How west London became cool again
The Pelican pub has stood stoically on Notting Hill’s All Saints Road since 1872. It has seen the area go from impoverished to 90s ‘Cool Britannia’ hotspot to filled with the wealthy but dull. Carnival revellers have danced past its doors and it has endured while surrounding businesses have been set up and subsequently priced out.
The pub itself has lived many lives, from rough-and-ready boozer to its latest incarnation: flogging small plates and smokey old fashioned cocktails. With its ethically sourced menu and earthy decor, it feels straight out of Hackney. No wonder that of-the-moment stars like Dua Lipa have been spotted propping up the bar.
“It’s heaving with hipsters who probably used to head to Peckham or east London for their kicks,” says Jo Barnes, co-founder of food-focused PR company Sauce, which has been based in nearby Shepherd’s Bush for 20 years.
But the Pelican is by no means an outlier – over the past couple of years it seems like every hot new restaurant or wine bar has opened up in west London, with the real gold rush taking place in Notting Hill, West Kensington and Shepherd’s Bush (or “Shey-Boo”, to the obnoxious). From seafood specialist Orasay (try the haddock bun) to buzzed-about bistro Dorian and open-fire specialists Caia, the shift is remarkable in an area which had become more Richard Curtis than cutting-edge.
On TikTok, influencers give video tips and tours of their favourite brunch sports – Layla on Portobello Road is a particular favourite for its pistachio pain au chocolats. That Instagram-famous chef Thomas Straker chose the area for his eponymous debut restaurant sealed the deal. Tourists have been known to base trips to London around sampling his charred flatbreads and freshly fried donuts.
“Even a few years ago we would all moan about the lack of good places to eat in Notting Hill,” says Barnes. “It feels like the epicentre has shifted West and a serious number of hyped restaurants are opening in our ‘hood – west London is finally catching up on the restaurant boom that seemed to have reached the other three compass points of London long ago.”
The domino effect
But why are London’s best and brightest chefs congregating in W8 and W11? For some, the draw is that they can make a bigger mark in a less crowded scene.
“What’s great about Notting Hill is that it isn’t over-saturated,” says Fadi Kattan, chef at new Palestinian restaurant Akub. “Rather, there are pioneers all over the area with very good food and excellent coffee. We love the neighbourhood’s convivial feel.”
Meanwhile, Eyal Shani, chef and founder of pita chain Miznon, says he chose Notting Hill for his second London outpost due to its “mysterious streets and eccentric people” – a possible reference to former residents like Bjork.
Some, such as Thomas Straker, cite a domino effect. A couple of good wine bars or cafes tend to encourage others to open up, and suddenly there’s a scene. At first these spots are just frequented by grateful locals, but eventually they create must-visit destinations. “London is made up of small villages within a big city and each area enjoys its cyclical wave of popularity – similar to trends in fashion,” echoes Jacob van Nieuwkoop, managing director at Med-inspired Kuro Eatery.
And with renewed interest from tourists, hotels are now moving in. The Hoxton, the hip brand at the heart of the east London scene when it opened in Shoreditch in 2006, chose Shepherd’s Bush for its latest outpost. Meanwhile, Six Senses, the high-end spa specialist, will make its much-anticipated UK debut in Bayswater next year. Soho House, as usual, was ahead of the curve, opening in White City five years ago.
“If you had told me even a decade ago about the groovy hotels and fun late spots, I would have scoffed,” says Jo Barnes. “Friends from across town and even country bumpkins are heading here instead of into Soho or Hoxton.”
Made for TikTok
West London’s renaissance could also be explained by the kingmaking power of social media and its creeping dominance of our lives. With the area’s pretty pastel-coloured houses and blossom tree-lined streets, there’s no doubt it makes for more aesthetically pleasing Instagram pictures and TikTok videos than the industrial east.
In fact, local resident Peter Lee last year claimed influencers had caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the front steps of his pale pink townhouse, such was their temptation to stage lengthy photoshoots there.
Perhaps more than ever, trends are to be seen rather than simply experienced and many decide weekend plans according to Instagram stories, not word-of-mouth recommendations. Though the potential flipside of this is the danger of overexposure and that the lifespan of what is deemed hip becomes much shorter.
But some things do endure, and tourists have unfailingly flocked to the area to snap pictures of the Blue Door from the Richard Curtis film Notting Hill for the past 25 years, channelling their inner Hugh Grant – despite the actor himself moving out of the area some years ago.
The not so Wild West
The rise could be the result of a more fundamental post-pandemic cultural shift. Of the chefs and residents I spoke to, most suggested a slower pace of life is being embraced and that the very nature of what’s considered cool has changed.
Millennials are finally growing up and Gen-Z are more interested in sipping matcha lattes than falling out of nightclubs. As such, a more village-y area appeals.
“Notting Hill residents are uninterested in a late-night culture but rather they prefer staying at a restaurant or a pub and stay there until close, or in many cases, end up at a house party nearby,” says Rishabh Vir from Caia.
An increase in flexible working also means more focus on the daytime scene, which is perhaps why there are so many new coffee and brunch spots. The Pelican pub, meanwhile, offers pilates classes as well as pints.
But that’s not to say a wild night is off the table. According to Jo Barnes, a typical Shepherd’s Bush night out starts with “cocktails at Chet’s at the Hoxton and dinner at Kricket, followed by more drinks on the roof at Soho House White City. Then it’s on to Next Door Records for dancing before a quick stagger home to bed.”
The interest in the West shows no sign of abating, with the £1.3 billion regeneration of Olympia in full swing.
Developers are hoping to pull a Battersea Power Station, with around 20 restaurants and two hotels housed in various glass-roofed buildings. It’ll also host a 4,400-capacity live music venue, various theatres and a performing arts school, which should add the injection of culture the area will need if it wants to keep its cool.