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Planning for the future of West Hampstead

We are entering a new phase in the evolution of West Hampstead. Does that sound like hyperbole? Well, there are so many large-scale plans waiting to be submitted that if they were all to be implemented as they stand, the look and feel of the area would change substantially.

On Monday there was a meeting chaired by Cllrs Keith Moffitt (West Hampstead) and Flick Rea (Fortune Green) at the behest of James Earl from the Fordwych Road Residents Association. James’s idea is to bring together all the local RAs, and other community groups such as WHAT, to form a Neighbourhood Development Plan.

I’m not going to go into all the details of what an NDP is here, partly because there are many issues still to be clarified (there’s a bit more here), but it’s part of the Localism Bill that’s going through parliament at the moment. The general idea is to give people more power over local developments, although almost certainly not as much as many people would like: the plan must fit in with the borough’s plan, the London plan (which has already earmarked West Hampstead for intensification and 800 new homes) and national planning strategy, and it cannot propose less development, only more or a redistribution of sites.

Nor is this going to happen overnight – it will be spring 2012 before NDPs can be submitted. Which is a problem in terms of mobilising to address the more imminent plans for the 187-199 West End Lane site (see next blog).

The meeting was reasonably productive, although inevitably people have differing views about development, which might make it hard producing a plan that pleases everyone. The idea of RAs joining forces was broadly welcomed, and the topic will be discussed at the next West Hampstead & Fortune Green Area Action Group, which is provisionally scheduled for December 6th.

There was some criticism about the lack of impact the place shaping workshops had seemed to have, although the outcomes of those will more guide what happens to council-owned sites that will be developed, such as the Wickes/Travis Perkins building.

Even if the NDP may not have much impact on sites where plans are being drawn up now, it could be very influential on land that might come up for development over the next few years – such as the O2 car park (long talked about as ripe for development), or swathes of Iverson Road.

There are some issues to resolve about the boundaries of any plan, and who should be involved. People living on the western fringes of Swiss Cottage ward, for example, are very much part of West Hampstead and would certainly be affected by developments around the tube/Overground interchange area (yet bizarrely aren’t included in the consulation area for the 187-199 West End Lane site).

Anne Heymann, chair of the Local Consultation Group (set up some years ago to address the large-scale interchange project that would have merged all three stations and was then shelved) argued that sitting down with architects and developers and putting in the legwork was what really made a difference to  plans.

It’ll be interesting to see what the perspective from the broader community is when the idea is discussed at the AAG, but it’s encouraging that groups from across the area want to come together to discuss proposals that might not have an impact on their immediate street.

If your whampstead house needs haunting…

Halloween time again. An excuse to dig out the facepaints and get your goth on, or to hide indoors munching a large slice of pumpkin pie. The choice is yours (Mmm… pie).

What are your options this year for spooky revels? Surprise surprise, The Gallery and The Alice House once again lead the way with their Halloween parties. The Alice House’s kicks off at 7pm on Saturday and runs through to 1am with a DJ. There are prizes for the best costumes (1st prize – dinner for two, 2nd prize – bottle of bubbly [does that mean not champagne?], and the best dressed group wins a round of shots).

Over at The Gallery, well, it’s much the same. No DJ, but the bar’s open until 2am, which is confusing because the clocks go back at 2am on Sunday morning, so does that mean an extra hour of drinking? Fancy dress is still encouraged (although when I walked past last year, most people seemed to just be wearing black).

The Priory Tavern has a pumpkin carving competition on Saturday from 3-6pm (max 15 entrants/teams). The regulars will vote on the winners (which is a scary prospect in itself), who’ll be announced on Bonfire Night and will win a decent bottle of red wine. The popular 12 Bars blues band are playing Saturday night and on Halloween itself it’s the usual 2-for-1 on house cocktails on “Happy Mondays” (seem to have missed the point of Halloween there!)

Over in Kilburn, the North London Tavern has a Halloween Horror night finishing at 1am. Prizes for the best dressed, ghostly drinks specials all night, and apparently tricks and treats!

The Railway is your Halloween antidote – it’s decided not to do anything special this year, so if you want to escape the slime-coloured shots and zombie-clad wannabes, this is the place for you on Saturday night.

The Good Ship prides itself on not overly pandering to or exploiting Hallmark holidays, but it likes to give a nod to Halloween, so on Saturday night, there’s an evening of Halloween fun with a spooky short film and then four live acts from 8-11.30pm and of course DJs until 4am.

It won’t have escaped your notice that all this is happening on Saturday, which is NOT the 31st. Halloween itself is on Monday night and where better to spend it than laughing your little vampire socks off at The Good Ship comedy club, where host Ghouliet Stephens (don’t blame her for that, I came up with it all by myself) will be introducing a top night of comedy headlined by the outstanding Pappy’s (if you’ve not seen them, now’s your chance), and she’s claiming there might be pumpkin pie. 

Have a fun weekend everyone – look out for our three local spooky tweeters @ghostontoast, @Ghoul_of_London and the deliciously strange @MarmiteGhost. And if you think it will make any difference whatsoever, here’s a poster the West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood Team have circulated for those who aren’t in the Trick or Treat mood.

Click and Treat for full-size

Life in the slow lane

Not only is Camden hell bent on letting cyclists ride whichever way they choose up one-way streets, it’s also trying to slow traffic down in West Hampstead as well. It’s almost like there’s some sort of concerted plan to improve things in the area. Crazy.

As with the cycling plans, this will be paid for by TfL and the rationale seems to be safety. Much of West Hampstead (aside from West End Lane) already has a 20mph limit. However, many of the residential roads to the west and West End Lane itself are still 30mph and the council claims these roads have a relatively poor safety record compared to neighbouring 20mph streets. Indeed, between September 2007 and September 2010, 39 collisions were reported, resulting in four serious injuries.

In addition to signage, traffic calming measures are being proposed. On the residential streets, the junction of Sumatra Road and Glenbrook Road will be raised and road humps will be added at the junction of Solent Road and Glenbrook Road (just on Solent Rd, not the entire junction).

Click for larger version

On West End Lane itself, the 20mph zone will run from the junction with Quex Road in the south, to the junction with Mill Lane and Fortune Green Road in the north.

There will be three other measures to improve road safety: the pavement running north from Inglewood Road will be widened – the council claims this will improve the aesthetic appeal of the street and the narrower road will help slow traffic. An island will be added to the zebra crossing that links Barclays Bank to the library, apparently in response to observations that cars do not always wait until pedestrians have completed their crossing before driving on (remember your Highway Code?). Finally, the island on the crossing at Lymington Road (the one by Tescos) will be removed and the pavement on the southern edge extended. In addition, all the signs indicating a change of speed limit to and from West End Lane can now be removed, reducing street clutter and there is the potential to remove more signage (this has been mooted for some time and some steps have already been taken around the entrance to the tube station).

Click for larger version

The residential road changes seem like no-brainers. I would be interested to know how many of the collisions that have taken place on West End Lane have happened at speeds in excess of 20mph, given that during the daytime the traffic is so slow-moving anyway there is little opportunity to reach 30mph. I am certainly in favour of removing excess signage and street clutter, although narrowing the road seems unncessary, given the number of buses and delivery vehicles that already contribute to bottlenecks on the road. The aim should surely be to encourage free-flowing traffic moving at a safe speed.

