Lucy Douglas and Jenny Southan discover antique treasures, a pint-sized gin distillery and a potted history of packaging in West London.
Notting Hill is a shopper’s paradise, with all kinds of clothing, trinkets and culinary delicacies on offer at the chic boutiques and rough-and-ready market stalls (open daily from 9am, except Sundays) that line the streets. Begin at the top of Portobello Road after taking exit three from Notting Hill Gate tube station. You’ll walk along Pembridge Road, which is full of vintage stores selling classic designer pieces and a fair few outlets offering British paraphernalia to tourists. Look out for George Orwell’s house at number 22.
It’s the antique stores at this end of Portobello that are the real draw. At number 82, Henry Gregory Antiques (henrygregoryantiques.com) has a fascinating collection of sporting equipment through the ages and charming old trunks and suitcases. You could pick up an oar used by Oxbridge rowers in the 1900s, yesteryear Louis Vuitton luggage or old-school hip flasks and cigar boxes.
Across the road at 87 is the London Antique Clock Centre (clockcentre.com), selling all manner of timepieces from grandfather clocks to vintage pocket watches – bag yourself a kitsch Blackforest cuckoo clock, or a classic Cartier travel clock. Both stores open daily. If you’re in town on a Saturday, the market’s bric-a-brac and grocery stalls are joined by dozens of vintage dealers to form one of the largest antiques markets in the world.
Raoul’s Restaurant and bar
From E&O for high-end pan-Asian cuisine and Osteria Basilico for posh-yet-rustic Italian fare, to takeaway falafels from the market and Michelin-star cooking at the Ledbury, it is hard to choose where to eat around here. But a reliable bet is Raoul’s. Located two minutes from the crowds of Portobello, this classy eatery is open for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner between 8.30am and 11pm daily (9am-7pm Sunday) so you can pop by any time. The interior is reminiscent of a Scandinavian diner, with caramel-coloured banquettes, pine tables and wooden lampshades, while the clientele it attracts is a charming blend of unassuming celebrities, bespectacled parents with well-dressed kids, chic youths and iPad-toting singletons. There is also the option of sitting outside.
When it comes to food, a tempting array of dishes is on offer. Brekkie includes frittata, eggs florentine and old-school grilled kippers, while lunch could be a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel, juicy burger or crab and chilli linguni, depending on your appetite. During the week, there is a set menu of two or three courses for £12.95/£15.50. Raoul’s, 105-107 Talbot Road; tel +44 (0)20 7229 2400; raoulsgourmet.com
Back down in the market is the Portobello Star bar at number 171, where you’ll find one of London’s smallest museums and gin distilleries tucked away. The street-level cocktail bar is a favourite among locals but ask to pop upstairs to the Ginstitute, which opened last winter, and you will discover two glass cabinets filled with cocktail ephemera – from an antique bottle of Boker’s bitters (there are only two in the world and a few drops can be sampled as part of the £50 brandy crusta) to a rare gin stove that was used to heat punch. Dozens of dusty bottles line the shelves, alongside Victorian mixology books.
On the second floor is the Still Room, where for £100 you can book a two-hour tutored tasting and blending session, and even leave with your own 70cl bottle (call back and they will recreate your libation based on your recipe). If you don’t have time, buy a bottle of Portobello London dry gin (£24), distilled in a copper pot with more than 20 single botanicals. Entry is free. Visit portobellostarbar.co.uk
Head north up Portobello Road and turn left on to Blenheim Crescent, a bookworm’s dream. Despite the efforts of the local community, the Travel Bookshop at 13-15b that inspired the 1999 movie Notting Hill closed last year. The sign remains and, happily, one half of the property was transformed into the Notting Hill Bookshop (thenottinghillbookshop.com), a thriving store that still sells an extensive range of travel literature, along with fiction and non-fiction.
Across the road at number 4, Books for Cooks (booksforcooks.com) is stacked floor-to-ceiling with tomes on every imaginable cuisine. It also has a tiny kitchen in which chefs bring recipes to life as part of a daily changing menu. Around the corner at 21 Kensington Park Road is Lutyens and Rubinstein (lutyensrubinstein.co.uk), another independent book emporium, stocking numerous genres as well as crockery, art and locally produced jams. Look out for its regular events, too. Stores open daily; Books for Cooks closed Mondays.
Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising
Return to Portobello Road, turn left on to Colville Terrace, then take a right and a left on to Colville Mews. You might not notice the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising immediately, but it is worth seeking out as it takes you on a sociological journey through 19th- and 20th-century Britain through packets and wrappers.
It all started in 1963 when founder Robert Opie, then aged 16, saved his very first Munchies wrapper in a bid to record consumer culture in the UK. The collection now numbers more than 12,000 items and covers everything from food, fashion, toys and technology to travel, design and publishing, some dating as far back as the 1830s.
Highlights include a collection of memorabilia honouring Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – particularly interesting given the abundance of souvenirs produced this year for Elizabeth II – and the exhibition of early Guinness adverts, which even in the 1930s were some of the most creative campaigns around. Open Tues-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm; entry is £6.50; museumofbrands.com