London is perhaps one of the most diverse and entertaining cities in the world. Besides being famous for its palaces, museums, parks and shopping areas it also has many street markets, Portobello Road being one of the newer ones. Originally a Victorian street, lined with shops and market stalls selling fresh produce and everyday items to the residents of Paddington and Notting Hill, the Victorian buildings have been colourfully painted adding to the streets bohemian lifestyle.
By the end of the WW2 Rag and Bone men were selling secondhand goods from makeshift stalls. The result today is a varied mix of bric-a-brac and antiques, vintage styles and new clothes, fresh food and veg stalls, and pubs and restaurants all jostling for space along this lively road. I’ve visited Portobello Market many times and I’ve noticed subtle changes. Since 1950 Portobello Road has inspired and featured in films, songs and literature, the dynamic cosmopolitan vibe of this street appeals to artists of every kind. And after the 1999 film Notting Hill it became a must see destination. Since then Portobello Road seems to be full of tourists and I think has lost a little of its charm. Perhaps it’s the incessant clicking of cameras.
Saturday is the day for antiques and bric-a-brac,items vary from old English silver to 1920s cricket bats. All of it is overpriced. Once upon a time one could barter with stall holders and get a bargain, but since its latest rise to fame, dealers have turned their noses up at an honest bid. Times are changing though, maybe its the recession, but once again one can haggle over the price without feeling you have said something rude.
Halfway down the road the antiques shops petter out and make way for new and vintage clothing shops, punctuated by food stands, fruit and veg stalls and the Salvation Army. Something of the old streets charm returns with the smell of Jamaican chicken, Spanish tangerines and Belgian waffles. As the Salvation Army band starts playing, I dive into one of the local shops free of tourists and buy a hat, it’s a woolly hat that’s been blinged and then blinged some more. Some of the shops have closed down, a sign of the times, and some high street shops have moved in. I’m hoping not many more, the beauty of Portobello Road is its individuality.
I met up with some friends at Portobello Market and one of them suggested a trip to Julies Restaurant, a fifteen minute walk from Portbello Road. Opened in 1969 it is often described as the rock chick of the restaurant world. What that means, I have no idea. What I do know is that the ultra cool London set frequent it and my friend has seen several big stars eating there while she’s been sipping her coffee. I’m not a star spotter, it holds no interest for me, against my better judgement I gave the Jamaican chicken a skip and headed to Julies restaurant. My other experiences of ‘in’ restaurants have never been good, snooty waiters, overpriced overrated food and small portions, so I approached Julies in a very biased frame of mind.
I was pleasantly surprised when we arrived. Julies is out of the way, tucked into a quiet residential area, it looks inviting. There were a couple of private functions on, I said we only wanted coffee and maybe some food. I wasn’t committing myself to anything. The waiter was very pleasant, no trace of snootiness, and very attentive without grovelling, he showed us to a table in the bar area which he laid with a crisp white cloth in case we decided to have food. The warm smell of mulled wine filled the air so we forgot the coffee and order a glass each, followed by roasted cauliflower soup and lobster bisque. It has always been a habit between me and my sister to order two different dishes and swap halfway through, much to the horror of restaurant staff.
The soup was delicious and plentiful, sweet and creamy and delicately seasoned with herbs. Not so much to drown the taste of the roasted cauliflower but enough to tantalise my taste buds. I wondered which combination of herbs could make me want to stick my face in the bowl and lick it clean. The lobster bisque was also divine. I restrained myself and didn’t lick the bowl. The waiter may have seen dishes flying across the table as we swapped food, but he gave no sign that he had noticed. We followed up with a coffee and the waiter, ever attentive, seemed to magically appear when I turned my head. The price was possibly a bit above average, even for London, around £7 to £8 for the soups, £6.50 for the mulled wine and £2.50 for the coffees as well as a service charge. In this case I think it was worth it, not for the fact that it is the ‘in’ restaurant but because the service and food were that good.
Julies bar is certainly a place you can relax and have a quiet coffee, a remarkable thing in London. The restaurant itself is a mix of private rooms and dining areas decorated in different styles and the staff take this privacy seriously, I can understand why the rich and famous enjoy meals here, they have a private entrance so as to avoid paparazzi. My friend told me to take a look at the decor in the other rooms, it was amazing, but there was a private function on. A waitress very politely but firmly asked if I need any help before I got anywhere near the other dining areas. She pointed out the toilets and made it very clear, in her polite way, that this was as far as I was going. I wandered back to the table in our quirky little bar area, I couldn’t complain, we had the bar to ourselves and our own personal waiter to attend our every need while we gossiped away the afternoon.