Author: Laura Bailey
Photography: Nick Haddow
I'd been on the road, from Los Angeles to Paris via the English
countryside but, unlike my nature-seeking friends, I start to relax
as soon as I veer off the motorway, past the Westfield billboards
and towards the bright city lights of London.
I am never happier than on the first day back in my home town, my city of dreams. As a child I daytripped to the museums and theatres, pocket-money jangling and head full of (punk) pretty-in-Portobello fairytales.
I remember navigating the Tube alone for the first time as a schoolgirl, my heart racing en route to see Mark Rylance (in pyjamas) as Hamlet at the National Theatre and the bus ride home caressing perfectly distressed Levi 501s from American Classics. Later, post-university, I explored London's ever-decreasing circles, A-Z in hand, as I juggled waitressing shifts and the beginnings of my so-called "model life".
These days, I'm still falling in love with London over and over again. I go out of my way to get lost, taking illegal short cuts (or the long way round) by bike, high on my home town's magical alchemy.
And yet I still feel only at the beginning of my flirtation with
London, the city where my children are learning to skateboard under
the Westway ("Daddy, who were The Clash?"), and where I'm only ever
10 minutes away from the dream dive bar or the fashion divas, the
ancient and the modern, the beauty and drama.
London is always calling. I just follow its heartbeat. And find my way home.
All Saints Road, W11
I'll always be a Portobello girl at heart. On my first real grown-up day in London, a director stopped me as I strolled through the market en route to a camp-bed in a friend's spare room to ask if I wanted to be an actress. I didn't, but I still can't walk that walk without something mysterious and magical occurring to make me fall for London anew. Times have changed. Some of my beloved antique dealers and trinket pedlars have been edged out by high-street powerhouses, but the Notting Hill of old is thriving just a stone's throw from the tourist scavenger hunt.
All Saints Road, epicentre of the legendary annual carnival, is where I head to shoot the breeze with friends over coffee and watch the world go by. The Tin Shed café at 33a becomes my second office from time to time, with many a fashion story first imagined over scrambled eggs and a double espresso. Or I might fly by on my way home to pick up just-baked sourdough and my kids' favourite chocolate-chip cookies, scoring domestic brownie points and smiles all round without actually cooking anything.
Venus Rox, at number 25, is my gift-shopping mecca - a jagged rock of amethyst for a girlfriend's birthday, or a spiky slab of superhero tanzanite for a godchild. And sandwiched between the upstart fashion and design kids on the block is Uli, a no-frills pan-Asian with a long list of loyal, local, happy and hungry friends, a stalwart that has held its nerve and weathered the shock of the new Notting Hill. Uli, 16 All Saints Rd, +44 207 727 7511
The original Balthazar in New York will always be one of my magical-memory-making places. I've fallen in love there, walked away from someone there (though sensibly waited until coffee), and taken my kids there on their first trip to NYC. Last year, its creator, Keith McNally miraculously materialised in my kids' school playground with a sketchbook of ideas and an encyclopedic knowledge of his birthplace, London. Now, as the local Balthazar waitlist grows and grows, I'm even more grateful for the last-minute, post-theatre specials it serves up. Balthazar is where my worlds happily collide: NYC nostalgia infused with London's bright lights. I feel at home. Pick up picnic supplies or a pastry at the postcard-pretty Balthazar Bakery next door en route to the flower market or the shiny new Chanel beauty boutique around the corner. 4-6 Russell St.
Claridge's and The Fumoir, W1K
I'll always love a grande-dame hotel, and in my home town Claridge's remains the best of the best. When I lived in New York and red-eyed it to London shoots, Claridge's in the contract ensured a too-fast "yes" and dash to the airport. Once in a blue moon, I'll still check in for a night. But even if a sleepover isn't on the cards, the legendary Fumoir bar will always be my ultimate romantic London rendezvous. I've celebrated birthdays (or any old excuse) in the Martini-mirrored shadowlands of The Fumoir and recently sat for a watercolour by Claridge's artist-in-residence David Downton at the bar's storied table four. It could be the lunch hour or midnight, but the ruby-coloured corner seats and silvery glow of The Fumoir seems to keep its own time, along with a few secrets. Brook St, Mayfair.
Golborne Road, W10
If I had to pick one London street on which to spend the entire day meandering, it would be W10's Golborne Road. On a rare fantasy Friday, I'll wheel my bike through the vintage stalls, happily distracted by fancy-dress daydreams before breakfast at my beloved Pizza East Portobello.
It's where my friends all want to meet, but I secretly cherish a solo croissant and a coffee at a window seat.
