Area Guide: West Hampstead
Just Opened London’s Area Guides cover a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Words and photos: Kerstin Rodgers
West Hampstead is not quite Hampstead. It is lower than Hampstead geographically, price-wise and in terms of star power, but way posher than defiantly grimy Kilburn to the west. West Hampstead is smugly suburban, although there is a healthy sprinkle of arty lefty intelligentsia – the dead Doris Lessing and Dusty Springfield; the living Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and Bill Nighy. The early Rolling Stones had a flat there, the Beatles auditioned (and were rejected) at Decca Records, and both Jimi Hendrix and U2 played at The Railway pub.
The village has a long and winding high street, West End Lane, with independent shops among the coffee bars and charity shops. Daytimes, there is a fearsome yummy mummy contingent sipping skinny lattes after driving their uniformed progeny to private schools in Hampstead.
The downside is the dreadful parking situation: the large houses have all been divided into flats, so there are too many cars on the narrow streets. Fortunately, the transport links are excellent: the area boasts a tube, an overground and the Thameslink.
West Hampstead has a mixture of chain restaurants, local franchises and some truly unique places worth trying. These are our favourites…
Best for… Indian
This place describes itself as ‘modern Indian’, which can mean old-fashioned Indian with teeny portions. But we were pleasantly surprised by the menu offerings: authentically and freshly-spiced but not-too-hot dishes, each with a distinctive sauce.
Guglee, 279 West End Lane, NW6 1QS
Best for… high-end cooking
The Petite Corée
Really superb food from this French-Korean restaurant that combines Western cuisine traditions with Korean ingredients. The prices aren’t low but this is talented cooking.
One standout dish was the buttered kimchi cabbage with kimchi sauce, which made us want to stand up and applaud. Chef Jae trained at Nobu and Hélène Darroze, while his wife Yeon does front of house.
The Petite Corée, 98 West End Lane, NW6 2LU
Best for… British
Wet Fish Café
Independently owned and run, the Wet Fish Café is a local favourite, serving ‘modern comfort’ food, focusing on British fish, at remarkably reasonable prices. The name comes from the fact that it was a fishmonger prior to being a restaurant, and it retains the characteristic interior, all 1930s tiled walls and high ceilings.
Recommended menu items include Cornish cod in tempura, black beluga lentils and good cocktails. Open for brunch, lunch and dinner, Early Bird menus are £21 for 3 courses. On Wednesdays, they have ‘music dinners’ featuring live music, with 3-course menus for a mere £30. On sunny days you can sit outside.
Wet Fish Café, 242 West End Lane, NW6 1LG
Best for… Middle Eastern
Lebanese restaurant The Cedar is a local franchise (two other branches in Maida Vale and St. John’s Wood) which has an extensive menu with high quality, flavoursome mezza: the mini za’atar; fattoush; moutabal; muhammara; makdous, pickled baby aubergines stuffed with walnuts. Heck, try everything – it’s all good. Best to wear loose clothing and an elasticated waistband. The service is particularly friendly.
The Cedar, 65 Fernhead Road, W9 3EY
Best for… tapas
Sirous Tapas Bar and Restaurant
What this tapas bar lacks in Spanish authenticity, it makes up for in generous portions. One can so often find at small plates dining establishments that you end up spending upwards of £30 a head and are still hungry afterwards.
At Sirous, we had so much food we took home a doggy bag. The wine list is well-priced; we ordered a spicy and full-bodied red Tempranillo for a mere £18. Outdoor tables are popular in good weather.
Sirous, 268 West End Lane, NW6 1LJ
Best for… beer
Czech Club Restaurant
It’s worth the trip to West Hampstead just to visit this Czech restaurant, which has been running since 1946. Founded by Czechoslovak fighter pilots, the décor has hardly changed since World War II.
Located in a large private residence with stained glass windows, the massive beer garden in the back is packed during the summer. It possesses that forlorn air that you get in deserted cafes abroad – the odd sound bouncing off the Formica tables, dusty faded calendars pinned up, a lone man sitting in the corner, a TV booming news you can’t understand.
The menu is pure Eastern bloc: dumplings, schnitzels, pork knuckles and a whole section referred to simply as ‘floury dishes’ (basically variations upon fried dough). Wash down this hefty fare with Pilsner and Budveiser, or try the Slivovice fruit liqueurs. Some people find the place a bit strange, but we loved the slightly Cold War/John Le Carré vibe.
Czech Club Restaurant, 74 West End Lane, NW6 2LX
Best for… tea and cake
Sanctuary Café, Sherriff Centre
Set in a church that functions as a multi-use community centre – with a post office, children’s soft play park, political meetings and yoga classes – the Sanctuary Café offers pots of tea, good homemade cakes and free wi-fi. All sorts come here to enjoy the lofty stained glass windows, vaulted roof, pillars and arches while sitting on the comfy sofas and armchairs scattered behind the wooden church pews.
Sanctuary Café, The Sherriff Centre, St James Church, Sherriff Road, NW6 2AP
Best for… bagels
Roni’s Bagel Bakery
Bakery on site, in the back – this bagel shop does plain, poppy seed and the rarer (in this country at least) onion bialy. West Hampstead, being close to Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb, still has a large Jewish population who like to buy their baked goods, lox and schmear here.
Roni’s Bagel Bakery, 250 West End Lane, NW6 1LG