As with all speed limit issues, be it on motorways or residential streets, the issue is one of enforcement more than regulation.

For more comment on this issue, see Georgia’s article in the Camden New Journal.

The council is keen to hear from local residents and businesses to find out whether there is broad support for the proposals for the side streets, and whether the proposals for West End Lane would cause disruption during and after implementation. You need to make sure your letter or e-mail is received by November 11th and send it to:

London Borough of Camden
Culture and Environment Directorate
Transport Strategy Service
FREEPOST RLZH-UEYC-ACZZ
LONDON
WC1H 8EQ

or e-mail , making sure you include your postal address.

Here’s the full document on the side streets, and on West End Lane.

Will cycling the wrong way soon be right?

Several of the roads in the southern half of West Hampstead are one-way. This is generally a good thing as it allows for on-street parking while keeping the traffic moving. However, if you’re a cyclist these restrictions may prove rather frustrating and the temptation is great to take a short-cut by cycling the wrong way down a one-way street. Aside from the illegality, this can be hazardous if neither cars nor pedestrians are expecting it.

Camden has decided to investigate this and is proposing to make some of these streets two-way for cyclists only. This is apparently called “cycle permeability”. Good ol’ local government and its penchant for language.

Making these changes is relatively cheap – a bit of signage is really all that’s needed – and will be paid for by TfL. The following roads would be affected: Priory, Canfield, Greencroft, Sherriff, Messina, Gascony, Fairhazel, Smyrna and Kingsgate Place.

Click for larger version

The council would like to hear from anyone who would be affected by the changes in terms of access to property/deliveries during the changeover, or from the eventual new system. The ward councillors on the Swiss Cottage side of West End Lane (to the east) have expressed their view “that local residents who use these streets every day as pedestrians, car drivers and cyclists should have a real input into decision making.”

The work is scheduled to be carried out betwen November and March. If you wish to comment on the idea, you need to make sure your letter or e-mail is received by November 11th and send it to:

London Borough of Camden
Culture and Environment Directorate
Transport Strategy Service
FREEPOST RLZH-UEYC-ACZZ
LONDON
WC1H 8EQ

or e-mail , making sure you include your postal address.

Here’s the full consultation document [pdf download].

Tom enjoys sardines at Sirous

Always a pleasure to wander into Sirous on a lazy Sunday afternoon, especially when the intention is to eat and drink something from its varied and interesting menu. I have been known to scowl angrily at people who’ve already pinched all the comfortable, red leather sofa spaces, which is quite reasonable behaviour I think – but on my most recent visit I was in luck.

I enjoyed grilled sardines, with an immensely satisfying bowl of potato skins; crisp, yet with an oiliness ideal for combating hangovers. The guacamole was great too, and I enthusiastically alternated this with tomato ketchup, rather like a girl out shopping trying on two different pairs of shoes over and over again.

Sirous’ house red is a Crianza; I used to think “vanilla cream” descriptions were bandied about too often and sometimes a little bit silly – but this is a wine that fits the description. Really lovely stuff. I’ll be very happy to share a whole bottle with myself sometime soon. 

Coordinating West Hampstead planning?

Last week, the Fordwych Residents Association discussed concerns about the number of large developments being proposed in the area. James Earl, vice-chair, told me that the meeting came up with this list of 10 developments that have been recently built, are under construction, or have been proposed:

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN WEST HAMPSTEAD & FORTUNE GREEN
Sager development (FortuneGreen ) Residential block – built
Mill Lane Residential block – under construction
Maygrove Road One Housing Group/residential block – under construction
Handrail House (+car park), 65 Maygrove Road Possible demolition & new residential block
Liddell Road Proposed new school [pdf p39] & possible residential development
Iverson Road (old garden centre) Likely development of hotel or flats
156 West End Lane (council building) Likely demolition & new residential development [pdf p38]
Blackburn Road 9 storey student block approved & to be built
187 West End Lane Proposed 9-11 storey residential development
O2 Centre car park Possible future housing development

The meeting concluded that there seemed to be no over-arching plan to deal with these developments, which are all very close to each other, and which have the potential to change the character of West Hampstead and Fortune Green for ever.

At the recent placeshaping events, residents have expressed a desire to preserve the ‘village’ feel of the area; to reduce traffic and to create more green/open spaces. These developments, argue the residents association, appear to be focused on the complete opposite.

The FRA is proposing that a coalition of local residents associations use the powers of the Localism Bill (now going through Parliament) to create a “Neighbourhood Development Plan” for West Hampstead and Fortune Green. It is proposing that this issue to be on the agenda of the next Area Action Forum – with the aim of having a draft document in place by the end of the year.

Get involved in the 2011 Christmas market

You may remember that last year there was a very successful Christmas market on West End Green. Well, good news whampers – plans are afoot for a second one. However, to make it happen the organisers need a little bit of help from some of you.

Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill who is coordinating the event, is looking for some specific expertise and support.

  • People with experience in marketing/PR/promotion, including social networks (ok – there’s got to be SOMEONE reading this who fufills that criteria).
  • Stall holders, particularly local craftspeople or traders
  • Additional business sponsors.

If you’re interestedin helping, having a stall, or sponsoring the event, then please register your interest at or call Gillian on 07798 845919.

Tom gets autumnal at The Gallery

A gang of cheery West Hampstead locals descended upon The Gallery in Broadhurst Gardens to drink wine, talk rubbish, and have a bite to eat on Saturday night. I’d already had dinner of sorts (something I kept quiet), but the menu tempted me, partly as I’d been meaning to try the Autumn salad for a while. Tangy, creamy goat’s cheese worked well with little bricks of sautéed sweet potato, on a bed of leaves (salad ones, not leaves from the pavement outside). At £7, it wasn’t too expensive a dish, but for me a little light; next time I’ll happily eat the same, but accompanied by breads or chips.

Other plates around the table were very well received, such as the salmon, and lamb, both of which were also elegantly presented. I liked the Chilean Merlot, and the Pinot Grigio seemed popular too. All things considered, it’s easy to see why this bar is popular.

Glancing up at the drinkers above us looking down on proceedings, reminded me of one of my typically gormless comments a year or so ago, when I lazily asked “why’s this place called The Gallery?”. Sometimes, I’m better off keeping quiet and just sticking to my drinking.

Safer in your Neighbourhood

Want to meet your local coppers? The Fortune Green and West Hampstead Safer Neighbourhood teams are holding a public meeting the evening of Wednesday September 21st in the synagogue hall on Dennington Park Rd. Why not go along and say hi (they’re a friendly bunch) and find out the latest on how they’re helping the community. I don’t think you’re expected to stay for two and a half hours!

Boundary review: securing H&K for Labour?

[this article has been updated several times]

The Boundary Commission’s inital proposals to change electoral constituencies were published a day in advance it seemed by political blogger Guido Fawkes. Today they are online on the Commission’s own website.

There are a lot of changes across London, including to our own Hampstead & Kilburn constituency. If you recall, the seat was won by Labour’s Glenda Jackson in 2010 by a whisker from Conservative Chris Philp, and Lib Deb Ed Fordham wasn’t much further behind. H&K was the closest three-way seat in the country.

