Very simple, really. This podcast began life as an email David sent to a walker who rang up to say she and three friends were going on his Kensington Walk and could we recommend a place where they could get a bite to eat.
Let’s talk food in Kensington. And chowing down al fresco in Kensington.
And yes, by my standards this one will be fairly brief.
But eminently practical. Including, yes, some directions.
Basically, I’m going to read out a letter – okay, an email – I wrote to one of our walkers.
Her name’s Renee. She and her three friends will be some of my very first walkers back out on the streets. Now that the happy day has arrived – I’m writing this on April 2nd – now that we’re back doing live, outdoor, shoe-leather-on-pavement London Walks once again. Having been forced – like the rest of the country – to hibernate pretty much all winter – we’ve finally slipped the surly bonds of the Tier 4 restrictions.
Anyway, Renee rang a couple of days ago to say that she and her friends were coming on the Thursday afternoon Kensington Walk. When she rang she asked if we could recommend a place where they could get a good sandwich. Or, depending on how they feel, maybe a bit more. A light repast.
I said, “send us an email, Renee; we’ll give it some thought, make a couple of enquiries; and get back to you.”
Make some enquiries because, well, it’s not a simple matter just now. There’s no indoor dining – has to be outside tables for the next few weeks. And cafes, restaurants – well, every one of them has its own hand to play. Some are kaput. Some are walking wounded. Some are full of fight and raring to go.
So I had some phoning to do, wanted to make some enquiries for Renee before I set down anything in black and white for her and her friends.
And then when I got the note written and emailed off to Renee, I thought, “ah, you know, I think I could maybe put this up as a podcast – especially if I accompany the podcast with the transcript.”
Because while what I’ve said to Renee was tailored for her and her friends –at the same time it’s probably got wider applicability – I’d say pretty much the same thing to anybody who asks me for a steer about getting a bite to eat in Kensington. Anybody who asks that most unerring of culinary questions, where would I personally go if I wanted some nosh in Kensington. And in particular, in the neighbourhood of my Kensington Walk.
And look, I said to Renee, these are all places I know, they’re places I regularly frequent. For what that’s worth.
And what is it worth? Well, maybe something. The point being a recommendation from a guide – or a local – and I spend so much time in Kensington – have done so for decades – I just about qualify as a local. Certainly an honorary local. Anyway, a recommendation from a local is a different matter altogether from somebody getting up on a little Trip Advisor dung heap and going cock-a-doodle-doo. Cock-a-doodle-doo from somebody who’s never been to Kensington before. Whose experience of Kensington restaurants and cafes is limited to one meal in one restaurant. But who sees fit to pronounce – to hold forth – on Trip Advisor – about where to eat in Kensington. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
Restaurant critic I’m not. But I’m also not a Tripe Advisor wind-bag. If I recommend a restaurant that recommendation is grounded in repeated, lived experience. Which is, after all, the real test – these are places I go back to. In marked contrast to some of their fellow culinary operators in Kensington to whom I’ve been to only once and wouldn’t return to.
Okay, here’s what I wrote to Renee.
Hello again, Renee.
David of London Walks here.
My numero uno recommendation would be Locanda Ottoemezzo. Even the name delights me. It’s Italian of course. A locanda was an old fashioned Italian inn where you could also get food. And Ottoemezzo is Italian for 8 1/2. The name of the great Italian director Frederico Fellini’s 1963 cinematic masterpiece. Apparently Fellini said up until then he had directed 7 1/2 films. So Ottoemezzo – 8 1/2 – well, the name of the film was like an opus number. Anyway, that’s by the way – although when you’re in there you really do feel as though you’re in Italy. And gustatory-wise – well, take it from me, you’re tasting Italy. So yes, my numero uno recommendation is Locanda Ottoemezzo, the little Italian deli-cafe at 2-4 Thackeray Street, which is just a six-minute walk from High Street Kensington Tube (the meeting point for the Kensington Walk). Directions: out of the Tube, turn right, take the first turning on the right into Derry Street. Derry Street leads straight down to Kensington Square. Then go halfway round Kensington Square – it obviously doesn’t matter which way round you go, but the “less rebuilt side of the square” – and thus slightly more picturesque – is the side that Derry Street leads straight into. Anyway, halfway round the square – the opposite corner from where you enter the square – is Thackeray Street. It’s a very short street leading out of the southeastern corner of Kensington Square. Ottoemezzo is just along on the left.
