Saturday, 6 October 2012

Portobello Road Market

Portobello Road Market is actually a series of markets stretching over half a mile from Notting Hill Gate tube station to just past Ladbroke Grove; I usually take several leisurely hours to cover this allowing for dodging the crowds, browsing and the odd purchase, plus a pit stop or two for refuelling.

You can start at either end but as it's on a hill most people seem to start from Notting Hill and walk down, and on manically busy Saturdays when the antique market is in town it can be easier to just go with the flow.
Assuming you have picked a Saturday to visit, follow the crowds out of the station past the chocolate-box mews houses (look out for George Orwell's blue plaque) and you're straight into the antiques section of the market, which goes from Chepstow Villas to Elgin Crescent - you can download a useful map here:

Serious antique hunters should arrive by 9am latest (NOT 5.30am as some guide books say - none of the traders will be there!) but for those of us who are just there to soak up the atmosphere and idly browse, the market doesn't start closing up until around 4pm so it's a perfect lunchtime destination. Also, don't neglect the arcades off to the left; there are plenty of goodies to be had in there as well as from the stalls.

You can pick up some incredible bargains here. I don't necessarily mean investment pieces (although I'm sure that's possible), more just beautiful, characterful touches for your home that would cost a fortune in a designer shop. I love hunting around for mismatched silver cutlery and I have a friend who has gradually collected a set of gorgeous old fine china cups, saucers and tea plates, all in different patterns and styles, which look truly fabulous together and give simple tea and cake a real frisson of glamour. Amongst the silverware, glass and china there are lots of other wonderfully quirky collectables: antique printers' trays and blocks, metal advertising signs, worn leather footballs and wonderful old tins in all shapes and sizes - the old-fashioned food ones like Homepride, Oxo and Tetley make great kitchen storage!

After Elgin Crescent this segues into a food market which on Saturdays covers not only standard fruit and veg but also artisanal breads, cakes and baked goods, olives, flavoured oils, chutneys and relishes etc. If you happen to be here around packing-up time (just after 4pm) the traders are often keen to offload the fresh produce, so you can grab yourself some cut-price treats to take home. This area also offers a wide range of freshly-cooked street food, perfect for a quick energising pick-me-up before heading off down the hill.

The next section of the market, from Talbot Road to the Westway, is more like a standard weekend market with a range of new goods. Quality can vary enormously from stall to stall and you will find everything from 'original' art, jewellery, scarves and rugs to clothes pegs, batteries and watches. Keep an eye out for the regular shops as well though, as Portobello Road is home to some fabulous independent retailers; the rather wonderful Street Sensation website offers you a virtual shop-by-shop walkthrough map here:

Look out particularly for the Oxfam Bookshop (172 Portobello Road) - if you are a bibliophile like me, declutter your shelves and drop your preloved  books here, then browse their shop and take home a whole new selection, all for charity. If I lived nearer, this would pretty much be my library. Also well worth a visit is Books for Cooks (4 Blenheim Crescent), which is an unbeatable combo of eclectic cookery book shop and working test kitchen/cafe. As soon as you open the door a waft of baking lures you inside and soon you're sampling the very recipe you're looking at on the page. Genius. They also run workshops on making everything from pasta to sushi upstairs in their demo kitchen - check their website for details:

Another fabulous coffee stop is newcomer Casa Nova (140 Portobello Road), which promises 'chocolate and something more'. It delivers on both counts; my coffee was really good, gutsy with a nutty depth that really hit the spot, and arrived with some freshly-baked biscuits drizzled with chocolate. There was an extensive choice of cakes and pastries to go with, as well as a range of delicious hand-made chocolate. For those with a real sweet tooth or in need of comfort, you must try the hot chocolate. It is literally that - like drinking warm melted chocolate, an oddly Willy Wonka-esque experience but highly recommended.

As you near the Westway you start to get into the fashion market. This is a great place to pick up vintage clothing, bags and accessories as well as hand-made pieces from young designers, usually fashion and textile design students; worth it to know you're unlikely to turn up at a party in the same outfit as someone else, and fabulous bragging rights if they were to make it big! Some stalls have a theme, maybe military or evening wear, whereas others are just a treasure chest jumble.

At this time of year it is worth checking out this season's fashion for coats and then rummaging through the racks; basic shapes like the peacoat or riding jacket don't change and you can find a bang on-trend winter coat or two for a fraction of the high street price. The best stuff is under the Westway; the market does continue on and into Golbourne Road but it degenerates into car boot type second hand goods past Cambridge Gardens.

Obviously the market is a tourist attraction but Portobello Road is fundamentally a working market for Londoners and a great Saturday afternoon out; I haven't managed a trip there yet without leaving laden down with fabulous finds. Go, enjoy.

Yours, vintage clad,

Girl About Town xx