Inevitably, therefore, any changes to the constituency are likely to affect the next election. There was talk earlier in the year that the seat would lose its Brent ward, and pick up two of the Westminster North wards, which would swing it clearly in favour of the Tories.

However, the commission’s review suggests something entirely different.

We would keep Kilburn and Queens Park in Brent, but add Gospel Oak, Kentish Town and Highgate that were part of Frank Dobson’s Holborn & St Pancras constituency. This means losing some wards. Oddest of all, Fortune Green would become the only Camden ward in the otherwise Barnet-dominated seat of Finchley & Golders Green. Belsize meanwhile becomes part of a new Camden & Regents Park constituency with four north-eastern Westminster wards and the rest of Camden.

Context
Lets remember first of all that these are just proposals. Why are they happening? The government asked the commission to reduce the number of constituencies in England by 29 to 502, and every constituency had to have a population between 72,810 and 80,473. This is a major change to preview boundary reviews. These sought to try and balance the number of voters in each seat, but it was not a legal imperative. At the moment in England, electorate numbers per seat range from 55,000 to 111,000.

The proposals are up for discussion as the Commission’s report explains at great lengths. If you want to attend a public meeting about it, then there are two for our whole region (North-West London) will be held at Brent Town Hall in Wembley on Thursday October 20th and Friday October 21st

Implications
What does this mean for the constituency of Hampstead & Kilburn? It’s almost impossible to tell, but it’s definitely not great news for Chris Philp, who is surely looking for a safer seat than one that keeps two Brent wards and loses Belsize.

Gospel Oak – home of Alastair Campbell – seems to be fairly strong Labour; Highgate elected two Labour and one Green councillor last time around – so not immediately obvious that it would be an easy task for a Tory candidate to win over voters there; Kentish Town meanwhile appears resolutely Labour.

In other words, the changes would seem to suit Labour more than any other party at least in H&K. Glenda has announced she won’t run again, so if the proposals are adopted will this be seen as a moderately safe seat for someone to snap up? Fiona Millar – Campbell’s wife and free school advocate Toby Young’s worst nightmare – has said she won’t stand. But we’re almost certainly still two to three years out from the next election.

Indeed, changes elsewhere in the country could leave high profile Labour MPs without a seat and H&K might be one to move to. Most notably Ed Balls and Hilary Benn may have to decide who stays and who goes as their West Yorkshire constituencies are redrawn around them. Closer to home, London MP Tessa Jowell’s seat of Dulwich & West Norwood could be split into three constituencies if the proposals are implemented,

For other parts of Camden, the picture is very different. Frank Dobson’s safe Holborn & St Pancras looks much more marginal as Camden & Regents Park as it picks up Belsize and some Westminster wards and loses Highgate (which returns to the fold of the old Hampstead & Highgate constitutency that Glenda represented for so long before H&K). This might explain this tweet from Labour councillor and former Mayor of Camden, Jonathan Simpson: “The review is a bit bonkers, can’t let this happen”.

And what about Fortune Green? Well, the seat it’s joining changed hands from Labour to Conservative at the last election, and could be fairly close again. In the council votes, the Tory candidates were just ahead of their Labour rivals, but both were well behind the Lib Dems. Oddly, therefore, Fortune Green’s 7,000 voters could still have some impact in the vote, but to be the only ward from Camden in a seat dominated by Barnet does feel strange (if you look at how far south-west Fortune Green ward covers – right down to Maygrove Rd – this feels strange. Don’t expect too many canvassers down there)

I’ve left in the info on how to have your say in the abridged version of the document below, which has details for most West Hampstead Life readers I think.
Abridged Boundary Commission Proposals Sep132011

Tom sinks his teeth into Gourmet Burger Kitchen

After a tough week entombed in an office, it seemed logical to grab a red in La Brocca, then head for Gourmet Burger Kitchen for much-needed Friday night nourishment.

Settling into our seats, our host explained the options and ordering process, which was appreciated, as I have been known to get a little confused over ‘assemble your meal’ type menus. From memory (or what’s left of it!) – I recall three white and three red wines, and we selected a Kiwi Pinot Noir – its medicinal properties well received by these two work-weary diners.

On to the main attractions: I tried a traditional cheese-topped burger, which arrived medium as recommended. A nicely proportioned burger; large, but not so large that greedy people such as myself cannot eat it in the old-fashioned, hands-to-mouth way. The meat had flavour, and worked well with the melted cheddar, as anticipated. Decent chips appeared, along with an impressive bowl of complimentary onion rings, sliced jalepenos, and dips. We noted that vegetarians are well looked-after at GBK, with the veggie burgers’ descriptions sounding as appealing as any others.

Equally pleasing was the side salad (and you know my views on salads!); fresh ingredients, subtle dressing, plenty of ripe avocado, and (hurrah!) semi-dried tomatoes among cherry ones. All in all, there was a quality feel to the grub, which perhaps goes some way to explaining the quite high prices.

Thinking back, the menu was imaginatively designed, with each option appetising due to well-chosen accompaniments to the burgers. Again, this is a challenge for someone like me who wants to eat everything on the menu; but it is welcome to see something basic like a burger given a bit of care and thought, whilst not over-complicating or detracting from the meaty slab in the bun.

Overall then, GBK certainly does enough to draw in hungry locals, and substantial food of this nature is of course very good reason to consume equally substantial amounts of wine. See you there sometime! 

Tom is entertained at The Arches

The Arches was excellent last night; I had the special of cod fillet in tempura batter, with chips, and the whole thing was a demonstration in perfect execution – superb – right down to the quality of the rich tartare sauce. Friend loved his smoked duck salad starter and meatball linguine, and we managed dessert too (I’m full of surprises!)

We happily absorbed a Marlborough Pinot Noir, then a Malbec, and “entertainment” was provided via the adjacent table, from where Keith Floyd’s apparent long-lost brother proceeded to bombard us with a series of ever more ludicrous tales, whilst his partner looked on, nonplussed. Landing planes without lights in total darkness, unlikely prison terms, unlimited wives, and relatives seemingly inventing everything but the wheel. With his penchant for adventure, I was tempted to politely request that he headed for The Kilburn High Road without delay. 

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…

No sign of first night nerves at Spiga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you go, do leave comments below.

Tom roadtests Spiga

I was pleased to have an opportunity to check out Spiga, the new Italian restaurant on Broadhurst Gardens, especially having drunkenly glanced at the menu in advance via Jonathan’s pre-opening photo exclusive, and seen various things I immediately felt an urgent, pressing need to eat.

In terms of “barometers of quality”, bread, olives, and house wine are all good indicators, and we got off to a flying start on all three counts. There was a standard white bread, a rosemary focaccia, and two varieties of “giant crisps” – one pleasingly oily, the other drier, like a poppadom. And big, proud triangles of butter too! The olives were wonderful, in a garlicy oil, the green ones vibrant in colour – luminous almost (v. useful in a power cut).

The house red, a Sangiovese and Merlot blend, went down very easily indeed, earthy soft tannins and not lacking a finish. In hindsight we should have ordered a second bottle, to test its hangover rating. Next time.

