Continuing our series highlighting the very best of each borough. This week, Juliet Kinsman explores the borough of Brent. The following is a personal selection, and we welcome suggestions for alternatives in each category.
Author’s note: Juliet has lived in Queen’s Park and Kensal Green for almost 15 years and has spent a lot of her time recently celebrating all that’s great about it in her blog, Park-Life.org. She is a travel writer and editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith boutique hotel guides and is just waiting for a stylish stay to open in Brent!
1. Best café: Too many to choose from! If you are a sucker for kicking back and slurping a little café culture, nowhere has embraced it better than our mighty borough, and those who revere a fine coffee at a friendly rendezvous can consider this swathe of London latté gold. Personally, a flat white at Minkie’s on the crest of Kensal Rise above the station is the beating heart of my own manor thanks to host-with-the-most and Mr Minkie, Doron. Watch the world pass by from its benches, or amble down Chamberlayne Road where there are other perfect pitstops for a great capp: Taste of Chamberlayne and further south still, Kandana have barista cred. Karmarama in Gladstone Park is a leafier enclave for plotting up with a cuppa. For caffeine kicks with extra revs, the quirky Ace Cafe in Stonebridge is worth parking up for alongside the North Circ for a double-shot of motorcycle culture.
Best cinema: The little Lexi Cinema is as soul-uplifting an experience as going to the pictures can be. Not just because this unassuming little movie theatre in Kensal Rise is a fabulous place to catch a recent release, nor because it has a cute wine- and beer-serving bar at the back but because all the profits from this social enterprise go to support eco village Sustainability Institute in South Africa. ‘First things first – we’re a cinema with a pretty interesting and varied programme,’ says founder Sally Wilton. You’ll never darken the door of – or contribute to the coffers of – a multiplex chain again.
3. Best pub: As an arbiter of stylish stays, I can confidently say that the The Paradise by Way of Kensal Green is in a league of its own as a boutique boozer of this ilk. This gastropub with gusto doesn’tjust have a first-class restaurant with Tim Payne at the helm, but it has an exciting roster of music and comedy events. In fact, I hold a quarterly boutique flea market here, Kensal Flea, which just shows how much more than a public house this stylish waterning hole is. Whether you’re up for a burlesque class or stand-up comedy, an eccentric evening at Cabaret Futura or just a mean Sunday Roast, this pub packs a bunch. Did I mention they even have a karaoke room?
4. Best art gallery: Tucked away in the complex around Willesden Green Library Centre sits a champion of artistic talent, both established and new: The Gallery from Brent Artists Resource. It’s the most sleek of venues – but try and get there before the whole construction is demolished next year. The pieces by new talents and the well-established are not only worthy of a gander but great examples of affordable art from £20 to a few hundred. You don’t need to be a member to browse its artworks but the annual fee of £22 allows you to submit pieces for three shows a year, and get invitations to exhibition previews, talks and workshops.
5. Best architecture: BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir is a Hindu temple, the largest of its kind outside of India. It's truly a sight to behold to anyone driving down Brentfield Road off the North Circular. Created from delicately carved cream Bulgarian limestone and fine Italian marble, it reputably required the work of 1,500 craftsmen and cost £12 million to build. As well as being a house of worship, it houses a cultural centre and a permanent exhibition, ‘Understanding Hinduism’, which costs £2 to visit.
6. Best food market: As someone who prefers food that isn’t mass-produced or intensively farmed (have you seen the film ‘Food Inc.’ yet?), Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market on Sundays at Salusbury Primary School is a convivial place to stock upon fresh produce. Dedicated locavores (people who attempt to eat only foods grown locally) should add to their shopping list apple juice from Bramleys, little cupcakes care of Babycakes, Grasmere Farm’s Lincolnshire sausages, and bread from Flour Station.
7. Best stadium: This is easy. Wembley is football’s spiritual home, of course, but now it’s also a regular stop-off for the world’s biggest bands, annual visits from the NFL and much more. With a wide-open concourse, guaranteed first-class viewing from every seat and a higher ratio of toilet to spectator than any of the other stadia, events at Wembley are world class. This summer sees Take That and England v Holland as just some of the highlights. You may just want to nose around in relative peace – so book a tour and marvel at the sheer size and splendour of this temple to contemporary-culture and modern-world theatre.
8. Best eco incentives: From bikes and book clubs to bee-keeping and building advice, Transition Town Kensal to Kilburn covers Kensal Rise (NW10) through Queens Park and as far as Kilburn High Road (NW6). TT KtoK invites residents to get involved by donating vegetables or fruit from their garden, or joining in their many workshops, and they encourage you to start your own projects. Be the change in your environment that you want to see. Their aim is to inspire the community to think positively and creatively about peak oil and climate change.
9. Best park: Want wide-open spaces without leaving the capital? Then get your derriere to Roundwood Park in Willesden. Colourful rose-filled flowerbeds, a pretty Victorian bandstand and gazebo are all rather charming, but what makes it truly worth traversing is the breath-nabbing view of Wembley from the peak at its centre. Ideal for joggers or teaching little ones to ride a bike, it’s worth a pause at the little aviary for an eyeful of budgerigars. But if you want a furrier dose of wildlife, the animal enclosure at Queen’s Park has bunnies and goats. Feeling energetic? After a stroke of the critters, test your swing at the pitch ‘n’ putt on the other side of the park.
10. Best theatre: With a reputation for showcasing the rich multiculturalism of our community, The Tricycle in Kilburn boldly tackles current-affairs in its productions. Liberty Human Rights has hailed this venue, which also incorporates a cinema and excellent café, as ‘an inspirational example of how art with a social conscience need not require creative compromise.
Got other recommendations for the Borough of Brent in these or other categories? Suggestions are more than welcome below.
Are you intimate with one of the remaining boroughs, and fancy sharing your knowledge with Londonist readers? Get in touch with us via email@example.com.