After being prepped for a renaissance, the Portobello Hotel appears prim and proper – set in two Victorian townhouses in Notting Hill – but past rock ’n’ roll exploits echo through its colourful, Belle Epoque-aping rooms. Like its boho district, this bolthole asserts its personality in an eccentric manner, with wall-to-wall frescoes, lavish beds and an HR Giger-esque Victorian bath tub that's witnessed many celeb shenanigans. Inspired by the vintage trappings? Acquire your own at Portobello Market just a short stroll away.
21, including five exceptional rooms and two single rooms.
11am. Earliest check-in, 4pm.
Double rooms from £237.60, including tax at 20 per cent.
The room rate does not include the Continental breakfast (£14.50 a person): a spread of yoghurt, fruit, cheeses, cereals and toast with a pastry.
On entering your room snoop around to hunt down the antiques exported from Portobello Market – tin trays, cut-crystal glasses and fabric swatches – then raid your room’s Willy Wonka-esque minibar: Corn Again gourmet popcorn, cranberry and almond nougat, Awfully Posh pork crackling and Moët & Chandon champagne are among the goodies.
At the hotel
Lounge, concierge, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: Nespresso coffee machine, minibar, magazines, bottled water, full-size Green & Spring bath products.
Our favourite rooms
The famed Exceptional Room with the gauzily veiled, circular bed (slumbered in by Johnny Depp and Kate Moss) lives up to its name. The Victorian bathing contraption with a steampunk-style rib cage of golden taps and pipes sits amid aesthetically tarnished mirrors; ceilings are gilded and the walls papered with Audubon-style bird illustrations. The huge bay windows overlook the private gardens next door. If the Exceptional Room is booked – as it frequently is – the mural-toting Good Rooms are almost as dramatic.
A fold-up bag for your market finds, and a willfully idiosyncratic vintage ensemble so you’ll fit in with the locals. If arriving during the Notting Hill Carnival, bring something elaborately feathered and an air-horn.
The hotel has a lift to all floors. Staff are very obliging when it comes to requests; in-room spa treatments, personal trainers and more are no problem, and guests can use the nearby Body Works West gym for a reduced fee of £20 a day.
Cosy up in front of the fireplace on the plump sofa in the lounge (from here you can keep a sneaky eye on who's coming and going in reception, too).
Off-duty celeb; slouchy Helmut Lang monochrome or ludicrously expensive denim. Top with a wide-brimmed hat if you’ve overindulged.
Only breakfast is served at the hotel. The sitting room comprises of three window-side tables and two sofas. This inviting artwork-clad space with garden views, mismatched chintz upholstery and Persian rugs is a delightful spot to breakfast in. The Continental breakfast is £14.50 a person, and warm à la carte items – full English breakfast, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and porridge – are offered for a very reasonable extra charge; a small menu with paninis and snacks is served here throughout the day, too.
Help yourself to wine, beer and spirits from the grand dresser honesty bar in the sitting room; pour yourself a Portobello Road G&T, choose from a selection of wines, or whip up a L'Hotel or Cowley cocktail (instructions and ingredients are provided for you). Just jot down your tally when you're done (magicking away bottles of champagne to fill your bath tub may be considered a faux pas). Coffee and tea are available throughout the day, too.
Breakfast is served from 7am to a leisurely 11am.
Specify your preferred 15-minute delivery slot and hang your breakfast card on the market-sourced doorknob to have breakfast in bed delivered. Peckish for a panini? Light bites, paninis and drinks can be whisked to your room 24 hours a day.
The Portobello Hotel is a stately Victorian confection in a row of cream-and-white townhouses, surrounded by manicured private gardens. Portobello Market is a two-minute walk from the hotel; Kensington Palace is a 20-minute walk.
International hub Heathrow Airport (www.heathrowairport.com) is a 30-minute taxi ride from the hotel; London Gatwick (www.gatwickairport.com) or Stansted (www.stanstedairport.com) are an hour’s drive away.
