Even if you’VE never been to London before, the barrows, bars and famous blue doors of Portobello Road would be immediately familiar. You’ll have seen its market playing host to Hugh Grant, Paddington Bear and the cast of the 1971 Disney classic ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’, in which the street even got its own theme song. Portobello Road retains much of that magic, mystery and romance today.
Most famous for its half-mile-long antiques market (the largest in the world), the street is transformed every Saturday into a glittering treasure arcade. Admittedly there’s quite a lot of trash too, and the crowds can be overwhelming during the summer. But there’s something here for everyone, from pearl-handled Edwardian opera glasses – a snip at £3,000 – at the fancier Notting Hill end, to more interesting bargains and bric-à-brac towards Ladbroke Grove.
And despite having been heavily, heavily gentrified, the area still has plenty of character. Weirdos and eccentrics seem drawn here. Step into one of the many excellent pubs and you’ll probably find some once-famous punk rocker propping up the bar. At the very least, you’ll spot the walnut-faced dog man, a local icon who regularly walks the length of the street with his aged terrier perched, parrot-like, on his shoulder.
A greasy, messy ‘Mad Boom’ burger and plantain fries at Boom Burger, a little piece of Jamaica in W10.
A nasi goreng from Makan Café. This no-frills Malay diner is a local institution.
Poached eggs and baby spinach on an English muffin at the ever-popular Lowry & Baker café. It’s not the cheapest place around, but the eggs are to die for.
A traditional jicara of mezcal at Santo, a wild Mexican restaurant and bar run by the de la Cruz brothers. The salsa plays until late into the night and the homemade totopos are on the house.
An iced latte from Coffee Plant, a local favourite supplied by its own independent roastery.
A flagon of wine at La Plaza, a buzzy Spanish tapas bar, which has outdoor seating on a small square overlooking the market.
It’s in danger of closing, so while it’s there you must pop in for a quiet pint at Portobello Gold: a plant-filled pub perfect for recovering from the hustle and bustle of the market. There are plenty of cosy, candle-lit cubbyholes to hide away in, which perhaps explains why Bill Clinton made sure to drop in when he visited the area.
Be a couch potato in style by booking a sofa for two at the Electric Cinema. Forget popcorn and fizzy drinks: here you can treat yourself to a plate of mezze and chilled white wine in a proper glass.
Dance the night away with the young, hip (for west London at least) crowd at Mau Mau Bar. It’s intimate, eccentric and slightly anarchic.
Quirky oddments, curios and clothes from Last Place on Earth, a carefully curated vintage emporium hidden away near the Westway.
A Peruvian smock, a Victorian frock coat, a pair of 1980s Levis, or almost anything else you can imagine from the vintage clothes market on Portobello Green on Fridays.
And if you only do one thing…
Visit Portobello Road Market, of course. It’s rammed on Saturday, but visit on Friday and you’ll have space to browse both the tat and the treasure, from antiques to vintage fashion.
By Charlie Gilmour, who knows the best way is the Westway.