Portobello’s food scene
What was I going to expect? After my chat with a local shop owner 2 weeks ago I was slightly apprehensive. She was packing up her shop as the area and visitors had changed. ‘It’s the fault of the Olympic Games and the internet. We get the wrong type of tourists here now. Souvenir tourists. My clients used to be famous people and the Royals. All gone! Not worth me running a shop anymore, so I’m going’.
I was running out of time that day, so I didn’t have enough time to explore the rest of Portobello Road so opted for a quick lunch at Ottolenghi’s restaurant Nopi in Coventry garden. As I had to be in the area quite a few times in the next couple of weeks to, I would build in extra time to uncover the secrets of Portobello Road on my future visits. Two weeks later, my next trip to Portobello Road was due. I couldn’t believe it, but my schedule was pretty packed again. So the initial idea to arrive at Portobello road early went entirely down the drain. It didn’t help that I got lost and ended up moving away from Portobello Road. Not a wasted time as I came across a lot of great foodie places, so more on my bucket list to do!
The reason for going to Portobello road so often during that period wasn’t actually food-related. I was getting married soon and didn’t want a regular wedding dress, but something different. So I decided on a quirky coat and dress from Beatrice von Tresckow instead. When I finally arrived just after 2 pm, I was pretty peckish. Wondering along Portobello road last time I had spotted a delightful Sicilian cafe and thought this would be perfect for a small snack. When I stuck my head through the door, all I could see were the main courses and big slices of pizza. Not as refined as my favourite Sicilian in Cambridge Aromi Cafe.
My stomach was rumbling, so I really needed to get something to eat. On my hunt for food, I spotted ‘the Artisan Baker’ and another cafe selling chocolates, wine and coffee. They all looked very tempting, but the food, unfortunately not! All of a sudden, I stumbled across my favourite food; grazing food. A fantastic line up of Tapas was drawing me into this small bar on Portobello Road! Pix was definitely the place to still my hunger.
This excellent display of Tapas or as they call it Pintxos in San Sebastian was ‘smiling’ at me. My biggest problem was which ones to choose! Pix is a funky bar with a cool interior design. It’s a new chain of restaurants started by a Brit, who lived for many years in Spain and until recently in Cambridgeshire. He is looking to expand their popular concept, and I’m secretly hoping they’re spreading their wings to Cambridge too. Pix offers a selection of 35 Tapas on a rotating basis. There will be at least 15 types of Tapas on the bar to choose from daily. My favourite Tapas were Foie gras and Brie, tangy Manchego and the broad bean and mozzarella.
If you are looking for a quieter space to eat and drink here, then you can ‘hide’ in one of the speakeasy rooms downstairs. These rooms are inspired by the church next door. You can lock yourself away, and nobody will disturb you. The drinks are served through a small hatch, just like in the church when you make a confession.
It was not easy to break away from the Tapas at Pix and my lively conversation with Tom, the manager, but foodie Portobello Road was waiting. Meandering my way through Portobello Road, I soon came across the type of foodie shops I had hoped to find. It wasn’t difficult to miss the Spice Shop as the strong smell of spices drew me in. It’s a tiny shop, which is jam-packed with small bags of spices from all over the globe. My eye caught the mix of chakalaka. It’s one of my favourite South African ways of preparing carrots. I wondered why it was there. The owners, who started with a small stall on Portobello Market are German. If wouldn’t surprise me, that they have strong ties with South Africa. When you visit this shop, don’t forget to check out the exciting selection of salt!
Just around the corner, I spotted the Biscuiteers. It’s a lovely brightly coloured shop with pretty biscuits and beautifully decorated cakes. They started this venture in 2013, and they are expanding already!
Books for Cooks was my next stop. I was intrigued by this foodie emporium. I was wondering if it was profitable dedicating a shop solely to cookery books? Apparently, it is, according to the shop owner. People love to browse cookery books. Their book selection isn’t just the talk of the town, but their cafe and food demos too. ‘The cheapest lunch in the area’ according to the friendly lady in the shop. A pity, but there was no demo on the day of my visit. Only on Thursday’s so this will be on my bucket list when I visit Portobello Road on a Thursday.
On my way to the Ginstitute, I noticed an interesting place. I couldn’t work out if it was a shop or a restaurant. I spotted blue fish bins, and the name was ‘fishy’. It turned out to be a restaurant, but it wasn’t open yet for service. I forgot to write down the name of the restaurant and street, so I have to go back one day to check it out.
I used to be a big fan of G&T, but the warm South African climate put me off when I lived there for a few years. Only recently since the opening of the Pint Shop in Cambridge, I’m back liking it again. So when I spotted the sign of Gin tasting in a Portobello Road, I had to check it out. No messing about here. It’s the full monty. They even make their own Gin, the Portobello Road Gin Company. On one of their Gin experiences, you will learn about the history of Gin, how to mix Gin and create your own while sipping 3 different kinds of Gin. If this isn’t enough, you will go back home with not only your own Gin but a bottle of their famous Portobello road Gin too. It’s a lovely soft Gin. Perfect for drinking straight too.
Time to find a spot for dinner. Ottolenghi has a restaurant in Notting Hill too so perfect for checking out another one of his restaurants. Last time I ate at the sophisticated Nopi, now it was the Ottolenghi’s cafe. This lovely place was never meant to be a restaurant, but it became so popular that they put a table in the back of the shop for diners. It has a great vibe and perfect if you’re dining by yourself as everybody is seated around the communal table. The food was excellent again, especially the mascarpone lemon tart. Just a small note; they don’t serve wine, and they don’t have a toilet.
My time at Portobello Road was drawing to an end. On my way back I spotted a small restaurant on a corner of a street. Perfect for a glass of wine to round off the day. Enough choice as the back wall was stacked with a vast collection of fine wine. I perked myself at the corner of the bar with a nice glass of white wine. Saporitalia was the perfect end to a great foodie day in Portobello road. Another excellent find to head back for a bite to eat.