The Gatwick Express (www.gatwickexpress.com) arrives at Victoria, just a short ride on the Circle Line from Notting Hill Gate Tube station; the Heathrow Express (www.heathrowexpress.com) arrives at Paddington, two Tube stops away on the Circle or District line. Notting Hill Gate, Ladbroke Grove and Holland Park Tube stations are all within 10 minutes' walk from the hotel.
A (fairly) zippy tube system, plenty of cherry-red buses to hop on and pretty streets for promenading along make a car somewhat redundant, not to mention London’s notoriously frustrating road system. However, the brave do drive in London; if you must, acquire a set of wheels at Heathrow or Gatwick’s Avis car-hire booth. Q Park on Queensway (www.q-park.co.uk) is just a 15-minute walk away, but 24-hour parking is a pricy £26 a day.
Worth getting out of bed for
Less stiff-upper-lip than its Chelsea neighbour and home to London’s bougie (and above) bohemians, Notting Hill is much more fascinating than any Richard Curtis film à clef can portray. By turns leafy and lively, this borough of rainbow-hued townhouses and multi-coloured market awnings resists high-street homogenisation; Portobello Market takes place throughout the week (except Sunday), but Saturday from 9am to 7pm is when antique stalls offer weird and wonderful wares. Amble down to 22 Portobello Road to George Orwell’s former abode (yes, the surveillance cameras outside are a myth), dig out vintage treasures at the Retro Home & Clothing Exchange (+44 (0)20 7243 6688) on Pembridge Road or rifle through rare records at Honest Jon’s. See if you can spot Wills and Kate picking up their weekly shop when you visit Kensington Palace and Gardens and then nose around their ancestors’ stately pile. To the east you can procure a pedalo on the Serpentine Lake or take a moment of reflection in the Serpentine Gallery’s annual pavilion. Holland Park, a 15-minute stroll from the hotel is also a fine picnicking spot; make a pit stop at Mr Christian’s in Elgin Crescent to pick up freshly made salads and quiches, charcuterie and divine cakes. Book a room early on to be enviably close to the LondonNotting Hill Carnival parade route. In August watch feathered headdresses shake to reggae beats and marvel at the riotously coloured, increasingly daring costumes – then after you’ve danced your feet sore, sidestep the crowds and abscond to the serenity of your room.
On Portobello Road, Goldhas a mini forest of palms and ferns to make you feel like you’re dining in the Med. Its veggie offerings are legion and delicious: cumin cauliflower with spiced yoghurt; aubergine with goat's cheese, chilli and mint; charred corn with sea-dulse butter and the like – it's meaty picks are worth eyeing over too. Beach Blanket Babylon is a gloriously over-the-top eatery with baroque interiors and an elegant menu. The Ledbury’s sombre design – grey chairs, charcoal curtains, pristine white linens – is mere stage dressing for chef Brett Graham’s breathtaking cuisine. Primped up portions of meat and fish are served with arabesques of sauce and avant-garde garnishes. Core by Clare Smyth is another big-hitter, where culinary artistry runs high – prepare to flood your Instagram. For a more rustic feel, head to the Shed, where dishes are inspired by the owners' Sussex countryside upbringing.
If staying in Notting Hill, you should at least try to brunch at Farm Girl, the phenomenally successful Cali-chic diner with looks-too-good-to-eat dragon bowls, island eggs and avocado toast. Farmacy on Westbourne Grove is a worthy competitor for most beautiful – and healthful – plates, which are furnished with produce from Kent's green bits. Meanwhile, US import Eggslut serves wantonly stuffed buns with eggs served many ways.
Persian carpets, faux-wood panelling and tiki mugs usually grace batty great aunt’s living rooms rather than hip west London nightspots, but Sixties-style basement bar Trailer Happiness has created a kitsch-stuffed space as cosy as it is cool. Cocktails are globally inspired and the dim-sum menu is small but scrumptious.
