“Every weekend is a little miracle,” says Jonny, owner of Bluebelles café on Portobello Road. “To serve as many customers as we do from our small kitchen is an incredible team effort. But when there’s that many people, you know you’re doing something right.”
Set up around 18 months ago, Bluebelles has quickly become a local fixture, part of a number of independent shops and cafés that have congregated around the northern end of Portobello Road. “Many other areas are just a collection of the same old chain stores, but this is a street that’s identifiable in its own right. It’s a community, with the chance to meet similar people with shared interests, and it’s something we’re very much a part of,” adds Jonny.
He continues: “We originally only sold bread, but it quickly became clear that our customers were after something a bit extra, so we changed our focus and started offering food and coffee too. We still sell incredible breads from The Artisan Bakery, and use them across our menu, but it’s for our brunches and outstanding coffee that we’re becoming renowned.
It was on a trip to Central America that I first discovered just how great coffee can taste, and it’s become our mission to bring the very best to Portobello Road. We spend far more time than we probably should sourcing the best beans and ensuring our coffee is made just right, but to us it’s of paramount importance. West London never had the coffee revolution that the East has seen over the last few years; we’re kickstarting it here.”
A visit to Bluebelles shows just how much a part of the local scene Jonny and his team are. A constant stream of regulars jostle in and out, shooting the breeze with members of staff; a mass of children’s pictures adorn the far wall; grocers deliver fresh produce for the chef to turn into delicious-looking meals; and all the while some very satisfied-looking customers decide on maybe just one more coffee before heading back to the real world. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to stay a little longer–be it the signature eggs prestige dish (similar to eggs benedict, with smoked back bacon), a twist on French toast made with either a croissant or pain au chocolat, or the array of homemade cakes, it all looks too tempting to turn down.
At the centre of it all is Jonny, serving behind the counter, preparing food in the kitchen and chatting with customers about subjects as diverse as the entry criteria of local schools to what exactly is happening with the currently–vacant shop next door (by the time you read this it will have gone to auction, should you wish to know). Now in his early thirties, he spent his twenties studying art and working in a bewildering array of different jobs before deciding to set up Bluebelles.
“I’d worked for a while selling artisan bread at markets, but wanted to find something more permanent, from which Bluebelles was born,” he says. “I chose the name as I wanted something unspecific that gave it the flexibility to adapt and the room to become something different over time. I don’t see Bluebelles as simply a café, I think we’re a part of the community here, and our role within that will continue to change over time.”
It’s a philosophy perhaps best illustrated by its new Speak Easy events, whereby guest speakers are invited to Bluebelles for special evenings on the last Wednesday of every month. Focusing on subjects slightly removed from the everyday, the evenings have proved to be very popular, with speakers so far including a filmographer outlining his experiences and the developer of a new app that allows users to get exclusive rewards from the shops they use.
“This is a great area to be in,” he finishes, “with its own feel and identity. You get allsorts–from regulars to new arrivals to tourists that have wandered up from Portobello market–but it makes it that much more interesting. It’s a great part of London to be in–who wouldn’t want to work around here?”
Bluebelles, 320 Portobello Road
Open: Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm