The area of Notting Hill, made famous by the film, has seen a revival over the past few years. When I say ‘revival’, I mean that it has gained ‘chicness’ at the expense of some of its ‘authenticity’. I never visited the market before it became famous, and so have nothing to compare it to, but it doesn’t require detailed statistical analysis to see that this place has tourists. Lots of them. Nevertheless, the place is like its own organism; a living, breathing entity that maintains its own atmosphere. On a busy Saturday like today, where the sun beats down on the youthful throng, it scarcely matters that most people are here at least partly because of Hugh Grant, and some sort of romanticised fiction of what London should be like.
That being said, something ought to be made clear about the nature of Portobello Road. It’s a long stretch of road that has both stalls and shops, and is primarily an antiques market. However, the actual antiquey part is only obvious at the Notting Hill gate end. The road becomes more food-oriented as you continue North, though it is not properly a food market, and the quality reflects this. The food stalls there are very good, but the lack of focus means they are not very varied. You can expect bakers and fruit & veg stalls mostly. At the northern most end, the stalls become more antique and vintage focussed again. The coffee shop that came highest-recommended to me was ‘Coffee Plant‘, which is in the middle section of Portobello Road, and this is the area that has seen most development recently, and so is ‘trendiest’.
Coffee Plant has something special about it: it is its own roaster. The beans it roasts are for sale to the public (wholesale, or direct from the shop, where they have a huge selection of fresh coffee to take home). The coffee house is simply furnished, with a lot of space (and seating outside). It opens directly onto Portobello Road, and makes a great pitstop whilst perusing the market stalls. As far as I know, it’s the only artisan coffee place on Portobello Road (though this may be inaccurate), they are, at any rate, rare, despite the surplus of hipster types that crowd the streets.
They sell a selection of standard coffee types, at a reasonable price (my flat white [single shot] was only 1.80), though the sizes are a little smaller than you might be used to. There is also a full selection of pastries available. There are benefits to roasting the coffee one sells. Freshness and organicness are guaranteed. However, I found that the coffee I had was slightly lacklustre in flavour. Though well made, and well served, the coffee lacked the complexity I would have liked. It was strange and left me feeling rather disappointed, not because it was poor coffee, but because I got the feeling that on other days, when there were different beans on offer, I would have had a much nicer cup of coffee. The passion and expertise were apparent in the staff and should have been in my coffee cup too, but it wasn’t.
Overall, I think I would like to give this place another shot because the roasts that were on offer (they have their own purchasing counter), looked so varied and comprehensive. I can imagine this means that this was just an off-roast that I had. It had the right atmosphere and was well-priced, but everything pointed to a quality that wasn’t delivered on.