To start off the fun I tried the asparagus with poached organic egg and parmesan shavings. Here, I do think a touch of first night nerves were in evidence, with the egg being rather too…errm…soft – the yolk not quite turning from watery to oozing yellowy. However the asparagus was marvellous; giant-size spears and cooked delicately. The dish perhaps needed a pinch of salt, but very enjoyable.

Somehow managing not to overdose on the aforementioned bread, next up was my grilled tuna steak on rocket and mixed peppers, with a sweet and sour balsamic. It’s a combination I’ve had at Base on Baker Street in the past, and was very well executed. The tuna respectfully done; not overcooked, and the balsamic (something I’m not usually mad about) tastefully judged. Just from a personal angle, I’d prefer something a little less sweet, and firmer in texture than the slithery little peppers; perhaps some semi-dried tomatoes? Accompanying my generous tuna was a side of hand-cut chips, and in another pointer to a chef who knows what he’s doing, these were excellent; old-style in size (i.e. not big, fat wedges – not that I dislike those, obviously!) and with a pleasing exterior and a dash of salt. Overall then, a splendid, satisfying main course.

I’m babbling on a bit more than usual (and this is without a drink in hand), but dessert warrants a few details too; a chocolate torte with mascarpone and strawberries – a very generous slice – was delicious. The texture of the pastry was bang-on, with a thick, gooey swamp of dark chocolate on top.

As Jonathan reported, the charming Sandra was all too pleased to chat and tell us a little about their venture, and there was a feeling of combined warmth and confidence in the service, which added to the occasion.

All in all then, a very welcome addition to the local selection of eateries, and I won’t be leaving it too long before heading back there to try the gnocchi… and another slice of the chocolate torte too no doubt.

Welcome, Spiga!

West Hampstead place shaping workshop report

You may recall that at the end of June I was invited to join a “place shaping” workshop organised by Camden council. I wrote it up, but explained that the full report would be available later. That later is now. I received the document this morning. It’s quite long so, although I feel it’s a very fair reflection of at least my workshop (there were two in total), I’m not sure you need to read the whole thing unless you’re really interested.

Therefore, I’ve circled paragraphs that I think capture the main points, and made a few annotations. It’s important to clarify that the purpose of this was not to find solutions, but to try and establish some common purpose that can inform decisions taken by the council. Of course, much of what came up is not really in the council’s purview, and to some extent the least tangible concepts of community are up to residents to demonstrate themselves. Do leave comments and (if they’re appropriate) I can pass them back into the whole process.

West Hampstead Shaping the Future Workshop Final Report

Tom takes tea at Lena’s

I spent an hour chilling out with my brother Bong in Lena’s Café 2 (he’s a campanologist, before you jump to the wrong idea)

I like the bright orange and yellow colour scheme in there, and I’m sure it’s this as well as the remarkable array of salads, and baskets of fruit and vegetables on display, that attracts people passing by and lures them in. I’m also fairly sure the girl who works there thinks I’m a bit of a lunatic (quite reasonable), as several times I’ve marched up and down, closely auditing all the salads and cakes, whilst taking photographs, sometimes from odd, unnecessary angles.

Anyway, despite only purchasing pots of Earl Grey, the manager – who turns out to be the chef too – kindly brought over complimentary baklava. I know they say big hits of sugar aren’t too good for you, but I must say I felt very good indeed after eating mine, and could have happily demolished a couple more. There are lots of nice ideas going on in Lena’s, and I look forward to lunch there soon.

PS: Wikipedia helpfully advises that baklava is… “not to be confused with balaclava”. Thanks for the advice, Wiki! 

Largely unscathed

West Hampstead and surrouding areas escaped Monday night’s widespread rioting and looting relatively unscathed. Despite the rumour mill working overtime when it came to Kilburn the actual damage there was limited to the Vodafone shop on the High Road. This was broken into and stock was stolen but apparently the police were on the scene very quickly.

Photo via Mike Katz

The Guardian reported that 20 people had been arrested in Kilburn and it seems that generally whenever there was a crowd gathering, the police dispersed them fairly rapidly. This approach appeared to work well.

As I was tweeting into the early hours of Tuesday, I did feel nervous for the first time as there were reports of groups of young men heading down Adelaide Road towards Swiss Cottage and down Belsize Park in the same direction. I had visions of them coming through West Hampstead to get to Kilburn, or just stopping off in West Hampstead itself.

In the end the impact locally was very limited. The bottom pane of glass at Flower Gallery, the florists by the tube station, had been smashed – which could have happened any night really. By Finchley Road tube, Parkheath estate agents was broken into and their posh iMacs were stolen. I heard today that this wasn’t really a rampage, but was done quite carefully, and I also heard that they chose to install Windows rather than Apple’s operating system, which will surprise the eventual owners.

Photo via @RentalflatsNW6

Anyway, back to the verified facts… the only other casualty in the area was Carphone Warehouse on the corner of Burrard Rd and Finchley Rd, up in the north of West Hampstead. This took a bit of a battering, but that was pretty much it for our part of the world. Real Radio Scotland interviewed a witness.

Photo via @msjlucas

I took a walk through Kilburn on Tuesday morning to check the damage for myself. The Vodafone shop certainly had been hit and there was a police car parked outside and police tape round the entrance. Reports of damage to one of Halfords’ windows were also correct – just a bit late: this had happened a few weeks earlier. Finally, there was some concern when staff were spotted sweeping water and minor debris out of one of the entrances to Poundland, but a quick enquiry revealed that a pipe in the ceiling had burst. Shit happens.

I took another turn through Kilburn mid-afternoon amid rumours that the police presence was increasing and after the Guardian reported that the police were telling shops on the High Road to close. It was a sunny day, and although not as busy as usual, the main drag was still bustly. Some shops were closed, notably TKMaxx, Primark, Phones4U and HSBC. Others, such as Sainsbury’s main store, had strong security on the door. There were no police to be seen. Eventually, I came across four constables heading north on foot patrol and asked one about the instruction to shops. He looked blank and shook his head. He said they weren’t advising shops what to do, although some of course were closing and it was an individual choice.

This was contradicted sometime later by a pub landlord and a member of the public who said he had stood there while a café owner had been advised to close although the timings of these events weren’t clear. Anyway, as the afternoon wore on it became clear that most larger shops were certainly closing earlier than usual. Sainsbury’s obviously had an edict to close its “Local” stores at 6pm, as the shops in Kilburn, West Hampstead and Willesden all shut at the same time.

Despite this, and a distinct tension in the air, West End Lane was busy with people determined to enjoy the good weather, sitting outside the bars and cafés in the evening sun. This wasn’t “normal” though. A police car came hurtling up Lymington Road and swung left on West End Lane. Nothing especially unusual about this, but everyone stopped in their tracks and watched it.

Hopefully, as the atmosphere cools in the capital we won’t have a repeat of Monday night over the next few days.

Tom dives into the menu at Mill Lane Bistro

Popped into the bistro for some well-earned dinner… Starters took a fair while – the place was busy and buzzing as usual – but that gave us a chance to savour a fine Languedoc wine, a Picpoul de Pinet that had a mineral edge to it that somehow reflected the ominous end-of-summer weather (not quite sure how, but it did!)

