkable gem of inspiration in mind, I grabbed a menu in La Brocca (whilst enjoying a Malbec), and settled in by the open fire… well, a piping hot radiator at least.

I’d been meaning to try the baked spinach and ricotta cannelloni, with tomato and béchamel sauce, and it proved a satisfying winter-warming dish, as I’d hoped. Served in a pleasing terracotta bowl as with the baked gnocchi I often enjoy, it again reminded me of some basic rules of good cooking; make simple, appetising dishes, and do them well, in decent-sized portions, for hungry people. Success! Rich, melting, tomatoey and well-seasoned.

Accompanying the cannelloni were old favourites of sun-dried tomato pesto and avocado bruschetta (always excellent), with a mixed salad which also included ripe avo. The world needs more avocado!

After all that lot, and a litre or so of the Malbec, I spent the following day making soups with my new Nutribullet blender (off I go again – I haven’t shut up about it since I bought it 3 weeks ago). The results? Certainly healthy, but taste-wise, not up to La Brocca or Wet Fish Café standards just yet, let’s put it that way…

Happy New Year, gluttons!

Remix latest victim in West Hampstead burglary spree

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom’s entertained by antipasti

Like a scary hoard of genetically modified locusts, 24 of us descended on La Brocca for the first #whampdinner, via a quick meet-up and drink first in the Alice House.

Legendary Brocca owner David had kindly put in place some Prosecco and canapés, which gave everyone some extra mingling and introduction time in the bar. I did what any good co-host should and immediately hogged the comfy leather sofa at the back whilst checking I got a drink before any of the guests.

We had a brilliant evening. It was nice to see some people experiencing La Brocca for the first time, taking in the character of both the bar and basement restaurant. The staff were on fine form too, adding to the fun.

The chefs did a grand job; we shared entertaining antipasto misto starters of salami, Parma ham, sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, olives, mozzarella and hummus, with bread.

Mains appeared, and it was pleasing to see people trying various things from the customised #whampdinner menu. I decided to break the habit of a lifetime and have the fried gnocchi – my excuse for the predictable order was the robust twist of wild boar sausage slices that accompanied it. Regular readers will know my fondness for gnocchi and I think the idea of frying to give a nice, textured coating is a great idea. The sausage was very rich indeed, and highly flavoursome.

The sea bass proved popular both off the menu and off the plate, while a seafood risotto was devoured at the other end of my table. I was pleased that people also chose pizzas, as La Brocca does a really excellent pizza – some places are a little complacent with them these days; they can be underseasoned and too soft and flabby.

Chef Will’s home-made beef and red wine pie with mashed potato & green beans was going down a storm next to me; I know barman Adam speaks highly of this dish, and it did look very appetising indeed, with the colours making me want to recreate it in a painting. Or just eat it, given I can’t paint.

Those of us greedy enough to tackle desserts found the usual gems on offer, including an excellent Eton Mess, and for me, the apple and caramel crumble.

Rather typically, and foolishly, I can’t remember the wine we were drinking, probably due to the quantity consumed. Possibly a Chilean merlot; perhaps I’ll have to pop in one evening and try a glass of everything in order to prompt my memory.

Spring jazz at La Brocca

The toe-tappers at La Brocca have put together a spring jazz festival, which kicks off tonight with Ronnie Scott’s regulars Kai’s Cats featuring West Hampstead’s very own Simon “Cyberdonkey” Whiteside on keyboards.

For four consecutive Thursday nights, the downstairs restaurant at La Brocca will become a jazz club. If you’re eating then there’s a £7 cover charge tonight (£5 the other weeks), or just turn up and watch for £10 on the door.

Tom’s confused by smoked salmon at La Brocca

Had a nice bowl of pasta in La Brocca last Friday; I was even more hungry than usual, and the idea of penne with smoked salmon in a cream and tomato sauce, was a heartwarming thought on a cold evening (the bar was nice and warm too – that’s important – no-one wants to eat in a cold room).

A most enjoyable dish. Although I’ve always been slightly confused by the idea of cooking with smoked salmon, (kind of feels like it’s being done twice – or perhaps one and a half times), it was splendid. The saltiness of the salmon seasoned the plate, and the sauce was very pleasing too – flavoursome, and rich enough to add depth, without being too heavy (though personally, I quite like a thick sauce with pasta anyway – gorgonzola and cream, for example).

All in all a very satisfying way to start off my weekend, especially as the portion size was enormous!

That reminds me…must retreat to the kitchen now for my fourth round of toast. That’s what happens when you try and get by with a salad for dinner.

Tom goes wild at La Brocca

La Brocca’s “Wild Weekend” sounded intriguing, so I raced down there as soon as I could only to find it wasn’t some kind of seedy NW6 orgy after all. (That was happening at Lower Ground Bar next door). Instead, this was Brocca’s celebration of “the best of wild autumn foods from our sea and forests; game, fish and vegetables including pheasant, venison, wild boar, rabbit, and wild porcini mushrooms” – wonderful.

So, holed-up in the characterful basement restaurant, which I’ve always liked, we browsed the menu, eager to see what it was all about. The specials were appetising; game, fish, soup… something for everyone.

