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Welcome to the Notting Hill revolution: The new wave of restaurants making west London cool again

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 23/11/2022 David Ellis

Chris D’Sylva, the man behind the Notting Hill Fish Shop and now new bistro Dorian, is remembering what it was about W11 that drew him to the area in the first place.

“Look, back in the 2000s, on any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday night, I could walk down the road and pop into all these house parties without knowing anyone,” he says with a chuckle. “It was this great, open, useful area to be in.” He takes an uncharacteristic pause. “And then 2008 happened, all this banker money moved in, which made it unaffordable for the kids to come. So there was this migration of youth and creativity from west to east.”

Suddenly going out in west London meant being met by one old school trattoria after another; anyone after a good time was long gone — to Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and beyond (perhaps excluding the celebrity locals, said to include Harry Styles and Keira Knightley).

“I grew up in south, went to school in the north, misbehaved in my twenties in the east and the west… well, I admired the west,” says chef Jackson Boxer. “But I felt there wasn’t anywhere where you wouldn’t get anything very traditional, or conservative.”

It was this idea of conservatism — what you might call stagnation — that had long kept London’s best restaurateurs at bay. But lately things have begun to change. Boxer ended up opening his Kensington Park Road seafood restaurant Orasay (31 Kensington Park Road, W11, orasay.london) “sort of by chance”, he says, but proved ahead of the curve by launching pre-pandemic. “I suddenly found I was surrounded by all these fantastic, dynamic musicians and artists, and by a fiercely loyal neighbourhood,” Boxer remembers. “And I thought well, if Hackney can have hundreds of these creative places to eat, Notting Hill could support at least one or two.”

Boxer’s confidence proved prescient. While he joined a relatively small set of forward-looking, first rate places — “there was the Ledbury, of course, Clare Smyth opened Core, and then there was Emily [Roux] atCaractère and soon Gold came” — now he finds himself in the city’s hottest neighbourhood. In the past year alone, there has been a slew of openings: here are some of the best.

Talk of the town

Caia (Press handout) © Provided by Evening Standard Caia (Press handout)

Though Golborne Road is sometimes seen to have an imbalance of shabby and chic — with accusations that it’s more grim than glam — Caia (46 Golborne Road, W10, caia.london) is firmly on the right side of that line. It calls itself a wine bar, which is false modesty: come for the cooking, which is done without exception over fire. Fortunately head chef Jessica Donovan, formerly of the Pem, has the good sense to know that smoke needs subtlety: things are charred, not cremated, and to excellent effect: not such a surprise our critic Jimi Famurewa gave it five stars a few weeks ago. The racket they make about their sound-system is mostly white noise, so don’t worry about it being clubby. Not far away is the much-hyped modern British Straker’s (91 Golborne Road, W10, strakers.london), run by TikTok chef Thomas Straker; Jimi again has the measure of it.

A few streets over and Chris D’Sylva coyly insists he only opened his bistro Dorian (105-107 Talbot Road, W11, dorianrestaurant.com) in order to nab the basement space as storage for his wildly successful Fish Shop. Perhaps — though installing Max Coen, formerly of two-Michelin-starred Ikoyi and Kitchen Table, suggests otherwise. In a room of white marble, the clamour of a clattering kitchen is the only quibble: dishes of sweetbreads and lobster tails and great bricks of blushing beef are matched for quality only by a wine list where some fearsome bottles lie. “This is one for the locals,” D’Sylva says. “They know what’s opportunistic and corporate; they’re not idiots, they won’t stand for anything inauthentic.”

Zephyr (Press handout) © Provided by Evening Standard Zephyr (Press handout)

Inauthenticity is one word that might be used for allegedly-Greek Zephyr (100 Portobello Road, W11, zephyr.london), which is owned by Peruvian specialists the Pachamama Group. Still, it hasn’t held the sleek place back so far, which heaves every night with a well-heeled, fashionable crowd who come from all over: they’re here for red prawns and octopus and ouzo sorbet, and what is so obviously a vibe. It offers an alternative, in feeling rather than food, to nearby and still popular Gold (95-97 Portobello Road, W11, goldnottinghill.com).