I kicked off the fun with deep-fried Camembert on a beetroot and walnut salad. Very nice, though the “home made” croutons were absent (not that you’d expect bought-in croutons this side of Garfunkel’s?!). Tried the baked cod next; an elegant-looking dish, perhaps could have come out of the oven a fraction earlier, but the firm texture worked well on the bed of spinach, I thought. Potatoes too – in a sort of caper butter or something (delicious). The bread was satisfyingly chewy, but comically tiny – I would happily have had three baskets of it – with butter too preferably.

I do love this place as it feels like a proper little slice of France right there on Mill Lane. I find it particularly gratifying to be referred to as “monsieur” (I’m easily pleased!).

Grabbed profiteroles for dessert – wonderful! Two tennis ball sized gems with gorgeous ice cream and chocolate sauce; also a glass of Burgundy that had a really intoxicating nose – next time I’m going to tan a whole bottle of that, been meaning to for a while actually.

Nice to see this place such a success; it’s a cheery and uplifting way to start the weekend.

Tom visits The Arches

I had an impromptu dinner at The Arches last night…good food.. I had a Moroccan chick pea soup to start, then baked whole sea bass – very nice. Excellent sautéed potatoes, with that dry, crisp outside. I wondered if they did those with goose fat or something but the waitress just said “deep fried in oil”. Pleasingly large cheesecake to finish, and 4 glasses of Pinot Noir which I was surprised to find later on was Chilean (I thought it was French, but not a Burgundy). Looking back, it did have similarities to that Chilean drop I like to guzzle in Brocca. Checked the bill today, a bit cheeky, the 2nd two glasses were large ones – I was drinking 175s at first – no wonder I have a frigging hangover! 

Tom eats cheese at Mill Lane Bistro

I ate alone – just a cheeseboard – in the bistro last week, and that lovely French girl came straight over to chat and explain the cheeses as if it were a tasting menu. THAT is good service and food.I was a bit miffed they were totally out of all salad items and the cod – even more annoying when the woman next to me turned out to be eating the last of the latter! 

Billy Fury Way officially opens

The path from West End Lane to Lithos Road was named Billy Fury Way last year following a poll. Billy Fury – one of Britain’s original rock & roll stars – recorded regularly at Decca Studios on Broadhurst Gardens.

On Friday,  the path was officially opened and a new mural was sprayed on at the West End Lane end of the path by graffiti events company Graffiti Life.

As well as being a interesting visual addition to West End Lane, the idea is to spruce up this path and to encourage young people from the area to contribute more artworks along the whole path. I understand that Graffiti Life will be supporting this and working with the local community.

Festivities began yesterday at 1pm with a song-title laden address in St James’ Church hall from Sgt Dave Timms, from West Hampstead’s Safer Neighbourhood Team. Odd? Well, not really – this is in fact an initiative driven by the police. Some of you will remember that one of the imperatives for naming paths such as this one and the Black Path was so the police could identify their location when chasing wrong-uns down these network of alleyways. It’s great to see real community support from our local police team who have similar plans for other parts of the footpath network.

Some 40 or so Billy Fury fans came along – many of whom had travelled from all over the country – including Holly Johnson of 80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

After a blessing of the site, councillor John Bryant who had driven the renaming exercise cut the ribbon.

ShakeTastic took the opportunity of a crowd just outside to hand out free samples, while the police were spending half their time posing for photos and half stopping the traffic on West End Lane from mowing down ageing rock fans.

The Safer Neighbourhoods Team also worked with Network Rail on the land it owns alongside Billy Fury Way, which included overhanging shrubs, hidden lighting and damaged fencing. Network Rail has undertaken a ‘deep-clean’ of one the most badly affected areas of litter and have re-fenced the area.

Meanwhile, Camden’s Highways Engineering Team plans inspections and repairs to damaged pavement, and street cleaning contractors will clean these paths twice a week. The council will also start patrols to identify any irresponsible dog owners. Dog litter bins, as well as free standing regular litter bins, will be placed halfway along Billy Fury Way.

PC Ruth Marshall, also from the Safer Neighbourhoods Team, said: “We want people to feel safe using Billy Fury Way. By keeping the area maintained, it will encourage the public to use it,” adding that the artwork was a “fitting tribute” to Billy Fury.

There are more plans for more murals to celebrate the area’s musical heritage. Lets hope that this one sets a good precedent for the paths.

Tom’s baffled by La Smorfia

Enjoyed the food, but there were minus points which, given the stiff competition, confuse me. The pizza was very good; really flavoursome and satisfying. One of the ingredients – anchovy – was very sparse. Admittedly this pizza (Trappola) had quite a few toppings, but the anchovy is obviously important. Still, nice food.

Now here’s my first gripe; you know my thoughts on side salads – they should not be a token gesture. I ordered a mixed salad, and there was nothing awful about it, basically it felt like some assorted leaves from a supermarket packet. They chose to lob in a few olives, pretty cheap ones. Now, I like those, I buy them, but if you’re going to add olives, use proper marinated ones or something. Further, the tomato slices were completely flavourless and out of the fridge. If you go to a restaurant, surely you want it to be as good as, or better than, what you’d do at home? And not just ‘good’, but interesting. I fail to understand how things like this are given such lack of thought. I am fussy, but this is West Hampstead – the competition is out there and I would guess that other locals would be similarly interested in detail.

Strada have done great side salads on most occasions, and you also get a salt mill with either rock or sea salt – again makes a difference. I had no salt at all on my table.

Nice big glass of pleasing house wine. Good but somewhat blank-faced service – certainly didn’t strike me as “ooh – new customer – let’s pull the stops out” – though a free little bruschetta bite was appreciated.

No sweet menu forthcoming so I went home.

187-199 West End Lane report

You’ll recall that on July 2nd there was a “Community Planning Day” to discuss the plans for the site adjacent to the tube lines to the west of West End Lane currently being used by the car wash, limo company, motorbike dealers and retail services such as Peppercorns and Café Bon.

The report back was apparently very much a presentation rather than a second opportunity to discuss the plans. The distributed “newsletter” sketched out a very rough plan for the site, but this is extremely preliminary.

Click for full-size version*

The document included a list of “key themes”. These are based on the public’s contributions to the planning day. They are broadly ideas most people would agree with, but note that the newsletter doesn’t say that these ideas will be implemented, it is merely a synthesis of comments.

Residents will probably hope both that the developers and architects will do more than just bear these comments in mind, and that the council will take them very seriously when assessing the plans – especially in light of the place shaping conversations. Questions were apparently raised in the report back session about the need for public service provision in light of an increase in population, notably in schools and medical services.

The key points so far:

  • Mixed use – preliminary proposal is for a public square (with farmers market potential) bordering West End Lane and retail units near the front of the site. The development will be residential-led, however;
  • Affordable housing should be integrated into the plans;
  • Building height is very likely will increase towards the back of the site as the land slopes down;
  • Green spaces should be integral to the plans and existing trees retained;
  • New parking should be kept to a minimum.

What next?

