Portobello Road: the heart of Notting Hill

My kind of place Sarah Anderson basks in the cosy, neighbourhood feel of this enchanting market street.

A market on Portobello Road in Notting Hill, London.
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To the average tourist, Portobello Road on a Saturday might seem like mayhem. But it's worth persisting through the crowds since, hidden among the tourist paraphernalia, you can find hidden gems. The antiques market, which became famous after the Second World War, still flourishes. There are stalls selling everything from jewellery to books and maps and pens to scientific instruments, teddy bears and Beatles memorabilia. There are fewer bargains than there used to be, but there is always a chance that you might find that elusive first edition. I have lived just off Portobello Road for nearly 30 years. And I love it; there is a real neighbourhood feeling. During the week it is the fruit and vegetable stalls that dominate - although with higher rents and adjacent supermarkets, life has become increasingly hard for the traders.

The Portobello Hotel (www.portobello-hotel.co.uk; 0044 20 7727 2777) is delightfully eccentric. There are only 24 rooms but each has its own style, from colonial to Japanese or Moroccan. It has always been associated with musicians, models and film stars, including Mick Jagger, Kate Moss and Johnny Depp. Double rooms start from US$344 (Dh1,263), including continental breakfast. Slightly further away in Bayswater - but very close to Hyde Park and the Lancaster Gate Tube station - is the London Elizabeth Hotel (www.londonelizabethhotel.com; 0044 20 7402 6641), where doubles start from $255 (Dh936), including breakfast.

Once you've found yourself somewhere to stay - if it's out of the area, the local Tube stations are Notting Hill Gate and Ladbroke Grove - you could start by walking around the neighbourhood. There are more communal gardens here than anywhere else in London. You need to be a resident to use them, but they do give an overall feeling of greenery and lushness. The surrounding streets have fine-looking houses and are lined with trees that are laden with blossoms in March and April.

There are myriad places to hang out and have a coffee. The Grocer on Elgin Crescent, where discerning locals often go, also sells ready-made meals. If your preference is coffee on a sofa with Wi-Fi, try the Kitchen and Pantry, also on Elgin. Golborne Road at the northern end of Portobello Road is renowned for its Portuguese cafes - try the Lisboa at number 57 for its delicious cakes. Books for Cooks at 4 Blenheim Crescent (0044 20 7221 1992) serves lunch from Tuesdays to Saturdays. The menu changes daily with recipes taken from one of their thousands of cookery books. They do not take reservations so it is first come first served, but at $7.50 (Dh28) for two courses and $11.50 (Dh42) for three courses it is excellent value.

E&O at 14 Blenheim Crescent (0044 20 7229 5454) has delicious pan-Asian fusion food. The warm aubergine and coriander salad ($14.50; Dh53) is a particular favourite of mine but their sushi, sashimi and tempura are all worth trying. A trendy bar in the front serves exotic cocktails. Osteria Basilico at 29 Kensington Park Road (0044 20 7727 9372) is one of the longest-established Italian restaurants in the area. Main courses, which include char-grilled squid with fresh chilli and rocket salad, range from $25-35 (Dh92-130). Both restaurants attract locals as well as people from out of the area.

The area is well known for its bookshops. The Travel Bookshop on Blenheim Crescent (0044 20 7229 5260) which has been in the area since 1981, became famous for being the inspiration behind the film Notting Hill. Richard Curtis, who wrote the film, lived round the corner and came into the shop one day in the mid-nineties saying that he was thinking of writing a film set in a bookshop. The resulting film starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts made Notting Hill a must-see location for many visitors. The famous blue door was sold to Japan but its black replacement is at 280 Westbourne Park Road, W11 1EH. Around the corner from the Travel Bookshop, at 21 Kensington Park Road, is Lutyens and Rubenstein (0044 20 7229 1010), a new literary bookshop that opened just before last Christmas. There is also an excellent Oxfam bookshop at 170 Portobello Road that sells high-grade second-hand books.

Second-hand and vintage clothes are on sale on Fridays and Saturdays under the Westway - the motorway extension into central London from the west. This concrete elevation has inspired many writers and artists, including JG Ballard, Will Self, Banksy and Martin Amis, and a mosaic was recently unveiled in recognition of the many Spanish people who fled here from Franco's dictatorship, commemorating those who died fighting Fascism in the Spanish Civil War. During the week the independent shops in Portobello Green, which is also under the Westway, sell everything from designer clothes to herbs.

The Electric Cinema at 191 Portobello Road (004420 7229 8688; www.the-electric.co.uk) claims to be the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in England. Several years ago it was completely revamped and now has to be the most comfortable cinema I've ever been to. The leather seats have their own footstools and there is a bar at the back serving food and drink. The fascinating Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising (www.museumofbrands.com, 0044 20 7908 0880) on Lonsdale Road has more than 10,000 consumer goods and promotional images collected by the social historian Robert Opie. The display cases are stacked with objects and ephemera documenting our consumer history over the past 200 years. Open from Tuesday to Sunday, admission is $9 (Dh33).

The stalls selling tourist souvenirs, and pickpockets who unfortunately take advantage of unsuspecting people in crowded places. travel@thenational.ae