Though perhaps less pretty than Zephyr, there’s more modern Mediterranean at the quietly delightful Kuro Eatery (5 Hillgate Street, W8, kuro-london.com). It does what might be called Italo-Japanese cooking: riffs of carbonara but also langoustines cooked up with both cumin and coriander. A sense of understatement runs through the entire place; peak beneath this and get stuck in. This ever-lengthening run of new openings has continued this month with Akub (27 Uxbridge Street, W8, akub-restaurant.com), a modern Palestinian spot that marks the debut for Fadi Kattan, said to be a big deal in Bethlehem. “The area has a beautiful vibe and the restaurants, shops and bars around us have a real sense of community,” Kattan told the Standard. “I’ve even found a Syrian barbers! Which feels very reflective of the London cosmopolitan feel I was seeking out.”

Perfect pubs

The Pelican (Press handout) © Provided by Evening Standard The Pelican (Press handout)

“I’ve never lived somewhere with such a strong sense of community,” says James Gummer, which may explain why the pub he co-owns, The Pelican (45 All Saints Road, W11, thepelicanw11.com), has swiftly become the area’s go-to for hoards of locals. The place is a pub proper — pints, pork scratchings and all — but the pale wood and pinkish plaster has gathered a stylish set and the place crackles with chatter. One time Brawn chef Owen Kenworthy’s menu has its feet firmly planted in old favourites — beef and Guinness pie, ham hock with egg mayonnaise — which is true too at the Walmer Castle (58 Ledbury Road, W11, walmercastlenottinghill.co.uk). Before his Qatari entanglement, David Beckham owned the place with pal Guy Ritchie, who’s handed it over to his Punch Bowl partner, Piers Adams. Now the Castle has been done it over as a Scottish jobbie, or what they call a Spey Shack. Perhaps more restaurant than pub, dishes include a shepherd’s pie, fish n’ chips and sausage and mash; it’s not for those looking to be challenged, although ploughing through the 400 whiskies here might prove to be one.

Livelier is the Princess Royal (47 Hereford Road, W2, cubitthouse.co.uk), where Ben Tish has moulded a menu of Mediterranean cooking done with British ingredients, his long-honed strong suit. Come in the summer, take to the garden and order from the raw bar; for now curl up with great roasted fish, bone marrow sides, and wine by the goblet.

Old friends are in good shape, too: while The Cow (89 Westbourne Park Road, W2, thecowlondon.com) had wandered astray after Tom Conran’s heyday, it now is as good as ever and probably a little cheaper too, perhaps as Kate Moss and Macca call in with less frequency. A mixed blessing. Elsewhere, the Sun in Splendour (7 Portobello Road, W11, suninsplendourpub.co.uk) remains a luminous spot for drinks.

Keep it casual

Miznon (Press handout) © Provided by Evening Standard Miznon (Press handout)

Even if the curse of Richard Curtis — Richard Curse-it? — means W11 will long be tied to upmarket types (and true, Clare Smyth’s three-Michelin-starred Core and Brett Graham’s Ledbury hold the high-end up), more relaxed spots are jostling for attention, too. Look out for agave-bar Viajante87 (87 Notting Hill Gate, W11, viajantebar.com), from the gang behind Mexican-Japanese Los Mochis. Owner Markus Thesleff has Panos Kanatsoulis looking over the drinks; after his reign at the internationally-acclaimed Clumsies, Kanatsoulis is known colloquially as Greece’s best bartender. Perhaps he will become London’s best, too.

Elsewhere Miznon, the madcap pita restaurant from Tel Aviv, has found huge success in Soho for its eccentric flatbreads. The Notting Hill outpost (14 Elgin Crescent, W11, miznon.co.uk) recently opened with pitas stuffed with fish and chips, cottage pie, and an all-day English breakfast. What should probably be illegal in reality has enormous appeal; bonkers and batshit, but brilliant nevertheless. Strange? Yes. But welcome to London’s new wild west.

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