Jigsaw, Kookai, Next: these retailers serve up pricey fashions to the pesto set, who dine in cafes with accents. Harlesden has none of these trendy boutiques. It does have a Budgens, the glorified grocery posing as a supermarket.

The presence of Francophone cafes indicates that an area has arrived. Clues to an area's status can also be found in the number and quality of its estate agencies. The growing estate-agency chain, Bushells, is not tempted by Harlesden, despite its period houses, versatile transport links and proximity to central London. "Harlesden has all the ingredients," admits Ian Stone of Bushells. "But it is a bit premature. Hot spots usually get overflow, overspill."

Overspill. So that's what Harlesden lacks. But an area which feels cool to an estate agent's touch can make it hot stuff to the rest of us. And now other, local, agents are starting to reflect an alternative view. "Harlesden has the Bakerloo Line, which attracts young professionals, accountants, City types and the catering trade," says Matthew Jennings, of Beavers estate agents. "All socio-economic groups are here."

A native to the area, Jubilee estate agent Lee Bisci also detects change: "People say Harlesden is the up-and-coming Ladbroke Grove. A few years ago, our buyers were only working class. We are pounds 30-pounds 40,000 cheaper than W3. Now we are getting many middle-class buyers who can't afford our border areas, Ealing and Acton."

In other words, overspill. Has a trickle already begun? Kookai location scouts aren't yet rushing to NW10, but Harlesden has the ingredients to become fashionable some day.

The Low-Down

Prices: One-bed flats cost pounds 60-pounds 70,000; two-bed flats pounds 70-pounds 80,000. Three-bedroom houses start at about pounds 125,000. The area also contains former railwaymen's cottages.

Transport: Two Bakerloo Line stations, Harlesden (zone 3) and Willesden Junction (zones 2 and 3), and an overground rail line provide frequent services to Paddington, Marylebone, Baker Street and Euston stations. Rail services between Richmond and Woolwich and to Olympia and Clapham Junction are also available at Willesden Junction. Bus lines fan out to various parts of London, and the A40 and North Circular are nearby for quick escape by car.

Properties: "Harlesden has many large, turn of the century period properties with unique features: beautifully ornate cornicing, ceiling roses, and 10ft-wide fireplaces," says Mr Jennings. He especially recommends Harlesden Gardens and Springwell and Sellons Avenues.

The Other Side of the Tracks: The cliche is harsh reality in Harlesden. Across the tracks are Wormwood Scrubs prison, railroad sidings, car-breaking plants and several vast industrial estates. The Harlesden side remains resolutely residential.

Grave Pursuits and Other Entertainments: Several parks, including vast Wormwood Scrubs, and the Grand Union Canal ensure opportunities for tennis, bowls, fishing and football. Nearby Kensal Green Cemetery is, like Highgate Cemetery, an overgrown necropolis rich in historical graves (Thackeray, Thomas Hood, Isambard Kingdom Brunel).

Harlesden and the 1991 Census: "Highest population decline (17.1 per cent) since 1981 of all wards in the Borough - possibly connected with the introduction of the poll tax at the time. Above-average non-white residents (47.4 per cent) and persons born in Ireland (12.8 per cent). Average levels of children and below-average for elderly. Above-average economically active (55 per cent) and high unemployed (18.1 per cent). High level of lone-parent households. (Brent Council Analysis.)

Council Tax: Brent's Band A is pounds 393 and Band H is pounds 1,178, which are lower than Camden's Band A of pounds 586 and Band H of pounds 1,758.

Estate Agents: Beavers, 0181-965 9878; Jubilee 0181-965 7414.