“The Ballymore and Network Rail Team [the site’s co-owners] now plan to meet with London Borough of Camden’s planning officers and Councillors in the coming weeks or so to discuss the community feedback and work with local stakeholders to form a steering group which we intend to work with during the remainder of the consultation”

I will of course continue to keep you all up-to-date with any developments and if I can get a full PDF of the newsletter, I’ll add the link here.

Place shaping meeting overview

Wednesday’s Place Shaping meeting was very hands-on, so I wasnt able to take copious notes. There’ll be a full report produced by the independent facilitators, which naturally I’ll let you all know about. [update 18/8/11: that can now be found here]

Perhaps the most revealing moment came when the various sub-groups we’d been assigned to came together to share their visual (read “simple”) vision for West Hampstead. Three of the four groups had identical visions. They comprised green spaces, transportation, a vibrant shopping / café culture, and a coherent community. Idealistic? Perhaps a little – and of course this masked nuances – but I was pleasantly surprised at the uniformity of our basic desires for the area.

One hopes that the council (three of the West Hampstead & Fortune Green councillors were present) take note even of just this simple exercise when it comes to approving development plans for spaces coming up. Perhaps pressuring the 187-199 West End Lane developers to give the existing retailers on that space not just first option on new retail units, but first option at a reasonable rent. Perhaps suggesting that when the Travis Perkins site is sold off (that’s all council-owned property), any retail frontage is split into smaller units that would encourage independent traders rather than kept as a large unit that only a chain shop could operate. Just perhaps.

Anyway, despite going to the meeting with a fair degree of cynicism, I left marginally more optimistic. I shall be interested to see whether the synthesis of the discussion reflects my own recollection of how the evening panned out. In the meantime, do please read my original blog on it and add your comments below – I shall try and ensure that they get fed back into the process at some stage.

187-199 West End Lane: what happens next

Some of you may be aware that the triangle of land west of West End Lane between the underground and overground lines is jointly owned by Network Rail and a company called Ballymore Group. This is where Mr Pink’s car wash, the motorbike shop and of course the parade of shops that includes Café Bon, Rock Men’s Salon, Peppercorns and Michael Leonard Estates is. This land has been earmarked for development – most likely for new homes but with some mixed use. John Thompson & Partners are the architects.

If you’re interested in finding out more and perhaps more importantly having some input into the plans then do go along to Emmanuel School on Saturday to find out more. There’ll be a follow-up meeting on July 13th in the evening to report back. Click the images below for larger versions.

Lend me your ears: Shaping West Hampstead’s future

Tonight I’m off to a Camden meeting about the future of West Hampstead no less. Heavens. Perhaps more alarming is that I’m supposed to be representing a different slice of the West Hampstead population from those people who normally get invited to meetings like this. Yep, I’m there on behalf of you lot – the clued-up, keyed-in, mobile-addicted, latte-sipping computer jockeys who make up a sizeable chunk (did someone say majority?) of the local area. Christ, if I was any more down wiv da kidz i’d still be in short trousers.*

We’re going to discuss what we’d like West Hampstead to be like – there’ll be a focus on the West End Lane strip and on the area around the stations (the “interchange” as it’s known) in particular. I’m after your ideas. I’m less interested in the old chestnuts of “I’d like a butcher” and “Why so many hairdressers?” and “If another estate agent moves in I’m going to go all Michael Douglas in Falling Down“.

Here’s the sort of stuff that’s in scope: “enhancing streets and open spaces, improving the shopping offer on our high streets, delivering better homes for people, investing in our community spaces or securing local jobs and training opportunities for local people.” So, yes, that includes the shopping, but remember the council can’t control directly who moves into individual units and, as I explained here, even the issue of change-of-use permission is a thorny one. Other topics are also welcome.

This is all in the context that West Hampstead is going to grow. The timescale for growth is far from clear, but aside from the students moving in when the Blackburn Road development is finished, we should expect 1,000 new homes over the next 10-15 years. So, managing sustainable growth is very important

Please have a think about the topics listed below. Then choose 1-3 of them and leave a comment below with one idea/thought/suggestion for each of your chosen three. Be creative by all means, but also vaguely realistic. Think about the sort of place you’d like West Hampstead to be.

  • Mix of employment spaces
  • New business
  • Variety of shops
  • Look and feel of town centre
  • The interchange
  • Wider links & integration with neighbouring areas
  • Transportation
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Architecture & design
  • Mixed-use development
  • Coordinated development
  • Council-owned sites
  • Open spaces
  • Education, play and young people
  • Cultural services and facilities
  • Voluntary and community sector
  • Comunity safety

Thank you very much. I will of course report back on the meeting.

*You will never catch me wearing short trousers

West Hampstead / Fortune Green Area Action Group

The rain and perhaps Andy Murray on Centre Court meant a slightly below-par turnout for last Monday’s West Hampstead and Fortune Green Area Action Group meeting. On the plus side, when Cllr Keith Moffitt asked whether anyone was attending because they’d read about it on Twitter a few hands actually went up.

The evening kicked off with a presentation from Camden council’s Principal placeshaping officer, Kate Goodman. Kate talked about the Community Investment Programme, which is Camden’s scheme to turn physical assets into cash – i.e., to sell council-owned land and buildings. The focus is obviously on those facilities that are underused or with very high runningh costs. Sixty sites have been identified across the borough, but only two are in the West Hampstead and Fortune Green wards. 156 West End Lane is the large red brick building that includes the District Housing office and Travis Perkins. It has been identified as a possible site for disposal, with housing units the likely end use, although there will be a push to at least retain a ground floor retail presence. The second site is Liddell Road, the light industrial estate between Maygrove Rd and the trainline, which has been mooted as a possible site for the new primary school being discussed for this part of London. An initial report was submitted to the council in December 2010 and the second report will be in July this year.

During the Q&A the audience was reminded – although clearly some weren’t aware at all – that West Hampstead has been identified as an area for intensification in the London plan. The car park between Homebase and Sainsburys has been earmarked as an ideal site for more housing, including affordable housing. A couple of people accepted that even if there was not a lot we as residents could do about some of the development plans, it was important to be better informed about them. Obviously the council can’t track all potential private developments, but there was an agreement to provide a clearer map overview of public plans at least for the next session.

There was also some grumbling that the Thameslink station wasn’t delivering on its promises in terms of an attractive eco-friendly building. It’s true that for “cost reasons”, some of the specifications for the building were changed by Network Rail after the consultation. Cllr Keith Moffitt pointed out that although Network Rail had conducted a very good consultation “A good consultation doesn’t equal a great outcome”. With regard to some of the bigger projects, and the more general intensification, he also pointed out that these projects could take years to amount to anything, especially in today’s constrained funding environment.

West Hampstead is one of Camden’s nine “place shaping” areas, and thus has a Place Plan, which aims to get developers to fit in with the local area. I’m going to a meeting next week about this so will have more details about that then. In the meantime, you can read much more about this initiative here.

Retail
The next item on the agenda was the ever-popular topic of retail. Cllr Gillian Risso-Gill has been investing time on this issue, and ran through some of the changes on West End Lane since the last meeting, which blog readers will be familiar with and mostly boil down to more cafés/hairdressers/kebab shops.

