The Pelican pub has stood stoically on Notting Hill’s All Saints Road since 1872. It has seen the area go from impoverished 1990s ‘Cool Britannia’ hotspot to filled with the rich but dull. Carnival revelers danced past its gates and it endured while surrounding businesses were established and subsequently priced.
The pub itself has lived many lives, from the rough-and-tumble drunk to its latest incarnation: flogging of small plates and smoky old-fashioned cocktails. With its ethically sourced menu and earthy decor, it feels like it’s straight out of Hackney. No wonder stars of the moment like Dua Lipa have been spotted propping up the bar.
“It’s full of hipsters who probably traveled to Peckham or east London for their kicks,” says Jo Barnes, co-founder of food-focused public relations firm Sauce, which has been based in nearby Shepherd’s Bush for 20 years .
But the Pelican is by no means an outlier: it seems like every new trendy restaurant or wine bar has opened in west London over the last couple of years, 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 sandwich) to bustling bistro Dorian and open fire specialists Caia, the change is remarkable in an area that had become more Richard Curtis than avant-garde.
On TikTok, influencers give video tips and tours of their favorite sports for brunch: Layla on Portobello Road is a particular favorite for her pistachio pain au chocolats. Instagram celebrity chef Thomas Straker chose the area for his eponymous debut restaurant has sealed the deal. Tourists have been known to base trips to London around sampling its charred flatbreads and freshly fried donuts.
“Even a few years ago we were all complaining about the lack of good places to eat in Notting Hill,” says Barnes. “It appears that the epicenter has shifted westward and a large number of advertised restaurants are opening in our borough – West London is finally catching up on the restaurant boom that seemed to have reached the other three points of the London compass for a long time does”.
The domino effect
But why are London’s best and brightest chefs gathering at W8 and W11? For some, the benefit is that they can make a bigger mark on a less crowded scene.
“The great thing about Notting Hill is that it’s not oversaturated,” says Fadi Kattan, chef at the new Palestinian restaurant Akub. “Rather, there are pioneers all over the area with great food and great coffee. We love the convivial atmosphere of the neighborhood.”
Meanwhile, Eyal Shani, chef and founder of the Miznon pita chain, says he chose Notting Hill for his second London outpost for its “mysterious streets and eccentric people” – a possible reference to former residents like Bjork.
Some, like Thomas Straker, cite a domino effect. A couple of good wine bars or cafés tend to encourage others to open up, and suddenly there’s a scene. At first these places are frequented only by appreciative locals, but eventually they become must-see destinations. “London is made up of small villages within a big city and each area enjoys its own cyclical surge in popularity, similar to fashion trends,” echoes Jacob van Nieuwkoop, managing director of Mediterranean-inspired Kuro Eatery.
And with renewed interest from tourists, hotels are now relocating. The Hoxton, the hip brand at the heart of the East London scene when it opened in Shoreditch in 2006, has chosen Shepherd’s Bush for its latest outpost. Meanwhile, Six Senses, the high-end spa specialist, will be making its much-anticipated UK debut at Bayswater next year. Soho House, as usual, was ahead of its time, opening in White City five years ago.
“If you had told me even a decade ago about hip hotels and fun late-night places, I would have laughed at you,” says Jo Barnes. “Friends across town and even country louts are heading here instead of Soho or Hoxton.”
Made for TikTok
West London’s resurgence could also be explained by the regal power of social media and its creeping dominance over our lives. With the area’s cute pastel houses and tree-lined streets in bloom, there’s no doubt that it makes for more aesthetically pleasing Instagram photos and TikTok videos than in the industrial east.
Indeed, local resident Peter Lee claimed last year that influencers had caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the steps of his pale pink residence, such was their temptation to stage lengthy photo shoots there.
Perhaps more than ever, trends need to be seen rather than simply experienced, and many decide weekend plans based on Instagram Stories, not word-of-mouth recommendations. Though the potential downside of this is the danger of overexposure and that the lifespan of what is considered trendy becomes much shorter.
But some things persist, and for the past 25 years, tourists have invariably flocked to the area to snap photos of the Blue Door from Richard Curtis’ film Notting Hill, channeling their inner Hugh Grant, despite the actor himself having moved out of the ‘area for a few years ago.
The Not So Wild West
The increase may be the result of a more fundamental post-pandemic culture shift. Of the chefs and residents I spoke to, most suggested that a slower pace of life is being embraced and that the very nature of what is considered cool has changed.
Millennials are finally on the rise, and Gen-Z is more interested in sipping matcha lattes than hanging out at nightclubs. As such, a more village-like area is appealing.
“Residents of Notting Hill are not interested in a nightlife culture, but prefer to stay in a restaurant or pub and stay there until closing, or in many cases, end up at a house party nearby,” says Rishabh Vir of Caia.
An increase in flexible working also means more focus on the daytime scene, which is why there are so many new cafés and brunches. The Pelican pub, meanwhile, offers pilates classes and pints.
But that’s not to say a wild night is off the table. According to Jo Barnes, a typical night out in Shepherd’s Bush begins with “cocktails at Chet’s at the Hoxton and dinner at the Kricket, followed by more drinks on the roof of Soho House White City. Then it’s up to Next Door Records to dance before tumbling home quickly into bed.
Interest in the West is showing no signs of abating, with the £1.3bn regeneration of Olympia in full swing.
The developers hope to make Battersea a powerhouse, with around 20 restaurants and two hotels housed in various glass-roofed buildings. It will also be home to a 4,400-capacity live music venue, various theaters and a performing arts school, all of which should add the injection of culture the area will need if it is to keep its cool.