2 August 2021

A Staycation Weekend in Notting Hill and Mayfair

With the glorious British summer in full force — oh, wait, that was two weeks ago — it was the perfect time for a staycation. I joined my parents in Pall Mall for a couple of nights last weekend, and although it wasn't as sunny as we had hoped, nor was it as rainy as forecast, and we made the best of it, dining at three different restaurants and spending a very enjoyable day exploring Notting Hill.

Friday night: A flamboyant dinner at Ave Mario

I hadn't managed to visit either of Big Mamma Group's original duo of ostentatious Italian restaurants, but we got a table at the third, Ave Mario, which opened a few weeks ago in Covent Garden. Perhaps the most OTT of the three, Ave Mario is an assault on all of the senses, from the incredible illuminated bar that takes centre stage in the main dining room and the neon-lit mirrors in the hallways (one encouraging diners to 'confess here'), to the cheeky cocktails, cheekier cocktail glasses and caviar-laden sharing dishes.

I opted for a negroni par-tea to start, which was very good, the Early Grey and mezcal complementing the classic negroni flavours. We were sitting facing the bar and one of the giant cocktails, the Gindependent Women, proved extremely popular; almost as popular as a rather ruder rum-based drink. We then shared some starters: the caviar baby pizza and the giant ravioli carbonara were the standouts. We then all had the steak tagliata with salsa verde, which was nicely cooked, but crucially, saved room for the showstopper to end all showstopper desserts. 



The signature giant stracciatella gelato was indeed as delicious as it was a piece of performance art. The server slices a hefty wedge from the huge cake-shaped ice cream, before drizzling it with caramel sauce. We also 'accidentally' ordered the lemon meringue pie, which resembled something the Titanic might have hit, but was delicious too. Going to the bathroom requires an Orpheus journey through various underground dining rooms, which are darker, noisier and probably more fun if that's your bag. I was glad we'd requested to be on the ground floor, however.


Saturday: A Notting Hill stroll

After the hedonism and pazzia of Friday night, Saturday morning started off more sedately. We took the bus from Piccadilly to Notting Hill Gate, stopping first for coffee at the always excellent Amoret, where I said hi to Sadiq and enjoyed a very fine La Gabriela Geshsa from Colombia. We then followed most of the Notting Hill walk in the Metro Publications' London's Hidden Walks. We've done several of the walks in this book now and they're usually very good, with the perfect combination of history, culture and irreverence.


We hunted for our ideal houses along some very lovely streets and saw sites associated with Jimi Hendrix, Mick Jagger, the Notting Hill Carnival and the film Notting Hill. I also finally learned the origins of the concentric curving street layout around Ladbroke Grove: the area was once home to a hippodrome, which is reflected in a scant few street names. And further down the hill, near Avondale Park, is an area sometimes referred to as the Potteries (you can probably guess why). We even spotted a 19th century kiln.

There are some great independent book shops around Blenheim Crescent and Kensington Park Road, and we browsed in Lutyens & Rubinstein, the Notting Hill Bookshop (which played the role of the Travel Book Company in Notting Hill) and Books for Cooks

After all that walking, we'd built up an appetite and luckily, we were able to get a table at the covered outdoor terrace at Buvette. I've never been to the NYC original — a US take on the French cafĂ©-bistro concept — but my dad spoke highly of it. We enjoyed the new Notting Hill location just as much. I had 'le sandwich' — maple-syrup-laced waffles with crispy bacon, fried egg and cheese — and it was truly delicious. My mum's croque monsieur wasn't exactly traditional but looked superb. Sitting outside also made for some excellent people-watching.





We continued our stroll through Portobello Road Market, which was as bustling as ever, despite the light rain, and then headed south to Holland Park. We'd booked tickets for the Charlotte Perriand exhibition at the Design Museum, a museum I used to visit fairly often when it was in my manor, but to which I haven't been since it relocated to Holland Park. Perriand was a 20th century French architect and designer, and we particularly liked her colourful shelving, comfortable and chic chairs, and ski chalet interiors. Afterwards, we wandered through some of the permanent collection, including an exhibition on the fonts and design work in British transport signs, featuring the work of Margaret Calvert. If you've got a couple of free hours in Notting Hill or High Street Ken, the Design Museum (and its two shops) is a great place to go.




Saturday night: Creative, modern British fare at Fallow

After a bit of shopping in central, and a swim, Turkish bath and cocktail at the Royal Automobile Club, where we were staying (pictured below is one of a series of Japanese-inspired drinks they're currently serving), it was time to go back out for dinner. 

I'd booked a completely different restaurant from Friday night: Fallow, a modern British restaurant on Heddon Street, just off Regent Street, that showcases creativity and sustainability. I started with a 'foraged bramble', featuring blackcurrants rather than blackberries, but it was really tasty. My second cocktail, an Old Fashioned with whisky infused with beef dripping (yes, indeed) was even better, even though I had beef for my starter and main course too! To start, we shared some croquettes with black garlic, smoked beef ribs (melt-in-the-mouth delicious) and our favourite, the corn 'ribs' blanched, fried and topped with lime and chilli. What a brilliant dish!


I had a bacon cheeseburger for my main, which was really good, and also nibbled some of my parents' turbot and duck pastilla. We only had room for one pudding between the three of us but it was very impressive: fig leaf soft serve ice cream and chocolate hazelnut crumb. All in all, an excellent meal, although it rained so heavily we were glad to be inside, even though the outdoor terrace is covered.



Sunday morning: Home time

There was just time for one last swim and Turkish bath session on Sunday morning before I ventured out to do a bit of shopping on Regent Street and then headed back home to Bermondsey. I'm still hopeful that I will be able to take a proper holiday in the not-too-distant future, but in the meantime, some R and R in the city did me the world of good.


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