Throughout my life in London, I heard a lot about Portuguese Pastéis de Nata. Everyone who tried them seems to agree that these little pastry and custard tarts taste great. My Portuguese culture experts – a colleague and a friend, who spent some time in Portugal and visited the famous Pastéis de Belém – are quite resolute in stating that pastéis should be served warm and topped with cinnamon. Here in London, however, most bakeries, restaurants and market stalls serve them cold.
Last summer, a tweet confirming the existence of warm pastéis in London sparked my interest. I asked for more details, and found out about Lisboa Patisserie, a small Portuguese café in the Westbourne Park area. It immediately went to the top of my to-try list. At the time, I was still living North-West. It would have taken one bus, two tubes and a walk to get there – and, as I draw transport problems like a magnet, I’d surely have picked a weekend when the Jubilee Line was closed. Try getting from Kilburn to Westbourne Park by bus: it’s actually not that hard, but takes ages, especially if the sluggish, single-decker 316 is involved. Now that I live a convenient fifteen-minute walk away, missing another opportunity would have been foolish; and so, last Saturday, I had the first of many Portuguese breakfasts to come, followed by a walk to Portobello market with a friend.
Lisboa Patisserie is located on Golborne Road. We walked there from Ladbroke Grove, and I felt as if I was discovering a completely unknown side of Portobello. I had never gone further than the Westway before. I simply assumed there were no more market stalls – while, in fact, there are a few, mostly selling second-hand clothes and kitschy vintage stuff. One of the weirdest things I noticed was a huge bronze bulldog statue: I had seen one before, at an auction house, and couldn’t help but wonder who on earth would put a bulldog statue in their living room. Maybe, on my next visit, it’ll really be gone. I’d be curious to know where.
Although the thought of taking a snapshot of the infamous bulldog statue completely escaped my mind, I took pictures of the artworks on the North Wall, which currently features Nadia Hammoud’s “Tea and Coffee” installation as part of the Portobello Road Arts Project. I read that the next installation will be put up on 1 April, and last for one year – I’m curious to see what will come next!
Far from the cocoon-like, sophisticated cosiness of Central London’s independent coffee shops, Lisboa Patisserie is an unassuming, strangely homely small café. If you’re looking to sit down in a quiet place, where you can focus on working, writing, or studying while you have a cup of coffee, you’re probably better off somewhere else (Fork Deli is definitely your spot – with amazing scones on top). If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere, excellent pastries, and a vast array of tempting food on display, then Lisboa is definitely worth a visit: the queue, the spartan decor, and the few small, shared tables will add up to the experience, rather than put you off.
While my Metropolitan Writer side is all for the sophisticated cosiness, my inborn Country Girl side thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere. In a way, Lisboa Patisserie reminded of home. Of my hometown’s local bakeries, and of the small, unpretentious bars in the bustling centre of Rome: those that only lifelong Romans (and their daughters!) know about. Indeed, most of the customers sounded like native Portuguese speakers, suggesting that Lisboa Patisserie’s fame is well-earned. My friend and I shared our table with three middle-aged women, whom we approached to find out if they knew of any Portuguese language classes in town. “They’re natives”, we thought – “They might know!”. Unfortunately, they didn’t. They advised us to look up “Aprender Português” on Google. Perhaps not the best tip ever, but at least that’s a start!
The range of fresh pastries on display was impressive, but our choice was relatively easy. After all, we knew well what we had come for. We had one pastel de nata and one coconut pastry each, with a warm latte that came in a nice, tall glass. We spent less than four pounds each, and the pastries were really excellent. The pastel was particularly good, even though – alas! – it was not warm. I didn’t feel betrayed, though. Given the crowd queuing up outside the shop, I simply thought that the baristas were too busy to warm up every single pastel they served; besides, my breakfast had already exceeded my expectations in terms of quality, quantity and price. I’m more than happy to suspend my judgement on warm pastéis until my next visit, avoiding, perhaps, the Saturday morning rush. I’m definitely not going to let another six months pass, this time. Maybe six weeks – but even that would be too long.
Our plan for the rest of the morning was a stroll through Portobello Market, starting from Golborne Road and heading down to Notting Hill. A few steps away from Lisboa Patisserie, a small, quirky shop caught our attention.
I’d hesitate in defining Ollie & Bow an “antiques shop” as such. To me, it looked more like the kingdom of a theatre and old film props collector; all was quite unusual, and incredibly cool if you’re a vintage fan (which I am, although I’m not sure I’d hang a disco ball in my living room!).
Exploring Ollie & Bow’s two floors felt like going on a treasure hunt – in which absolutely everything could be the hidden prize. We stumbled upon a room entirely paved in foil, a man-sized Santa Claus silhouette, the remains of an old-fashioned kids’ cinema sign, and Star Wars’s Jar Jar Binks. It could be a perfect setting for a page of “Where’s Wally?”: even if Wally’s actually in there, you’d be distracted by a million other awesome things before even starting to look for him!
Our next stop was Garcia’s and Sons, a Spanish delicatessen shop in Portobello Road. I convinced my friend to stop by and have a look at the food, hopeful that I would find the same Turrón de Jijona I had brought back from Barcelona. In the end, we were both sad to leave – with just one shopping bag!
However odd finding Italian specialities in a Spanish shop may seem, my shopping bag contained a 400g pack of Savoiardi. Above all, this means one thing: the era of tiramisu with ladyfingers is finally over. To any Italian, ladyfingers are the smaller, makeshift version of Savoiardi. Almost any Italian deli in London will sell Savoiardi – but, as my former neighbourhoods all lacked substantial Italian presence, I had to make do with the ladyfingers I found in local supermarkets. Knowing that Garcia’s a ten-minute walk away, and sells true Italian Savoiardi, is a guarantee of happiness for the months to come.
I can see some glorious tiramisu coming my way – not to mention more and more pastéis. After such a Saturday morning, I can rightly say that my life in West London got off to a really good start!
57 Golborne Road
Open 7am-7.30pm daily
Nearest tube station: Ladbroke Grove or Westbourne Park
Ollie & Bow
69 Golborne Rd
Nearest tube station: Ladbroke Grove or Westbourne Park
Garcia’s and Sons
246 Portobello Road
Open on Monday: 10am – 6pm; Tuesday to Saturday: 9am – 6pm; Sunday: 10am – 6pm
Nearest tube station: Ladbroke Grove
Find Lisboa Patisserie’s menu on Zomato.