'The changes have worked, breathed life into the old boozer'

The Walmer Castle

Open Sun—Wed midday—11pm, Thu midday—midnight, Fri—Sat midday—1am

The blurb

‘Need a break from treasure-hunting at Portobello Road Market? Take the weight off your feet at The Walmer Castle, where you can enjoy an impressive array of drinks, seasonal pub food and quirky, cosy surroundings. We love being part of the lively Notting Hill community and enjoy hearing how you’ve spent your day, whether exploring the beautiful green spaces of Hyde Park or Holland Park, or just doing a spot of boutique shopping.’

The style

A much-loved just-off-Portobello pub, which has recently been made over with vibrant colours and modern twists that enhance, rather than detract from, its wood-panelled charms. It’s a sunny evening when we visit and light streams into the double-aspect upstairs bar through pleasingly-proportioned sash windows. Mismatched leather armchairs in shades of turquoise, mustard, mushroom and cherry red slouch invitingly around low round tables; pendant lamps cast subtle spotlights over both the teal-painted bar and long tables surrounded by high stools—great for groups of six or more.

Relaxing reggae is a cheerful accompaniment to our meal, the service is sweet and knowledgeable, the atmosphere laid-back and fun. The changes have worked, breathed life into the old boozer.

The crowd

What seems le tout Notting Hill when the sun’s out and locals throng the street outside: pretty girls with shiny ombré hair wearing jumpsuits, broderie anglaise and vintage shades; arrogant boys in skinny jeans and sartorially suspect t-shirts with deep v necks; a few minor celebrities; the odd bemused tourist who’s strayed from the market.

A word of warning—there are several large TV screens on both floors and when the football’s on you can’t move for people who really seem to care who wins. Whether this is a Very Good Thing or Very Bad Thing is a matter of personal opinion.

The food

Before the makeover, there was a Thai kitchen with a fairly loyal following in the restaurant upstairs, but Thai restaurants above pubs are clearly now considered relics of the 90s, as those over the Ground Floor and Market Bar (RIP) on Portobello, as well as countless others in the borough, have suffered the same fate—the Churchill Arms on Kensington Church St being an honourable exception.

The new menu offers something for everyone: ‘Build your burger’ (a choice of West country beef, pork & chorizo, spiced spinach & lentil and chargrilled chicken, with a selection of toppings including modish pulled pork, avocado, Stilton and caramelised onion jam); ‘small plates’ (salt & pepper squid with spicy mayonnaise, pan fried Padron peppers); mains including a kale, cauliflower & Cheddar tart, fish & chips and chicken, leek & ham hock pie; flatbreads, boards (charcuterie, cheese, veggie) and salads (quinoa had to be in there somewhere).

My husband’s slow-cooked British shortrib was unctuous and falling off the bone. Scotch eggs from the small plates section were well-seasoned, spicy and perfectly cooked—smooth whites, soft, sludgy, vividly orange yolks. And the puddings were to-die-for, in particular the ‘Chocolate praline profiteroles with Jude’s salted caramel ice cream & Devonshire caramel sauce.’ They were like giant Ferrero Rochers filled with sweet, savoury, frozen clotted cream and smothered in Dulce de Leche.

The wine

The wine list wasn’t complete when we visited but the helpful, friendly manageress recommended a Yealands Estate Pinot Gris triple blend with Riesling, which was fresh, summery and so delicious we ordered another bottle.

The Walmer prides itself on its ‘range of beers on tap and in the bottle, which includes brews from small local cask brewers, innovative craft masters and some well-known beers from around the world.’ It also offers a spice-your-own Bloody Mary, which will be just the ticket when I return for Sunday lunch (the usual suspects, roast-wise). For return I shall—just as long as the football’s not on.

The Walmer Castle, 58 Ledbury Road, W11 2AJ; 020 7229 4620; www.walmercastlenottinghill.co.uk

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