“Once the height of fashion, especially for the rock and film world but still ahighly agreeable Notting Hill bolthole”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 3rd June 2007.
I'm in Room 16, alone. I've turned on the radio, poured myself a glass of water and am working on my laptop while waiting for the bath to fill. All pretty normal for me, but for this hotel, and in particular for this room: dull, dull, dull.
'Shabby-chic is the word. The Portobello pretty much invented the concept back in 1971'
If walls could talk, these pale mauve ones would take one glance at me, yawn with boredom and fall fast asleep. In Room 16 of the legendary Portobello Hotel, you don't sit there on your own, listening to The Archers, as I am.
You hole up with your lover for days on end, as per Kate Moss and Johnny Depp. You fill the famous Victorian bathing machine with Champagne (Kate and Johnny again, allegedly), you specially design the equally famous 8ft circular bed (Alice Cooper, who also kept his snakes in the bath) and you try to buy the bed after your stay (Robbie Williams).
Or perhaps you flood the floor by leaping from the bed into the bath and back again (Tim Burton, allegedly, who was not alone at the time). Tina Turner bought the house next door, Van Morrison wrote an album here and a ragbag of names from the world of rock, fashion and film, from Mick Jagger to Raquel Welch, have fallen asleep in this very cosy, decadent, eccentric, shabby-chic room.
Shabby-chic is the word. The Portobello pretty much invented the concept back in 1971, when owners Tim and Cathy Herring, soon to be joined by managing partner Johnny Ekperigin, opened the Notting Hill townhouse as a home-from-home for visiting rock musicians. At the same time, they opened Julie's restaurant, a short walk away.
Both places were then, and for many years, the height of fashion, like a pair of flamboyant stars. Now they are becoming elderly: stuck in the past, bohemian, a bit dotty, but still loveable.
You have to know these things about the Portobello before you choose to stay there. You have to find it in your heart to forgive the worn carpets, the chipped paintwork, the cramped bathroom and old fashioned fittings, the tinny, white-plastic clock radio, the lack of a bathrobe, the mad butler's sink inside the wardrobe.
You should also know that the hotel's website makes the rooms (there are seven "special" ones, like No 16) look far sleeker than they are these days, and that the microscopic "cabins" on the top floor are just that: microscopic.
"They have their uses," says Ekperigin. "The scene in Alien when the creature explodes from John Hurt's stomach was written in one of them, because the screenwriter felt so desperate to break out himself."
But you should also take into account that today there's hardly a hotel in London with such a genuinely easy-going atmosphere, and if ever you fancied ordering scrambled egg and bacon and a bottle of Champagne at four o'clock in the morning, but never quite dared, this is the place to do it.
No one will feel out of place at the Portobello. The stars no longer come, or very few ("their entourages are too large for a start") and its prime has long, long passed, but it won't change.
Perhaps it's not so bad to be alone and boring in Room 16. After all, it's probably feeling, like me, rather tired.
22 Stanley Gardens, London W11 (020 7727 2777; www.portobello-hotel.co.uk).
Doubles from £135 to £300 per night, including breakfast.
The Hotel Guru verdict
Eclectic, endearing, shabby chic
24-hour room service is at the heart of the hotel's ethos
Period (rock 'n' roll period) charm; never pretentious, laid-back
|Food and drink|
There's no restaurant now in the hotel, and the food at julie's is at best patchy
|Value for money|
Atmosphere and history aside, at these prices the rooms need upgrading