The first week of the new year marks the first anniversary of one of the best things that happened to me in 2013. Twelve months ago, on an unexpectedly mild Saturday afternoon, my partner and I boarded a removals van for a long-awaited journey: the drive from our old shared home to a one-bedroom flat, just for the two of us.
Back then, I was thrillled to move close to Notting Hill, and yet reluctant to leave the one thing that had made Cricklewood memorable: the local bakery, open almost 24 hours, always on hand to satisfy our cravings for cake or savoury pastries. Every block of flats should have a place like that within walking distance, and it just so happened that our new estate didn’t.
On a mission to bridge the gap, I discovered many local spots worth returning to. I enjoyed the charm of Lisboa Patisserie on Golborne Road, unfortunately too far out my daily commute to visit more than once in a while. I had lunch at the nearby Golborne Deli, and look forward to trying its breakfasts. And then, walking around Shepherd’s Bush Market, I stumbled across a cute little cafe that immediately won my heart.
Hummingbird Café is tucked away in the quiet Oaklands Grove, close to the junction with Acton Vale. Too far West for your Central Londoner palate? Think again, for Hummingbird is one of the area’s precious, rare gems, attracting large crowds of local brunch enthusiasts and coffee lovers. Sure enough, it gives the glutton seeking a special treat more than one reason to be happy.
One glance at the eggs benedict on my breakfast buddy Emma‘s plate was enough to understand her enthusiasm about Hummingbird’s savoury dishes. Although I don’t usually have eggs for breakfast, Emma’s portion looked so hearty and tempting, I’d happily have made an exception to the norm. The reason why I didn’t was a luxuriously soft almond croissant, whose siren’s call I felt compelled to answer. I enjoyed savouring it with a creamy cappuccino, much-needed comfort after an early rise. A necessary evil, for Hummingbird’s floor was already packed at 10am; it didn’t take much longer for the last few vacant tables on the outside to get snapped up.
Casting a look around, I noticed how much Hummingbird relies on the reputation of its brunch, which seemed to be what everyone in the room had come for. The blackboard in front of me invited customers to “wake up their appetite” with a Bloody Mary from the house selection, and my Italian self could barely stifle a giggle at the thought of people drinking cocktails so early in the day. The idea feels as weird to me, as our love of breakfast biscuits sounds to the British. But what does “weird” mean, anyway? After all, in my hometown, 11am is about the time people start having red wine. Try and beat that.
After breakfast, Emma and I made our way back to Shepherd’s Bush station, walking along the Uxbridge Road. My memories of it involve interminable journeys to Cricklewood on the 260 bus: rides that elicited many a swear word on evenings I’d hoped not to spend stuck in traffic. From the top deck, the Uxbridge Road looked like an infinite, disorderly parade of cars and buses, crushing all hopes to escape in less than half an hour. On foot, the walk back from Hummingbird felt surprisingly short, and pleasantly devoid of rush-hour noises. For the first time, I directed my attention to the surroundings: rows of off-licences and takeaway joints in pure high-street fashion, with a few surprising finds (Ambrosia Bakery, I will come back for you).
Walking through Shepherd’s Bush market felt like wandering in one of the many corner markets that pop up in the outskirts of Italian cities every weekend. Think strings of stalls selling identical fabrics and homewares, regulars who know you by name, traders who chat you up in the hope you’ll buy a cheap suitcase along the way. It’s things like these that keep a neighbourhood alive: love it or loathe it, it’s hard to imagine Shepherd’s Bush’s life without its market.
Likewise, it’s hard to imagine the Uxbridge Road without its unkempt street-facing buildings. London’s shabby suburban high streets, and its elegant Victorian façades disguising studio rooms with grubby carpets and minuscule bathrooms, are two sides of the same coin: a carelessness for comfortable living that still amazes me after all these years. And yet, I can’t help but feel a strange sense of pride for having been here long enough to call this place my home. Now that I’m used to London’s housing oddities, I can turn them into cherished memories, nurture the sort of attachment you inevitably get to develop towards the places that colour your life.
Yes, I love West London. Knowing that coffee and cake are only a short bus ride away, I love it even more.
1c Oaklands Grove
London, W12 0JD
0208 746 2333
Open 7 days a week, 7.30am until 7pm