Notting Hill and Portobello Road
For years, I had avoided watching the movie Notting Hill. I’m a grump that way. But Jade kept asking me to watch it with her and finally I gave in. Now we’ve watched it countless times together. It’s a ridiculously charming story about a average English bloke who falls in love with a super famous American movie star and all the quandaries they face to end up together. There is a painting in the film by artist Chagall and one of the first gifts Jade ever gave to me (before we were even together) was a book all about Chagall. The film is based in and around the Notting Hill area in Northwest London, not too far from Hyde Park. After our venture through the park, I was dead set on visiting the neighborhood and taking in its unique charm ourselves. When we arrived, it didn’t disappoint. The rows of beautiful flats and the brilliant, stylish shop fronts all around was enough to make us want to move in immediately. Our trek through Hyde Park left us famished and Jade had a place in mind where she wanted to dine thanks to recommendations she received from Anne and Izy.
Ottolenghi, named for the James Beard award winning chef who runs it, is a special place. Yotam Ottolenghi has written several cookbooks we’ve enjoyed using in our own kitchen including Plenty and his namesake cookbook. The shop has quite the combination of offerings, from prepared full entrées and sides, to a full store front bakery section where you can grab and go. This particular location has rather small indoor dining: one table, with ten chairs around it in the back of the shop where you dine elbow to elbow and pretty much face to face with strangers.
We ordered two entrees: medium rare beef smothered in horseradish with a side of couscous and a mixed radicchio salad, and a sesame crusted ahi tuna with mango chutney with a side of cabbage and beetroot salad and a spiced broccoli salad. The flavor combinations of the vegetables portions were intense but light. The beef and tuna were prepared to perfection and were exactly the protein boost we needed. On our way out the door we decided we absolutely had to take away a treat or two. It’s nearly impossible to choose with all the gorgeous pastries displayed right in front of you. We finally settled on a chocolate cake with baileys filling and a lemon and raspberry cupcake. While devouring our treats, we continued our stroll around Notting Hill and then it was off to our next destination a few blocks away, Portobello Road.
I’ve had this idea in my mind since I was a kid of what Portobello Road would be like. If you have ever seen Bed Knobs and Broom Sticks then you know exactly what I’m talking about. I pictured it as a 19th century outdoor flea market with vendors brandishing hard cockney accents, bakers and food cart folk handing out sausages and meat pies, and an overall whimsical back alley sensibility. That is nothing like what the modern day Portobello Road feels like. It is a thin stretch of alley that goes on for a half mile filled with second hand stores, quarter priced tourist memorabilia. The enchantment and wonder of my childhood vision wore off pretty quickly. This place was no different than going to Saturday market at Waterfront Park in Portland. I wasn’t so much disappointed with the modern equivalent of the area as I was underwhelmed.
I’m sure there are plenty of interesting shops and trinkets to be found in an around Portobello Road but I had preconceived expectations of it (a bad habit of mine), so it was hard not to feel a little underwhelmed. We also went there after our adventure through Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens and Notting Hill, so exhaustion was probably taking over. It was the last full day we were going to have in London and I think I was saddened and slightly disenchanted with our last destination compared to the grandness of all of the other areas we had been to. We decided it was time to wrap things up and return ‘home.’ Since our feet were sore and the sun was setting we decided to just hop on the tube.
To brighten my spirit I purchased a couple of hot dogs from a vendor outside the tube stop across from The Lanesborough. The vendor gave me a good bit of advice: don’t screw over your friends and burn bridges. New friends aren’t worth their weight in gold but life long friends are a prize to be had. The advice had nothing to do with my current situation. But the way he told it to me and the gleam in his eyes brightened my mood. Plus the hotdog cart had a resident Frenchie that I adored and animals always cheer me up. We adjourned to our suite to consume our hotdogs and began preliminary packing for our train-ride to Paris.