She told us that Caffè Nero had to do battle with Costa for the Atlanta site that the blue coffee chain won. She suggested that delis were closing as a direct result of Tesco, although I find this hard to believe in all cases, as the stock is usually very different. More plausible to me is a relative fall in customers’ disposable income through inflation and economic uncertainty, so less willingness to buy high-end/high-price gourmet items, exacerbated perhaps by the convenience of supermarkets.

Gillian explained why cafés such as Nero no longer needed change-of-use permission to turn a shop into a café. Elsewhere in the country, it has been successfully argued in court that cafés where no food is cooked are essentially shops. You can argue the blatant nonsense of this all you want – it’s now been established in case law and is therefore difficult to overturn. In trying to spin a positive story, Gillian said that at least there was never an empty shop on West End Lane, which is more true since Ladudu tool over the long empty Glo site.

The conversation then turned to Mill Lane. While West End Lane homogenises, Mill Lane seems to be deteriorating as shops such as the Kitchen Stores close, and the general state of many other units is far from appealing.

Following the success of the Christmas market, Gillian is now thinking of setting up an Autumn market as well as repeating the Christmas edition, but needs helpers.

After this ‘state of the union’ address, the questions flowed. There were complaints about rents with one man saying it was now £45,000 for a shop on West End Lane – equivalent to Brent Cross (he said). There were also comments about parking (better parking would encourage more shoppers), delivery vehicles (WHAT is apparently looking into this), lobbying central government for a separate coffee shop classification, and restricting rent rises for smaller shops. Cllr Flick Rea pointed out that central governments of all hues tended to see development as inherently a good thing, and that offering objectors the right to appeal decisions might help (although at a much bigger scale you could imagine this causing some projects to never get off the ground). She also pointed out that the restaurant category A3 had in fact been split into two sub-categories, but it hadn’t made any difference.

The main outcome of the wailing and gnashing of teeth seemed to be that if we could find a way to increase footfall in Mill Lane, then that would be a Good Thing. I’ve suggested separately that having some sort of banner on the railings outside Emmanuel School pointing people to the shops further down might help, as might a rebranding of the retail section of the street focusing on its quirky more artisan shops. Finally, if an organization such as Empty Shops could find ways to tackle the empty or underused shops, that might breathe some life into it. There was much excitement as before about the idea of a regular market, but finding space for it is proving tough – traders want a hard tarmac surface for starters.

Libraries
Then we moved on to the libraries – I think I’ve linked to enough stories about this that most of you should know what’s going on. In a nutshell, West Hampstead library won’t close but will see its hours cut – as will all other libraries. Camden will, however, cease provision of library services at Belsize, Hampstead and Chalk Farm libraries and their future remains uncertain.

Conversation
Finally, there was a brief presentation of Camden’s newest online venture We Are Camden. This externally funded online service is being billed as a way to carry on the sorts of conversations that residents have at these local meetings. It’s in its infancy and during the first phase the idea is that it’s a way for Camden to talk to residents. Phase 2, which sounds much more valuable, will enable groups such as residents associations to set up their own presence.

What’s new on the Overground?

Are you a regular Overground user? If so, then this guest post by Ed Fordham is for you. Ed sits on the London Overground Passenger Board – the user group that discusses issues relating to the Overground network and in particular the North London Line:

“Being a frequent user of one part of the line, I tend to confine myself to taking a close interest in the stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak.  There are other user groups for the other bits (Barking-Gospel Oak, West London etc), but the six rail stations between Willesden Junction and Gospel Oak can be a bit left out. So I thought I would report back on what had occurred at the last meeting on 15th June – which felt exceptionally positive.

Punctuality
Overall the Overground network achieved 95% punctuality over the past 12 months, making it one of the most punctual services in the UK. This is based on arrival time at the end destination, rather than at intermediate stations – and given some of the routes are so long and have so many stations, there are variations. The North London Line section of the network was only 92%, and steps are being taken to try and tighten up on that.

Olympics
It is expected that this service – going through residential areas will be heavily used during the Olympics, so there will be 70 additional staff and some additional services for parts of the line. An Olympic and Paralympic timetable will be out in the next week or so.

Phase 3 refurbishments
As you may have seen over the last 18 months, there havebeen a host of small scale station improvements ranging from new signs and a general paint job to the more comprehensive redecoration at Hampstead Heath station (this was part of the Art on the Overground project).

There is now a chance to have a more substantive conversation about issues and improvements in the medium and longer term and it would be good to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Issues that have been mentioned include:

  • Better recycling facilities generally, especially for free early morning papers (on trains as well as platforms?)
  • Additional shelters or canopies at Brondesbury station
  • A lift at Hampstead Heath station – especially given access to the hospital
  • Taking down the excessive anti-vandalism measures at Finchley Road and Frognal
  • A cashpoint to be installed at Brondesbury Park station

Getting the community involved
One specific initiative has been to get the community working with London Overground to introduce flower boxes and flower beds at other stations and it strikes me that this would be very possible at Kensal Rise, West Hampstead and Hampstead Heath stations in particular. If any local residents, amenity groups or traders would like to get involved with this please do get in touch and I can help facilitate the conversation asap. Homerton Station has been very successful at this.”

Thanks Ed! Ed sends out an e-mail update every 2–3 months or so on these issues, so any local residents, users or traders on or near the Overground Line should contact him on . He tends to concentrate on the six stations between Kensal Rise and Hampstead Heath.

Useful links
LOROL – London Overground Rail Operations Ltd
TFL and Overground
Passenger Focus

Tots and Toast at LoveFood

Alicia, a local mum, is organising a “Tots and Toast” social morning for local parents and carers with tots in tow at LoveFood on Monday mornings. The aim is to provide parents with a relaxed, grown-up but child friendly place to relax and have a proper coffee.

There’ll be an area for parents to sit and chat, and to make toast for themselves and their kids. The café is throwing in the toast and condiments for free and Alicia’s working on a monthly door prize and regular guest speakers.

For more information on the event, suggestions for speakers or topics, or if you want to volunteer as a speaker, then please contact Alicia at .

The mornings will start on Monday 20th June and run from 9:30 to 11am. All parents and carers welcome.

Do WHAT now?

If you’re interested in all things West Hampstead – and lets face it, if you’re not then you may be on the wrong blog – perhaps you should consider joining WHAT. What? Yes, WHAT. The jokes are almost endless*

WHAT stands for West Hampstead Amenities and Transport and has been going for more than 30 years as a non-political community group that cares about local issues and ensures residents have a voice in local affairs through lobbying, meetings etc. As far as I know, it’s the most prominent and wide-reaching of the various local community groups. Like all such organisations, it does of course need fresh blood – not least to ensure that it continues to reflect the local population’s thoughts and ideas.

So, if you want to get involved and join WHAT, then you can find a membership form right here.

*that’s the end of the jokes

West Hampstead Transition Town kicks off

On Monday evening, the Transition Town West Hampstead initiative kicked off. Sadly I couldn’t make, it but guest reporter Suzie was on hand to tell us more:

It was a good turn out for the inaugural West Hampstead TT meeting. Around 30 people gathered at St James’ Church to find out what the Transition Town movement was all about.