My whole life connects to Golborne Road: the Lisboa Pâtisserie where my first London flatmates and I would fight for an outside table and take home their legendary custard tarts for tea. The Half Pipe bike and skate guys opposite (at number 40) have sold me every bike I've ever owned (which is quite a few) and have now helped turn my children into skateboard and scooter ninjas.
Rellik, across the bridge and in the shadow of the landmark Trellick Tower at number 8, is my guilty pleasure: I sneak my vintage Chanel and Westwood beneath the snacks and shinpads in my son's kit while he plays soccer on the astroturf next door.
Phoenix at 67 is the new (antique) kid on the block, and I can't walk past without buying some kind of treasure chest or faded horticultural bible.
And then there's the Golborne Deli (at number 100), which seems to miraculously contract and expand depending on the weather, and I will forever remember it as the pop-up production-office for a film I made last year. Lowry & Baker around the corner at 339 Portobello Road, meanwhile, is the ideal spot for tea and sympathy.
All my best ideas seem to spring from Notting Hill cafés, and I might just find a lacy scrap of a dress, or a rose-print tea set among my files and scripts when I get home. Pizza East Portobello, 310 Portobello Rd (cnr Golborne); Lisboa Pâtisserie, 57 Golborne Rd, +44 208 968 5242.
The Portobello Hotel
I only live around the corner but when my far-flung model girlfriends arrive at The Portobello Hotel, I profess to an unhealthy twinge of jealousy. I might share the same secret-garden views and sunlit Portobello breakfasts, but I still have to stop by the hotel from time to time just to wallow in nostalgia and tell my kids the stories of long ago.
I felt a strange sense of pride when an LA friend, a mogul who could stay anywhere in the world, walked up the road to tell me he'd finally found his London home at The Portobello Hotel, and was conducting movie-star meetings over tea in the living room. Its slow-motion WiFi can occasionally be a blessing. 22 Stanley Gardens.
Bermondsey Street, SE1
Whenever I ask one of my more dazzling girlfriends where she got this or that, the answer is often Bermondsey Market, early, on a Friday. But Bermondsey's high street beckons with more than just vintage trinkets at dawn. Visit José at 104, for the best tapas in town before perusing the latest show at White Cube (144-152), the south London outpost of Jay Jopling's renowned art empire.
From there it's a short walk to number 83, the Fashion and Textile Museum, where you'll find students sketching away as they plunder London's rich design archives. I might dash into Pure & Applied (at number 169) to pick up a photo frame and instead leave an hour later with armfuls of exotic tropical fish prints. Or I'll simply wander through the back streets while spying on the Shard as it pierces the narrow slivers of blue sky between Dickensian terraces and the cranes dangling chunks of London's new cycle ways.
The next spot is Elliot's café (12 Stoney St) in Borough Market, a place I stumbled upon during one of those haphazard London nights when an art date expands to embrace a hungry gang, and plate-sharing joy abolishes all curfew carefulness. It's no longer a secret that something very special is going on here thanks to Brett Redman and Rob Green, who also run the Pavilion Café at Crown Gate West, Victoria Park. (Head there for the best breakfast in town followed by a row on the lake).
Dock Kitchen, W10
Stevie Parle's canal-side perch in the no-man's-land between Notting Hill and Kensal Green began as a pop-up supper club (a Moroccan September feast, a Christmas extravaganza, et cetera) for those in the know. It's now taken much-fêted root, but remains the place I can bike to the moment my kids are asleep, and which never fails to nurture and surprise. It's unpretentious, laid-back and perfect for those nights when I don't really want to go out, but could (maybe, possibly) be tempted by the promise of friendship and feasting in low-key, original style. A vast terrace means the restaurant doubles in size in summer, and thanks to its off-the-beaten-track location, you can still get lucky and score a last-minute table, a twilight towpath stroll a small price to pay for a short wait. Portobello Docks, 342-344 Ladbroke Grv, Kensal Rd.
Kyoto Garden, Holland Park
I was running late for work last week, so took a short cut through Holland Park. London was in full blossom-bloom and I found time to stop and stare at the peacocks, strutting and preening like supermodel bouncers as if they owned the place. I abandoned my bicycle to slip into the Japanese garden and sit alone on a bench where I've rocked my babies to sleep, invented toddler treasure hunts, and walked the dog they begged me for since they could talk. I trace the love-seat inscriptions. "For Elsa, who found peace here…" and am suddenly grateful, and very much alive, if a little tardy.
Electric Cinema, W11
I fly past Electric, a cinema-cum-diner-cum-nightclub, at least twice a day. On crazed deadline days, I indulge in matinée fantasies, carrying the cinema program in my handbag at all times "just in case".
