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Kensal Green and Willesden area guide

Keep busy in north west London with Time Out's guide to Kensal Green and Willesden's restaurants, bars, pubs and things to do

Considered the chilled little sister oh Harlesden, Kensal Green has an arty, bohemian feel (Kensal Green Cemetery, just over the Kensington & Chelsea border, was a fashionable final resting place for Victorian writers and artists, as well as a number of modern-day celebs) and its cosy, compact terraces appeal to young professionals who can’t afford Notting Hill. Kensal Rise, a few streets east, has blossomed in recent years, with most of the retail action at the north end of College Road where there's a bijou, middle-class vibe, with delis, alternative-medicine treatment rooms and quirky boutiques. Restaurants, cafés and gastropubs also do a roaring trade. Further east, Willesden High Road offers an array of restaurants, shops and takeaways.

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Comptoir Mezze Grill & Mezze Bar
Restaurants Book online

Comptoir Mezze Grill & Mezze Bar

On Station Terrace, just around the corner from Kensal Rise overground, Comptoir Mezze aims to showcase an authentic slice of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. A small alfresco area out front looks like it could be a good spot come summertime. The menu ranges from cous cous, grilled chicken, falafel and grilled haloumi salads to harira soup, lamb, chicken and fish tagines and merguez sausages, lamb chops, grilled sea bass, Moroccan chicken and jawaneh (charcoal grilled chicken wings marinated with traditional herbs and spices) cooked on the grill.   Set menus also feature, including one for vegetarians. 

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bel & Nev
Restaurants

Bel & Nev

Appearances can be deceiving. Bel and Nev Dartora, co-owners of their eponymous Kensal Rise café, probably do not know personally every single customer who walks in their door. But after eating a leisurely brunch there on a sunny Saturday, I got the impression that they possibly do. Everyone seemed to know everyone else. Some customers got a welcome or farewell hug. It felt like an at-home drop-in. Bel & Nev have been running their caff in Kensal Rise, around 30 seconds from the Overground station (if you’re walking slowly), since late 2014. They came here from cheffing at restaurants such as Polpo and Bocca di Lupo. They’ve settled in a small place in a non-central location with limited opening hours. The capacity is around 15, with kitchen and serving area at the front of the room. The menu’s short and simple: breakfasts, sandwiches and simple dishes such as soups, salads and baked beans with chorizo. Very little costs over £7, and most breakfast dishes cost less than £5. Everything is made on the premises except bread and muffins from the Bread Factory (owner of the Gail’s Bakery chain). Careful attention to detail showed in a toasted cheese sandwich, made with three different cheeses (Emmental, mozzarella and cheddar) given a spritz of acidity through the addition of pickled red onion (and own-made ketchup on the side). Indecently rich and cooked with precision, it costs just a fiver; some people would regard it as a decent-sized lunch portion for two. The baked good

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Brooks Butchers
Shopping

Brooks Butchers

Modern meat merchants who’ll happily deliver any of their stock (be it poultry, pork, lamb, beef or game) straight to you door

Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Lexi Cinema

Lexi Cinema

One of London’s friendliest cinemas, single-screener The Lexi is run mostly by enthusiastic local volunteers, with every penny of profits going to a charity in South Africa. The programme is a mix of everything from recent blockbusters to arthouse and foreign films, plus special events, Q&As and classic movie seasons (a recent run of Francois Truffaut oldies were accompanied by cheese and wine tastings). The chairs are comfy, the sound system is second to none and the bar cosy. The Lexi team is also responsible for the brilliant outdoor cinema Nomad.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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The Shop NW10
Bars and pubs

The Shop NW10

Cocktails come in jam jars and milk bottles at this kooky, speakeasy-ish bar

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants in Kensal Green and Willesden

Restaurants

Behesht

Long stretches of Harrow Road are fairly unprepossessing, making Behesht a delightful – if slightly bonkers – surprise. The interior is a no-holds-barred hymn to the (real or imagined) aesthetic traditions of Persia. You’re greeted in the lobby by walls festooned with wooden instruments and hung with tapestries, by dashingly aloof waiters with slicked-back hair, and by an amorous pair of green parrots in a large cage. Through to the dining room, and the decor is yet more flamboyant – fountains trickle and songbirds chirrup among pots, paintings and sculptures. The food doesn’t let the side down; portions are enormous, and there’s real complexity of flavour. Kashk-e bademjan – a warm paste of aubergine, walnuts and fried onions scooped up with handfuls of gargantuan flatbread – was a star of the meze-style starters, as was mirza ghasemi, a smoky hot dip of grilled aubergine, eggs and tomatoes. Mains include rafts of tempting grilled meats, but we chose stews slathered in dark, rich sauces – ghorm-e sabzi with lamb, kidney beans, dried limes and herbs (sharp and moreish); and fesenjan chicken that managed the tricky balance of being sweet and savoury without becoming sickly. There’s no alcohol, so the final bill is gratifyingly low: extraordinary value.  

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Restaurants

Tong Kanom Thai

The tiny dining room of this friendly, café-like local is packed with knick-knacks and feels so cosy that it’s easy to forget the heavy traffic outside. As well as being extremely good value, the food is mostly authentic and flavoursome, with very few slip-ups. We were looking forward to sampling the gaeng pa (jungle curry), but were disappointed by the dry and tough texture of the meat and the lack of complex flavours that make the dish one of the highlights of Thai cuisine. Popular fare such as stir-fried chicken with fresh holy basil was more successful, along with a suitably hot yam nua (grilled beef salad). To finish, expect the likes of sticky rice with mango. With no dishes priced above £7 and no alcohol licence, Tong Kanom Thai does a brisk trade as a takeaway joint, but it also attracts a mix of locals and diners from nearby neighbourhoods, who seem keen on splurging at the off-licence next door. On our visit we spotted some Veuve Cliquot champagne at the next table.

