The Blog

This Week I Ate...Maramia, Lisa's and Tom's

Some of these guys won't last and will be forced to relinquish their little joints whose offerings give the local community considerably more than another wretched fashion outlet churning clothes whose sequins and buttons were doubtless sewn on by grubby fingered urchins comfortably several oceans away...

Three places I went to this week had a common theme, it seemed. Bastard landlords squeezing every last penny out of tenants who - against the odds - were still managing to dish out good food and manage a smile while doing it. What a contrast it is between the philistine property owners whose only motivation is financial and the restaurateurs whose reasons to get up in the morning are rather more creative.

Some of these guys won't last and will be forced to relinquish their little joints whose offerings give the local community considerably more than another wretched fashion outlet churning clothes whose sequins and buttons were doubtless sewn on by grubby fingered urchins comfortably several oceans away and well out of sight of the wastrels who adorn their flesh with the end results.

So if you value the smaller establishments, the independents who create individual spaces and tenderly constructed dishes, then visit them and spend your money there before it's too late.

The first was Maramia on Golborne Road, a Palestinian restaurant I nipped into for lunch while my bike was having a 'wheel-true' done by the dudes at Halfpipe.

A chalked-up dish on the blackboard outside advertised chicken mousakhan for £7.95. Inside the dimly lit place was decorated with photographs of what might have been churches and residential parts of the Gaza Strip and women who might have been actresses or local pop stars.

There was one man in the little kitchen, one smiley waitress and one table with two other customers.

The chicken dish is apparently a classic dish of the region and being the day's special has two quid knocked off it.

It came on a big round white plate - I say that because it was particularly big, though not especially white, or uniquely round - and consisted of grilled bits of chicken wrapped in soft, squidgy bread - like a wrap, along with onions and other bits. There was a salad with little flat squares of fried bread to add some crunch and then a little rounded mound of lush, soft yoghurt.

It was wonderful and the plate and its contents had been scattered with sumac which added a tangy and slightly lemony edge to the food. I sipped the tea which lends its name to the place - a herby number, in fact I believe it's sage, which is not something I have thought to use to make tea, until now. Apparently Palestinians drink it as it prevents kidney stones and stops you sweating. Which no doubt is useful if you're about to go and chuck stones at Israelis.

Anyway I hope this place survives. The street is an interesting strip with some wonderful ancient grocers, antique shops, Portuguese cafes, my favourite grotty Spanish joint (Galicia - at the top of Portobello Road) but some disturbingly new chi-chi looking shops the spread of which threatens the neighbourhood.

The next restaurant struggling to stay afloat was a nudge further south on Portobello Road. Lisa's - just north of the Westway. This is run by Lisa, a Swede who has created a little oasis of white, wooden Scandiness. The room at the back also has a small door above which is written 'Members Only' in drunken, wonky writing. Although I think all that happens through it is a little back yard where regulars can sip drinks in the summer.

From her simple brunchy menu (I don't get the concept of brunch as I eat breakfast and lunch and have to get up in the morning) I chose Caesar salad. It was the best version I have had for some time. Rather than assemble it from cold, cubed bits of chicken, the meat is roasted to order (or at least finished to order). So there were lovely big chunks of flesh with crispy skin.

Lisa's naughty cocker spaniel, Rocky, scuffles around the place and then jumps up and rests his paw on your table while you eat. Which I find funny. He probably also licks the plates when they go into the dishwasher, which only a sort of heartless barbarian landlord type of person would object to.

I finished lunch with small aquavit - a Nordic drink of flavoured spirit - of which I would have happily drunk a great deal more except a wave of sensibleness had overcome me.

This is a lovely space, it heaves at the weekends, but is quieter during the week and word is that the numbers aren't quite stacking up for Lisa. You'd better make haste there while it's still in existence, drink your way through the Nordic beers and then get stuck into the naughty shots.

The third struggle this week was the re-born Tom's on Westbourne Grove. In fact so troubling has making ends meet been for this place that Tom Conran worked out that he could lose less money if he shut the place for a few months.

But it's just re-opened and having been a combination of deli and café, the deli has now gone and with a new bar, he's just serving food and (until a licence comes through) soft drinks.

On a street where you can now buy salads for £25, over-priced furniture and high-end women's fashion, Tom is attempting to fight back. His latest - and possibly last - attempt at making this place work sees paintings on the wall lent by his father Sir Terence and crockery provided by his plate-designing sister Sophie.

OK, so the Conrans might have deeper pockets but that doesn't mean they throw money away. So this family fight-back still needs your support, unless you want Westbourne Grove to be a destination for people who own houses but don't live there and tourists.

I went for breakfast and gave the place the scrambled eggs test, one that so many short-order cooks in London consistently fail. This examination the chef passed with flying colours. The eggs might have been more folded than scrambled, but they were soft, deeply yellow and perfect. The bacon that came with them was crisp and almost sweet and syrupy in its smokey charred way. The dish was epic. I sat at a booth, which seems to be the perfect breakfast seating, and sipped immaculately rich black coffee and freshly juiced apple.

Your country needs you. If you're near Westbourne Grove and in need of granola, porridge or eggs, breakfast at Tom's. And if you don't he'll find more entertaining ways of throwing away money, you'll lose a proper Notting Hill gem and you'll deserve it.

Before You Go