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Lisa Teoh keeps the vampires at bay with lots of garlic at the fun but foodie
First Floor Restaurant
in trendy Notting Hill

It is always difficult to find somewhere good to eat late at night, post-theatre, cinema or as in our case, Swan Lake. We had planned to go to Ffiona's on Kensington Church Street, but had not got round to booking, and on calling in expectantly, Ffiona regretfully turned us away as she was not feeling well.

So we cruised on to Kensington Park Road in Notting Hill, still hoping to find somewhere decent that would satisfy our growing hunger as the clock ticked further and further beyond 11 o'clock. Neither Osteria Basilico nor Mediterraneo could accommodate us but then we saw The First Floor Restaurant just around the corner (and, incidentally, opposite The Travel Bookshop whose interior, I believe was featured in THAT film). Knowing that the restaurant had recently been renovated, I voted with my feet and encouraged my girlfriends to follow.

The entrance to The First Floor is very, well, unusual but I'm not sure it particularly reflects the style of the restaurant itself. The door off the street is located to the side of the pub (The Ground Floor - what else would it be called?) and on entering the small hall within one has to step from stone "lily pad" to "lily pad", all of which are surrounded by a sea of coloured shingle. This is all very entertaining especially when one is wearing a long, very straight skirt! But more amusement is to come: as one steps onto the last of the lily pads a buzzer is heard to ring upstairs. I was trying to work out the necessity of testing the weight of the potential diner when I realised that it was the result of interrupting a beam of light and not a secret code to the chef.

The main dining room of the restaurant is fabulous: a large square room with a high ceiling and beautiful cornicing. It was particularly well shown off on our visit as the huge sash windows were thrown open, allowing in a warm summer breeze on one of our rare, truly summer nights. Despite the lateness of the hour, we were welcomed by the very friendly staff and shown to a table by a window.

The menu is modern European with a slight emphasis on seafood in the starters. The main courses are varied and include poached sea bass, lamb, Bresse pigeon, and roasted wild mushrooms, to name but a few. There are some exciting accompaniments to these dishes such as Biarritz potatoes, pea puree, celeriac and thyme mash and fig compote. In addition, although unnecessary for most of the dishes, there is a selection of side orders such as rocket and Parmesan salad, rosemary-roasted carrots and French beans.

It took the three of us quite a while to reach our decisions, but eventually we plumped for rare tuna with choi sum, garlic and soya (£6.50: the only "fusion" dish on the menu), ravioli filled with roasted butternut pumpkin and goats cheese in a wild garlic sauce (£5.00), and the Jersey Royal salad with green beans, shallots and boiled quails eggs in a Dijon mustard dressing (£4.50).

The tuna was beautifully rare and, with its oriental accompaniments, reminiscent of sushi. The ravioli were pleasingly small squares rather than one or two large parcels and the filling of pumpkin and goats' cheese was very tasty and light. The surrounding garlic sauce was sufficiently strong to ensure the vampires were kept at bay, but without drowning the flavours of the pasta. My only criticism of the Jersey Royal salad was that it should really have been described as a green bean salad with potatoes etc. The green beans were perfectly blanched so that there were crisp and tasted as if they had only just been harvested - a difficult feat to achieve. But they were the predominant flavour of the salad which, whilst not a bad thing, was not quite what was expected. Sadly, the quails eggs were not so evident, but the dish as a whole worked well.

Our main courses were as pleasing as the starters: the poached sea bass with ratatouille, red pepper sauce and Biarritz potatoes looked stunning and tasted excellent (£14.50). Black leg chicken was pan roasted and came with gallette potatoes, confit of garlic (just in case those vampires thought they'd have another go), shallots and tarragon jus (£12.50). Having been unable to decide between the Jersey Royal salad and the ravioli for starters, I ordered a double portion of the pasta for a main dish and a side order of tomato and shallot salad. Unfortunately, the waiter misheard me when I made my request and I was served the tomato salad as my main dish - a mistake that is quite understandable in figure-conscious Notting Hill! But the error was quickly rectified by the chef and recompense promised (and fulfilled) on the bill.

Despite the hour now being well past midnight, we were still offered the pudding menu, which we regretfully declined all being far too full. Instead, we ordered cappuccinos and savoured the end of our evening.

The First Floor Restaurant is really quite a find: as well as the slightly funky but gracious dining room on the eponymous floor, there are two further rooms upstairs. The first of these is perhaps a little too stylised with a penetrating gothic feel, much dripping candle wax and a huge (designer) crack along the partition wall. But the second room works brilliantly: the décor is plainer (and intact), still with many candles and their dripping wax, and an enormous Victorian dining table, capable of seating 30 odd diners. Gothick diners?

This room can be hired during the day or evening for private events. I can't wait to hold a party there (just deciding on the excuse). A choice of two three-course set menus is on offer, both of which offer as an exciting a selection as the a la carte menu for £25.95 or £17.95. There is also an appetising set lunch (2 courses for £12.00 or three for £15.00) as well as a brunch and lunch menu. So next time you are visiting Notting Hill to plunder Portobello market, pose on Elgin Crescent or parade on Westborne Grove, head to The First Floor for a fab meal in flamboyant surroundings.

The First Floor Restaurant
186 Portobello Road
020 7243 0072


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