At slightly slower moments, I have breakfast in the diner next door (porridge with walnuts, honey and bananas for me; chilli-avocado on sourdough for my best breakfast boyfriend, Jonathan). Once upon a time I might have been the last to leave the upstairs club, but I'm now more likely to be the girl in the back row of the cinema on a Saturday morning, emailing frantically while my kids watch classic Pixar.
Weekends send us round a Portobello circuit, from the BaySixty6 skatepark, to Lutyens & Rubinstein - where I'll obsessive-compulsively add to the leaning tower of books beside my bed - and then on to Zaza for the best gelato in town. Coconut for me, chocolate-chip for my kids, and a tub of takeaway lemon sorbet, which, slowly melting, will be the only excuse to leave our extradordinary local toy shop, Honeyjam, despite desperate pleas for giant cuddly tigers and miniature magic tricks. Electric, 191 Portobello Rd; BaySixty6, 65-66 Acklam Rd; Lutyens & Rubinstein, 21 Kensington Park Rd; Zaza, 195 Portobello Rd; Honeyjam, 2 Blenheim Cres.
Josh Wood, W11
When visiting girlfriends interrogate me about London art, fashion and food, the email PS is always along the lines of "Where can I get my hair cut (or roots done) in a hurry, London-style, and maybe a manicure?" All beauty roads lead to the Josh Wood Atelier at 6 Lansdowne Mews.
When I first met Josh I was a low-maintenance natural blonde. How I've changed. Josh and his incredible team flit between international campaigns, editorial shoots and the atelier. I now have to stop myself simply dropping in for lunch. Chef Charlton makes the best super-food salad (extra haloumi) and conscience-calming juice in town, while the atelier team tend to the likes of Alexa Chung, Lady Amanda Harlech and the rest of the gang who haven't got time to obsess, but rely on Josh to do fast magic.
Dover Street Market, W1S
I only ever "accidentally" stop by Dover Street Market. I'm not a natural shopper, but I sometimes have a secret hour to kill following a working breakfast at The Wolseley, in which case I might, just might, find myself magnetically pulled by forces beyond my control towards the ground-floor jewellery department (to lust over Hillier London's alphabet and animal paperclip necklaces), and then upwards to flirt with Simone Rocha's neon daisy dresses. And there's nowhere better to ponder purchasing one more pair of jeans than the Rose Bakery on the top floor. Dover Street Market, 17-18 Dover St; The Wolseley, 160 Piccadilly.
I pride myself on not falling for the talk-of-the-town places to go. I'm loyal to old haunts and old friends. But after a location shoot all over town, we end up at Shrimpy's, the too-cool-for-school fashion hangout in a fantastically reimagined old petrol "Filling Station", as the neon sign in the back streets of King's Cross proudly proclaims. Pablo Flack and David Waddington seduce in style, their pineapple-motif eclectic menu and graffiti-scrawled portaloos now Instagrammed to death. Forgive the fashion hype because Shrimpy's deserves the attention. A lone star on the block. King's Cross Filling Station, Good's Way.
Moro and Morito, EC
My work life catapults me happily all over town. If I can grab a working lunch at Rochelle Canteen (Margot Henderson's café in the old schoolyard in Arnold Circus, E2) or St John Bread and Wine (94-96 Commercial St, E1), I'll turn off my phones and briefly surrender to the calming reassurance of a white tablecloth and freshly baked bread.
My boyfriend has his favourite haunts and chosen tables: the classic Scott's-Wolsleley-Delaunay triangle where everyone knows his name. But if I get the chance to kidnap him, we head east to Moro at 34-36 Exmouth Market. I forget to book. He panics.
I like to perch at the bar and see what happens, happy to go next door to Morito (number 32) for tapas and a cocktail. He likes a reservation and old-fashioned order. We meet in the middle, at the bar, to wait and see, and a corner table miraculously appears. Dear old friends come and go. He forgives me as I order another glass of Rioja and my favourite vegetarian dish and feast like a local, which I once was. We talk. And fight. And then we're friends again. And the next time I call and book the old-fashioned way.
Broadway Market, E8
Portobello Road might be my day-to-day stamping ground, but East London is my place for treasure-hunting and daytripping. E8's Broadway Market is fast becoming London's hipster catwalk.
I brunch at the Market Cafe at number 2, look through the collectible curiosities at Stella Blunt (75), and snatch happy magpie pickings from the market: 1960s hairclips, a handbag full of haberdashery, and sugar and spice from the Fiendish & Goode cake stall on a Saturday. Sweet London dreams are made of this.
The fine print
British Airways and Cathay Pacific have entered a new codeshare partnership that sees a total of 14 flights per week to London via Hong Kong, with onward connections to Europe. In November, BA will introduce an A380 service from Hong Kong to London.