A Night in Notting Hill, and Westbourne House in Particular
After a heavy week at work I thought I would treat myself to an early finish on payday Friday. The plan was to pop over to Notting Hill where I had heard that Bompas and Parr had set up a chewing gum factory in the style of Willy Wonka. In exchange for a small fee, budding oompa loompa’s could create their own chewing gum using any of 40,000 flavour combinations. Of course it was the fact that I had heard these flavours included Hendricks and tonic that really appealed! Alas I was to be disappointed and we arrived after the days tickets had sold out and we had to settle for some voyeuristic peeking through the curtain to watch others create their gum.
So it was time to find some other entertainment. It being only 4pm, we briefly resisted the temptation to head straight to a cocktail bar and opted for a rather sophisticated interlude of tea and cake in a nearby cafe. As the plan had been to head straight to Tiny Robot for an early dinner after our masticatory apparatus had been titillated by the chewing gum, we needed somewhere to host us for the new-found free time.
Thank-Goodness for Class
Fortunately Mrs Thecocktailgeek had anticipated my poor time management and promptly produced a photocopy of the latest Class magazine in which a plethora of bars in Notting Hill were helpfully identified on a map of the area. It turned out we were just around the corner from Westbourne House. Not somewhere that had come onto my cocktail-radar previously, I was naturally suspicious but off we trotted nonetheless.
Styled like a cross between a New York loft and a parisian boutique, my immediate reaction was a positive one. We took a perch at the very beautiful bar and promptly started cooing over the excellent selection of spirits on display. Round one was a minty martini and a martinez. Having passed test one (style/atmosphere) and test two (back bar selection), test three (drink quality) was a crucial one. Good news! They passed! The minty martini was an interesting not-too-sweet variation on a mint julep served up and the martinez was a perfectly balanced ambassador for under-imbibed classics.
Perhaps my favourite aspect of this bar was the fact that the menu reads like it is written for bartenders. This might sound a bit strange, but all too often cocktail menu’s read like some marketing person has devised the ‘perfect’ mix of girly vs manly vs sweet vs sour etc etc drinks. Not so here, I could have easily started at the beginning and worked my way right through to the end. Not that this would have been a plan mind-you, its also a rather extensive list! A sweet manhattan and a new york sour prepared us well for the next leg in our evening touring Notting Hill. Both were expertly prepared and the bartender happily entertained our requests for specific spirits we had spied on the back bar.
Despite having two ‘smart’ phones and a printed map between us, we still failed to locate what was supposed to be a flying visit to Portobello star until it was too late, and we needed to rush of for dinner. Note to self: add an A-Z to my Christmas wish-list.
Meatballs and Mountains of Meringue
Dinner was to be at the relatively recently opened Tiny Robot. Having received a recommendation from the cocktaillovers, I was rather looking forward to trying out some American diner-themed food and drink. As part of the Milk and Honey group, it has clearly been carefully designed and does have a touch of ‘Disney’ about it. However, we enjoyed a very tasty (if slightly spicy) meal and a couple of well executed cocktails. The Enzoni (a twist on the Negroni using sloe gin, red fruits, campari and lemon juice) was really very good, and the classic Moscow mule simple but effective. Do try the flaming baked alaska if you go, its a real feast!
Next stop was to the Lonsdale where I must say we were quite underwhelmed. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with it per se, it just felt as if it was a bar that was still living off an old reputation, created by Dick Bradsell during his time at the stick. A sazerac and a corpse reviver No. 2 were probably not the kindest drinks to ‘test’ them with and although perfectly drinkable, we felt the atmosphere was somewhat lacking and decided to finish up back at Westbourne House, promising to give the Lonsdale a second chance midweek.
A nightcap consisting of a tequila manhattan and a ‘spiced cherry’ (essentially a cherry brandy sour) was the plan back at Westbourne House. We clearly hadn’t made nearly enough of a nuisance of ourselves earlier as we received our second warm welcome of the day. The bartender even took time to come over to our table to say hi, despite the bar being perfectly busy enough for him to occupy his time making drinks. The tequila manhattan had been slightly over-stirred for my taste but only just and was still tasty, whereas the spiced cherry was a rare example of a drink that tasted even better than it sounded.
All in all, my first ‘proper’ visit to Notting Hill was a very successful one. The area has a really nice vibe, and at least two decent places to while away a few hours. I’m told there are a few more as well, so perhaps a part 2 to this post will have to be written in the new year…