George Latham and nettle pesto canapés

Having been welcomed with some homemade and locally foraged nettle pesto (quite yummy, as it happens!) and elderflower cordial, West Hamsptead resident David Abrahams kicked off proceedings. He had been impressed, he said, by what our neighbours at Transition Belsize and Transition Kensal 2 Kilburn had achieved over a short period of time, and wanted to replicate this in West Hampstead.

David Abrahams

The evening started with A Farm for the Future, a film that tells the story of wildlife filmmaker, Rebecca Hoskin, who returned to Devon to run her family farm. She explains how heavily modern farming relies on oil – from the diesel needed to run the planting and harvesting machinery, to the oil-based fungicides, pesticides and insecticides used in growing the crops. As she puts it: “All food production is dripping in oil”.

The film went on to explain that with world oil reserves diminishing, energy prices on the rise, and a farming community in decline (there are only 150,000 farmers left whereas there used to be 10 times as many), the UK – a net importer of food – is in a precarious position to feed its own growing population.

So what’s the answer? The core concept of the Transition Town movement is building local resilience to a future world without oil, and finding “local solutions to global problems”. It aims to do this by sharing knowledge within local communities; by re-learning lost skills, such as foraging for food (apparently Hampstead Heath is a rich resource!) and sewing; and developing new ones, such as creating cycle groups and learning how to make your home more energy efficient.

Camden’s former ‘eco champion’ Alexis Rowell talking to the group

It’s also about teaching and inspiring people, and helping them feel safe and happy by encouraging residents to get to know their neighbours and breaking down feelings of isolation. Did you know that 48% of Camden residents live alone?

George Latham, from the Kensal 2 Kilburn group, shared a few examples of what can be achieved. He told us how it had set up a community allotment on a Brent Partnership housing estate (which has since doubled in size), and created “abundance groups” – volunteers that collect fruit from local residents’ gardens that would otherwise have been wasted. In fact, last year a staggering two tonnes of fruit went to local schools! It also shared other skills such as crocheting, apple pressing, and jam, chutney and bread making. A big success was their local harvest festival, which drew 200 people and ended up with everyone sitting next to their neighbours and sharing a ‘festival stew’.

Transition West Hampstead can be anything we want it to be and it’s up to Transition members to follow their passion, whether it be energy, sustainable transport and food production, or wellbeing and the creative arts. Last night the enthusiasm was palpable and there was a sense of momentum, but the next step is ours. The key thing is that it’s enjoyable. Remember: “If it ain’t fun, it ain’t sustainable!

If you’d like to find out more about Transition West Hampstead, or would like to get involved, please email: . Or read more about the wider transition network.

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.

WHAT survey

Some of you will and some of you won’t have heard of WHAT. WHAT stands for West Hampstead Amenities & Transport. It’s a campaign group that’s been around a long time and has been very active in issues such as the West Hampstead interchange project that was a credible proposal some years ago.

Anyhoo…, it’s carrying out a short survey but doesn’t have such good access to the younger population in the area. Which is where I come in.

It’s looking for people who are 25–40 and who live (this bit’s important) in either the West Hampstead or Fortune Green wards. Here’s a map if you’re not sure which ward you live in.

It’s a survey about local community facilities – doesn’t matter whether you use them or not, they’re interested in everyone’s views, and also what you might use if it was available. It will take about 10–15 minutes to fill in. There’s a Word doc. and an Excel sheet to complete, which I can mail you.

If you’d like to participate, please drop me a mail (link is top right) or DM me on Twitter with your e-mail address. WHAT is ideally looking for a mix of longer-standing and recently arrived residents, so let me know how long you’ve lived here too, please. I’ll mail out the questionnaires over the next day or two.

Thank you very much

Will Ladudu do do it?

Vietnamese café/restaurant Ladudu opened today on West End Lane. I popped in at lunchtime to see what was on offer and was given a very friendly greeting. As some readers might know, it has a problem with gas for cooking – namely there wasn’t any being piped in. Previous occupant Glo clearly wasn’t that fussed about using hobs.

Anyway, it’s going to be mid-late May before chef Teresa is cooking on gas according to her front-of-house partner Tristan. Until then, Ladudu is serving from its appetisers menu – 10 “tasty nibbles” including spring rolls, salads and betel beef rolls. I tried a couple of things, both were good although I think it’s probably fair to give a place a few days to settle in before really judging the food! Mains, once they come online after the gas is installed, are all under £8. Starters all under £5.50.

The decor is attractive with thick wooden tables and some comfy chairs in a lounge area. There are some larger sharing tables too, but overall it has a clean modern yet warm feel.

For the moment, Ladudu is open 7am to 6pm weekdays and 10am to 6pm weekends. It will close at 11pm once it’s fully operational. I understand from Tristan that they fancy their chances against Starbucks and Costa for the commuter coffee business. That may be a tall (skinny) order, given how wedded people can get to their coffee, but why not give it a try and support a local business run by people who actually live here.

No doubt we’ll be hearing more about it over the coming weeks, but for now, Good Luck.

How Gung-Ho were we about long-standing local Chinese?

For the first #whampreview of 2011 we decided to check out West Hampstead’s Gung-Ho. Despite having been in the area as long as most locals can remember, a surprising number of people had never heard of it.

Tucked up the forgotten bit of West End Lane, just before it joins the Finchley Road, Gung-Ho claims to serve Szechuan food although to the untrained eye, it’s a reasonably standard menu. There is also a “fusion” section, which mercifully means other south-east Asian dishes and not some awful attempt to marry completely different cuisines.

We were shown through to a table at the back replete with the obligatory lazy Susan. I rather like Gung-Ho’s decor. It’s nicely lit, clean and although quite a large place, there are enough partitions that you never feel like you’re in a large place.

The challenge of reviewing places with extensive menus is that you can only ever review a small selection of what’s on offer. We ordered a wide range of starters having not done much damage to the two small bowls of pickled cabbage that we got as soon as we arrived. Har gau and beef dumplings were hits, Nicky said the tempura was light, while Chris surprised himself, “I consider myself a carnivore, but that tofu was good”. We also had squid two ways and pretty quickly demolished the lot .

Main courses came promptly – portions are not overwhelming but the manager recommended we only needed four portions of rice between the eight of us. The Malaysian rendang (from the fusion menu) was tasty but Hazel and I agreed it lacked the depth of flavour of the best rendangs. Mark and Debbie said they were “big fans” of the prawn curry, while Nicky heaped praise on the seabass. SJ liked her sea-salt chicken. There was consistent support for the lamb in honey, which never seemed to move far from Simon‘s reach. Perhaps the only disappointing dish was the “uninspiring” mixed vegetables.

Amid some scepticism, we ordered three of the sweet bean paste pancakes, which I really like (but have had before there, so it wasn’t quite such a shot in the dark). Together with three bottles of white wine, the bill came to £25 each including service. Talking of service, I rather like the waiters at Gung-Ho. They are very friendly and not too pushy. We were a bit tucked out of the way, so if we actually wanted something we were reliant on them coming to check, but I think our service mark is on the low side compared to other reviews.

So, overall, Gung-Ho probably won’t blow your mind or your palate, but for reliable friendly Chinese food in a nice setting it’s the best local offering. It also does take-out.

Ratings
Food 6.9
Service 7