I chose the sea bass, caper butter and wild mushroom risotto, sacrificing a starter in order to gorge myself on some very decent (and varied) breads, and marinated olives. The risotto was nice, but the sea bass superb – crispy skin to absolute perfection. One point deducted for cold plates and a couple of errors caused by the waiter not writing down our order, but strangely this seems the norm in restaurants these days – can anyone explain why?

As usual, I requested a salad on the side, as I know from experience that chef has a deft touch and knows how to dress leaves with respect. I also love the addition of avocado – one of those magical and quite unique ingredients.

Across the table, Jonathan dived into a vibrant wild mushroom, white wine and garlic sauce starter [J: it was absolutely delicious], then the hunter’s game pie on mash with green beans and gravy – which also proved to be a success, though he noted it was perhaps centred solely around venison rather than a combination of game. We both agreed the Chianti was a winner; smooth, soft, but with a subtle, bitter twist, not lacking a finish, and just very satisfying indeed.

On this occasion, I didn’t opt for a dessert – perhaps I’ll have two of them next time. The apple crumble is a particular favourite of mine.

The evening ended on a rather uncharacteristic note, however, when I returned to the upper bar and ordered . . . a glass of water. Yes, I acknowledge this was bizarre and rather worrying behaviour – however as I type I am enjoying a complex Crozes Hermitage; rumours of my liver’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Give me time though! 

David Locke of La Brocca reflects on 20 years

All this weekend, La Brocca is celebrating its 20th birthday. Moya “Scoop” Sarner, spoke to the owner:

The impressive figure of David Locke, usually found dominating a bar stool of West Hampstead local La Brocca, is familiar to many of us. He opened the restaurant 20 years ago today, and one of his first customers was his granddaughter Yasmin, then a baby in a moses basket. Today she’s the warm, sparky brunette, working as a waitress in the bar upstairs. It’s very much a family business, as he explains: “My wife Edda does all the hard work in the back office, our daughter Laura is the manager, and I’m in charge of ‘marketing, strategy, and drinking'”. Sounds like a damn fine strategy to me.

The bar is much the same as when it opened – but the area certainly isn’t, he says. “West Hampstead has changed totally in 20 years. There wasn’t much here back then, but it’s grown more and more upmarket. When they opened the Jubilee Line through to Canary Wharf [in 1999], all the pine doors and brass knockers appeared, and property prices doubled”. That’s reflected in more sophisticated tastes – so the bar sells more champagne and prosecco, and the restaurant has branched out from pizza and pasta into meat, fish, and other specials. But, he is quick to point out, “West Hampstead is an amazing place to live. Although it’s gentrified a bit, it’s nowhere near as up itself as Kensington or Chelsea – in my view, it’s still one of the last villages in London.”

The regulars – and they are many – haven’t changed at all. Take the two white-haired gentlemen who rarely leave their window seat. “Pen and his friend Peter started coming in about 10 years ago, for lunch,” David says. “Now they’re addicted and come every day. They have two large sherries, a bottle of red, three large green chartreuses and two courses – I hope I’m doing that when I’m 87!”

And there are celebrity customers too, from the Crediton Hill mafia’s Emma Thompson and Imelda Staunton, to rugby and cricket stars including Ricky Ponting. “And one afternoon”, David continues, “I strolled in to find Peter O’Toole sitting at the bar, with his sparkling blue eyes”. Then there are the well-respected jazz musicians who started off at La Brocca’s Thursday night jam sessions, friends and students of our very own local musician and teacher @cyberdonkey, aka Simon Whiteside. Many are now big names, like jazz pianist Gwilym Simcock, Mercury Award nominee for best album, just pipped to the post by PJ Harvey. “The jazz is a love”, David explains, “but it doesn’t make me money. You want to know how to make a million pounds out of jazz? Start off with two million.”

Jokes aside, David glumly says that La Brocca is not immune to the effects of the economic downturn. “Our turnover’s gone down 15 to 20 per cent over the last couple of years. We’ve had to cut back on staff and wages – we’re okay, but life isn’t as much fun as it used to be.” But David still seems to be having a pretty good time, as do his customers. “Loads of couples have met here in the bar,” he says (at this point I decide to spend even more time in La Brocca). “They get married, and they all come back to see us with their kids. When we first opened, I was maitre d’, and trying to get rid of a couple who were, shall we say, lingering. It looked to me like it was a blind date, and they were deciding whether to go off together or not. So, eventually, I said ‘Ain’t you got no homes to go to? Ain’t you got a bed?’ The best thing was, the guy was called Mr Rutter! Anyway, they came back six months later, married, and they’d brought me a little model of a double bed. ‘There you go’, they said, ‘We’ve got a bed now!'”

Don’t worry folks, despite the tough economy, La Brocca won’t be going anywhere soon. “I want my daughter Laura and the next generation coming up to carry on running the place”, David says. “That portrait of me on the wall is about 15 years old – I hope it stays there for my grandchildren and my great grandchildren – for at least another hundred years.”

Tom loves La Brocca

Enjoyed a double-dose of La Brocca food last weekend… My favourite moments were the gnocchi; bubbling hot, with nips of basil adding occasional zest to an already delicious dish, and the fennel & endive salad, as ever respectfully dressed.

The best was reserved for last though; a quite delightful apple and caramel crumble, which, due to its generous proportions, I was happy to share just for once.

That’s a thought… how about a giant-sized apple crumble, as a main meal? See, I’m full of good ideas after a bottle and a half of Shiraz…