Now look, I just spoke with them. They will have two or three “sidewalk” tables. But like everybody else they’re in a state of flux and uncertainty at the moment. So they’re not taking bookings. They might do of course once the hurdle of April 12th is reached. Their telephone number is 020 7937 2200.
But even if you can’t book – or if you get there and the tables are taken – Do. Not. Despair. My strong recommendation would be to get a sandwich or whatever and then head to St. Mary Abbots – the parish church, it’s very near. It has lovely gardens that will be open, that have benches, and providing it’s not raining cold ropes (as the French say) it’s the perfect Kensington place to tuck into the tastiest toasted sandwich this side of Tuscany. That would be the Fellini. Yes, fits doesn’t it. Anyway, it gets my strongest recommendation. It’s the one I plump for eight and a half times out of ten.
To get to St. Mary Abbots from Ottoemezzo go back to Kensington Square, turn right, walk straight up the east (the somewhat redeveloped) side of the square. When you leave the square it becomes Young Street. Young Street is, to use the Americanism, just one short block up to High Street Kensington. When you get up to the High Street you’ll see St. Mary Abbots over the way and just slightly to your left. Cross over to it. (Cross at the lights – careful, that’s a busy intersection.) Walk through the arch on the left (I think it likely that the church and thus the cloistered entry there will still be closed so you’ll have to plump for going through the arch and along that tiny little street, which is a cul de sac. At the far end – the sac end of the cul de sac – there is a way through for pedestrians. And that will bring you out into those lovely little church gardens. Perfection achieved! A blissful spot to have your sandwich. And it’s just a two-minute walk from there to the Tube Stop where I’ll meet you at 2 pm.
Plus all of that will be fun because I’ll be going over much of that same ground with you on the walk and you’ll be – I’m confident – astonished at how much more you’ll see once you start “seeing it through my eyes.” Having been there earlier will give you a benchmark to measure all of that by.
Ok, if you don’t like Italian, other possibilities are: the Greek deli (Menoo) on the corner of Holland Street and Kensington Church Street. Not cheap but very tasty. Say hello to Pannos for me. No outside tables but even closer to those St. Mary Abbots gardens than Ottoemezzo is. You want a top of the line Greek coffee – Pannos is your guy. But he also does really good Italian coffees.
And look, I’m going to be very frank now, loo-wise – well, it’s as if they don’t exist at the moment. But worry not, I’ve got an in with an establishment en route on our walk – and if anybody’s bursting, well, a nod from me and it’s problem solved
There’s a very fine Indian restaurant called Chakra at 33C Holland Street. Menoo (the Greek place) is at the eastern end of Holland Street – Chakra is only 80 yards or so west of Menoo. Along Holland Street. They have an outside dining area. But if things aren’t up and going – well, they do takeaway stuff and, again, you’re just round the corner from those St. Mary Abbots gardens.
And the food is fantastic. Their butter chicken is probably primus inter pares on their menu. That’s their main Punjab dish. But if you’re not in a north India mood, well, head for the far south – try their Goan prawn curry.
The other thing is Chakra’s well and truly off the beaten path. They don’t get tourists in there. Tourists don’t get back there. They can’t find it. So its customers are locals. And that in itself is a top top recommendation. It’s a wise old piece of advice that heads-up that says if you walk into an Italian restaurant and it’s wall to wall tourists – no Italians – make your excuses, turn around and get the hell out of there. Well, it’s roughly the same principle with Chakra. It’s frequented by locals, people who live in Kensington. That’s all you need to know.