It was with amusement that I accepted the honour of being an anonymous reviewer of the Portobello Hotel – I live 10 minutes’ drive from the iconic Notting Hill boutique hotel. When I was still based in New York, clients would occasionally put me up here during fashion shoots and I have fond memories of its low lighting and comfortable beds after a hard jetlagged day’s work. I knew we’d be mad not to snap up the chance to stay in one of West London’s most sought-after stays for my handsome man’s birthday weekend. Booked in and brownie points were in the bag.
Excitedly we packed our car (although not that much to pack), said goodbye to our cats and son (left in the capable hands of Grandma), and drove down the road to the somewhat nicer W11 environs. Here we were greeted warmly in the beautiful lobby of this handsome neoclassical mansion just a four-minute stroll from Portobello Road. Ours was notorious* Room 16, known for its extraordinary Victorian bath, an eight-foot circular bed and its alumni of A-listers from the worlds of fashion, music and film that has stayed and partied here over the years. (*Cue a reminder of the supermodel and her Hollywood beau who filled this very bath with champagne and rock stars whose pet snakes came along for the ride.)
It was genuinely exciting to be on holiday in our own neighbourhood. The gentle glamour of the room with its Chinese antiques, soft inviting sofa, huge windows with golden drapes glowing in the autumnal light, and a beautiful view onto the lush private square behind. We felt for a moment that we had slipped through a tardis and ended up in Tuscany.
But it was West London – at its very best too – and we had friends to meet later in honour of my Mr Smith’s birthday drinks. The bath proved impossible to resist, and my boyfriend enjoyed five minutes figuring out the huge tub with all its wonderful brass pipes and six taps, before he filled it up, noticing with glee that this bath would actually accommodate him. As is the nature of a 6’6 man, he’s more of a shower guy, so this enormous bath was a delight indeed. I busied myself opening a bottle of champagne, and a happy hour was spent luxuriating with bubbles in the bubble bath. Already a million mental miles from our usual Saturday-afternoon routine, we made a pact to staycation more often.
Having prised ourselves from our beautiful room, we mooched hand in hand down Portobello Road discussing where to eat, and we felt truly as though we were on holiday. Room service at the hotel might be a little limited, but one thing Notting Hill is superb at is providing a huge array of eateries. Essenza and Osteria Basilico are tried-and-tested favourites, with Granger and Co and Tom’s Kitchen just along on Westbourne Grove, and The Cow and The Ladbroke Arms but a short walk away. Guests of the Portobello Hotel couldn’t demand a better choice of dining and drinking spots at their fingertips.
Nama is a vegan raw food place that I’ve been keen to try, but as it was birthday night for the boy, he got to choose. We pitched up at Honest Burger and got stuck in with one ‘honest’ and one ‘veggie’ number, before rolling up Portobello to meet friends. The Electric, now a Notting Hill institution, had us drinking Aperol cocktails and dancing and chatting until 2am in its members club. At this hour we were especially delighted to realise that no taxi was needed and we’d only need to sway up the hill to that giant round bed back in Room 16.
Fuzzy heads were soothed in the morning with the pleasant realisation that breakfast on room service was an option. Several croissants and cups of coffee later we were ready to take on a beautiful autumnal day. Strolling in the bright fresh air over to Kensington Gardens, we were soon at the Serpentine Gallery, and sitting on a bench in the sunshine. After a little art in the park, we wend our way back north to The Cow on Westbourne Park Road. A Guinness and bloody Mary straightened our heads but we weren’t quite up to the fresh crabs and oysters on offer, and decided instead to make the most of our last evening’s stay in Room 16. In our cosy hideaway we wolfed down paninis and piping tea, watched movies and wondered if we could squeeze a round bed into our spare room at home…
It was with a heavy heart that Mr Smith got up and left for work at 8am; rather thrilled with his birthday weekend, he was wishing it wasn’t over… In the name of research I indulged in another long bath and a croissant or two before packing up and heading off on the 10-minute journey back home, admiring Notting Hill with fresh rose-tinted touristy eyes. The mark of a fabulous hotel must surely be that it makes you see your own neighbourhood in a new light, leaving you wanting more?