Viva Britannia – 2: The Churchill Arms, Londres
Notting Hill in London is a nicer place to live. Being a known place to us, that’s where we reside whenever we are in London. It is a fashionable neighbourhood with a bohemian past that still retains traces of the fifties, the vigor and love of the sixties and seventies, blended with the breadth and depth of quiet a mix of renowned musicians, artists, writers and actors who had lived there. The cinemas, the little shops selling merchandise ranging from retro-jewellery to out-of-print and second-hand books to music albums, posters, films, downright dreamy art…. and then there is the “Portobello Road” just around the corner.
They say the English seem rather uneasy of colour. But coming back to London after a year we found that Notting Hill still sports the glorious colours of the butterfly’s wing – façades of buildings and shops painted in pastel colours, some festooned with dazzling flowers. In here you see red, blue, green… brilliant colours everywhere, including during the annual Notting Hill Carnival – especially the red: on the bus, the phone booth, the street signs, Vodafone, Virgin Airways, the British flag …. A flash of “English flare”
We had been walking up the familiar Kensington Church Street, famous for its antique shops, and was nearing “The Churchill Arms”, the oldest and historic pub of London, when, good grief!, it rained. Five minutes earlier when we started from the vicinity of Notting Hill Gate Tube Station (Central Line), the sky didn’t betray of ensuing rain. Anyhow, this is England.
Sure enough, we went into “The Churchill Arms” for a drink – neither of us would have done it in any other way. I never carry an umbrella for I have a tendency to lose one more often.
We have not been to this bar earlier but a customer of our preferred fishmonger at The Fish Shop at Kensington Place had once divulged few good words about this pub. Many a times, we had walked past it while treading through Kensington Church Street which runs up to Kensington High Street past the Prince of Wales pub we used to frequent.
In the Notting Hill Gate area, one of our engrossing joy and fun for the evenings is the “All-Bar-One”, part of a gastro-pub chain where people mix outside their social class. The ambiance is fantastic and you will speak English better – if you can hear above the jive music and energized pub-talk. Evenings are more often crowded with post-work drinking culture and the pulse of the bar keeps beating away late into the night. The pubs are a central part of the English life and culture.
The rain was now hammering down outsideThe Churchill Arms. Built in 1750, it was once frequented by the grandparents of Sir Winston Churchill in whose honour it was renamed after the World War II. The façade of the pub had a vast array of floral tribute – beautiful flowers spilled over from pots and hanging baskets. It is a treat to see all those plants grow together up above the street.
People in the hospitality industry say that nothing fails more often than restaurants. However, this watering hole with gorgeous antique interior and patterned carpeting that runs warmly throughout, had developed a character all of its own through the years and is good for lunch, dinner or just drinks. Literally, every part of the wood-paneled walls and ceiling is ornamented with a fantastic collection of Churchill memorabilia and also a good many assortments of utensils, jugs, figurines, photos, picture plates, musical instruments, etc – not surprisingly it provokes worthy-of-note conversation and good reviews. If the tables are all occupied, the full bar counter is available for drinks. Short and to the point, peak hours and Friday/Saturday nights maybe avoided.
The corner table we occupied, closer to the fireplace, smelled of rosemary… I like the beguiling attribute of that herb. We decided to have a couple of Fuller’s London Pride, a beer with a distinctive flavour (given the opportunity, my German-born wife often enjoys choosing the beer) even though the waitress also politely offered a vast choice of authentic delicacies inspired by Thailand (reasonably priced) served in the adjoining conservatory which we declined due to early hours of the evening. In any case, three weeks later, we had a wonderful meal there.
Some reminiscences are recalled with total clarity. Looking back, I could now picture the eyes of that Welsh Spaniel who sat on a chair at a nearby table. He appeared as harmless as a bowl of jelly beans. Spaniels are believed to be originated from Spain and the first reference of a spaniel appears in one of “The Canterbury Tales” of Geoffrey Chaucer.
His hazel eyes darted across the restaurant at the strange faces engrossed in chatter, his medium length muzzle with the flesh-coloured nose moving constantly, alerting the happy customers of his presence. The English are very careful to avoid sacrificing the privacy. Nobody paid attention to his piercing gaze. All the same, he looked happy and amiable there enjoying the cosy ambiance and warmth of the pub, as if nothing short of his master’s command would have made him leave that chair.
The rain has stopped. Once again the light is beautiful and the day has become magical. We left the drinks and prepared to leave the warmth of this pub that rightly preserved the traditionalism of true London. The name says it all … Ciao, Jo
(Photos © JS-CS/Manningtree Archive)