CAFE SOCIETY: Portobello's just desserts
Saturday 28 February 1998
After the piles of massively up-marked retro gear, streams of sulky French exchange students, shops called Candelabra R Us and Piercing to Go, you don't know whether to reel or fall sobbing to your knees when you reach this forsaken place. If the first law of retail is to only offer what you think you'll sell, this means that the people running these stalls are actually making a living from flogging rust-encrusted hinges and single mittens.
If this sight isn't enough to put you off your dinner, there's a very pleasant place to eat at the far end: the Brasserie du Marche aux Puces, an Anglified French restaurant based in an old pub with the walls knocked out, floor stripped and green things in the windows. This is a good place for a leisurely post-shopping lunch. Though only a Celt would consider colonising their pavement tables this early in the year, the building's position on a corner means that eaters can bathe in all the light of our false spring.
Food here is what you expect in a British brasserie: steak frites, merguez and mash, casseroles, and none the worse for that. Puddings are uniformly excellent - the sort that do amazing vanishing tricks down the gullets of all the people who said they were too full: if nougat ice-cream with currants is on the menu, grab it even if the Montelimar has always sat in the family selection box until it developed a slight shine.
The best feature, though, is that, despite its location, it is almost entirely a Trusta-free zone. While less than 300 yards away bars heave with people who paint huge splashy canvases with their breasts and spend hours telling their dealers what an interesting case their therapist finds them, the patrons here are a tad closer to maturity. Sure, you'll still find people giving their friends sniffs of their new essential oils, but, blissfully for Notting Hill, you don't have to queue for half an hour to go to the loo.
Brasserie du Marche aux Puces, 349 Portobello Rd, W10 (0181-968 5828)
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