Pub-wise. I’d say the Scarsdale (it’s a little further afield, maybe about 400 yards west of the Tube stop. It’s down the left hand, the eastern side, of Edwardes Square). Has an outside dining area. And it is, really, the best pub in the area. Olde worlde, comfortable, a hidden gem. And Edwardes Square itself is 210-year-old perfection.
Or you could try the Builders Arms. At 1 Kensington Court. A two-minute walk from Ottoemezzo. They also have an outside dining area.
The food – I’ve eaten at all of these places, I never make culinary recommendations unless I can speak from personal experience – the food at the pubs is perfectly good, honest-to-goodness pub grub. Not haute cuisine but it certainly hits the spot if the pangs are rearing up on their hind legs and gnawing.
Last recommendation would be Maggie Jones’. Great history. Not a show-stopper from outside. But the interior is so easy on the peeps. Whichever way you direct your gaze it’s eye-candy. Traditional, rough-hewn. Like an old fashioned English inn. Or even an old ship’s hold.
And as for the food – well, don’t put in there if you’re looking to lose weight. I’d describe it as English comfort food.
And it’s got a great history – the obvious clue is in that name, Maggie Jones’. I talk about it on the walk.
Now unfortunately they don’t have outdoor tables. Their website says they are doing takeaways. So you’ll have to check closer to the time. They are also – like all the others – perfectly positioned to avail yourself of the alfresco dining area I’ve singled out for you, the gardens of St. Mary Abbots. They’re at 6 Old Court Place. Old Court Place – yeah, another name that gets my vote. It’s very very close to the Tube stop, though you have to know where you’re going to find it.
Anyway, to close this out, I tried ringing all of the above for you but the only ones who answered their phone were Ottoemezzo and Chakra.
They’re all readily Googleable, searchable – by name.
Any probs/further questions don’t hesitate to get back to me.
And see you on the 15th! Looking forward to it. Bliss, to be out walking/guiding again.
Mary said she’ll book you in. So you’ll get an email confirmation from her.
Hope this helps.
Enjoyed the podcast. Spent ten years in London as a cartoonist freelancing out of Fleet Street. Lived in south Ken and Earl’s Court, etc . Wife and I went back to live in Gloucesters road quite recently.
Visited the Thackeray gallery, once a week, the library at high street Ken where we lunched at the church gardens and as a youngster cleaned houses to pay rent, including a house opposite the Scarsdale ! Had many a drink there. Often saw the walkers in Ken square. Maybe yourself. Small world and a lovely area. Although I’m a,cartoonist, I write thrillers too, one set in Kensington area. Enjoyed roaming the area virtually as I wrote.
My wife enjoyed the podcast too! Thank you. Will listen again.
Rob, Thanks very much for your comment, your memories. Your Kensington novel, what’s it called? I’d like to read it.
On this sadly eventful day, I’m planning the trip that my daughter and I will be taking to Edinburgh and London beginning 10 October. I’ve booked a couple of London Walks for the days we’ll be there (Monday 10/10 to Friday 14//10) and as we’re staying a bit north of Hyde Park, was interested in your restaurant suggestions for Kensington. I’m sure I can search the places you recommend but wondered if you’ve updated the list post-Covid? I can’t tell when the suggestions were first posted but I’m guessing it was maybe April 2021? Looking forward to your Kensington walk and maybe another. Thanks so much!
Thanks for your note, Harriett. As per our email exchanges your post here gave rise to, just three minor adjustments needed. 1. Loos no longer a problem – and the ones that get my “special” recommendation are the Japan House loos. 2. Ottomezzo is now doing such brisk “table business” that they don’t do takeaway sandwiches – the Fellini is the one that always gets my Numero Uno recommendation – until after 2 pm. And I added – again, as per our email exchange – the Candella Tea Rooms to what was in effect a personal update for you. And see you in October. Albestest, David. London Walks