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Kitchenette
Restaurants

Kitchenette

Note: We're open as a cafe Monday-Friday daytime, with a street food menu - and Thursday - Saturday evenings for restaurant service. We don't take reservations for daytimes - so just walk on in! We’re the UK’s first kitchen incubator, helping London’s most promising and original food entrepreneurs to get started. In partnership with top British designer Tom Dixon, our restaurant takes over the intimate space downstairs from The Dock Kitchen - looking right over the dock waters. The focus is affordable, informal concepts from world over - a short street food menu, served up on small plates, alongside our natural wine list picked by Tutto. This month's residency: Kushi's Japanese Tacos: umami-filled crispy gyoza shells, with yuzu kosho grilled chicken, red miso ox cheek, and seasonal greens.

Oasis
Restaurants

Oasis

Aptly named given its position just off Neasden roundabout in the barren uplands of NW10, Oasis injects bright-orange vibrancy into a drab shopping parade. Behind the plate-glass frontage, things are just as cheerful, with the spick-and-span interior decorated in simple wooden furniture, orange walls and candles on tables. Polish chatter comes via the satellite TV and the bunch of expats who’ve become regulars since the May 2009 opening. The real thrill comes from reading a menu packed with enough Eastern European ballast to see off the harshest of Gdansk winters – at prices to put the first day of spring in your step. Perhaps start with a gloriously tangy barszcz beetroot soup harbouring uncommonly delicate mushroom dumplings, though lustier appetites might embark on the vast bowlful of beef stroganoff or the tripe soup. There are dozens of choices to follow – from fried trout with rosemary to great knuckles of pork – many served with three different salads (gherkins, sauerkraut and coleslaw, say). Bigos is an immense helping of sauerkraut hiding chunks of chicken and wonderfully smoky bacon nuggets, with juniper berries adding piquancy. It costs £3.80, and virtually nothing costs more than £8. There are nalesniki-filled pancakes for pudding, if you can possibly fit it in, and a choice of Polish beers (try the Tyskie) for lubrication. Friendly service comes from slender young Polish women – has a fried dumpling ever passed their lips?

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Things to do in Kensal Green and Willesden

Brent Museum
Museums

Brent Museum

Local history museum featuring interactive educational displays which visitors can touch, smell and listen to. There is a focus on the old Wembley Stadium and a display on the area's short-lived, nineteenth-century version of the Eiffel Tower.

Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir
Attractions

BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

It's the sort of undertaking that requires faith, or a lot of chutzpah. Build the largest Hindu temple outside India, in the finest materials, using master craftsmen with ancient skills rarely found outside the diaspora. Ask unpaid, untrained members of the community to give up their time to work on the site. Raise more than £10 million to finance it, with no government aid. Finish within three years. And do it all in Neasden. The great Pyramid of Giza took 100,000 workers 20 years to assemble its 2.3 million stones, but the Swaminarayan Hindu Temple, also known as Neasden Temple, can stand shoulder to shoulder with it. Inside, the mandir is a space of almost blinding whiteness and purity. Every vertical surface is carved with stories from the scriptures (veda) and lacy motifs. A forest of pillars fills the floor and above them soars the central dome, stepping up in wedding-cake tiers towards the two-and-a-half tonne keystone which drips downwards like a glorious stone chandelier. It is a labour of love and a work of art. Anyone is welcome to look around the mandir, Hindu or heathen. The temple complex falls into two distinct parts: the marble and limestone mandir, based on ancient Shilpashastra architecture, and the conventionally built prayer hall and community centre, which used for sports clubs, yoga, football, badminton, temporary clinics and study groups. On Saturdays, it hosts 2,000-strong prayer meetings. A souvenir shop sells henna kits, incense and photos of the dei

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars

Bars and pubs in Kensal Green and Willesden

The Shop NW10
Bars and pubs

The Shop NW10

Cocktails come in jam jars and milk bottles at this kooky, speakeasy-ish bar

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Restaurants Book online

Kensington Wine Rooms

Venue says: “We love Riesling, eight being served by the glass. Closed August 27-28 due to Carnival.”

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Chamberlayne

A firm favourite with Kensal Rise locals, the Chamberlayne is usually heaving with well-off thirtysomethings frequently sporting a dog/baby/toddler – and occasionally all three. It makes for a pleasantly lively atmosphere in the pub itself, where characterful décor (reclaimed furniture, designer lighting and the like) meets friendly service and an interesting drinks list starring some 20 whiskies as well as a strong selection of wines and cocktails. But while the roaring volume feels apt in the bar, it makes for a distracting din in the snug dining room situated at the back. Efforts have been made to make this a serious dinner destination and the menu focuses on British beef, including rump steak, rib-eye, côte de boeuf and steak and kidney pie. It’s comfort food at its meatiest, and none more so come Sundays when the changing menu regularly features an Aberdeen Angus sirloin roast. While the quality beef is juicy, perfectly cooked and well seasoned, it’s let down by its trimmings. There’s no gravy beyond the meat’s own juices, the Yorkshire pudding is neither light nor crispy and veg lacked variety, with a couple of lonely parsnip sticks among a sea of cabbage. The rotisserie chicken was also succulent and tasty, but again, was tainted by the trimmings. It’s actually far safer to opt for weekday standards such as a generous chicken liver pâté starter or substantial Angus beef burger – though either way, you’ll have to be prepared to project your voice over the swimming pool

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs

The Whippet Inn

A bar and kitchen on Chamberlayne Road. Keep an eye out for DJ sets alongside the food and booze. 

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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