A truly traditional Victorian pub that refuses to blend in with the trendy Notting Hill crowd, The Earl of Lonsdale is a quirky, intimate boozer with a huge beer garden and a whole lot of history.
On the corner of Portobello Road and Westbourne Grove sits The Earl of Lonsdale, a traditional Sam Smith’s pub surrounded by designer boutiques and organic cafes; no prizes for guessing what sort of people live and shop nearby. So it’s quite a surprise when you walk into this old-fashioned and rather cheap boozer. Just a stone’s throw from Notting Hill Gate station and the stylish bars of Portobello Road, The Earl of Lonsdale is a step back in time – to the 19th century, to be more precise. Known as ‘Top Finch’s’ back in the 1900s, the pub is clearly proud of its new namesake as its walls are positively plastered with photos of the Earl himself.
The pub’s layout is an unusually old-fashioned one, and you’ll have to limber up before you come as you’ll be bending down to get through the doors. Divided into lots of small nooks with wooden partitions and just one or two tables each, the set up doesn’t really lend itself to people watching or making new friends, but is absolutely ideal for an intimate drink with friends or a solo pint and a read of the paper. Nobody will bother you when you’re seated as, quite frankly, they won’t be able to see you. Now and again you’ll hear a ‘pint please’ coming from the bar, but you won’t quite be able to locate it. It’s quite refreshing, actually.
Generally with Sam Smith’s pubs, the drinks aren’t really the star attraction, so you need a pretty good atmosphere to pull the punters in. And despite the overall décor and layout of the Earl of Lonsdale feeling very dated and not quite in keeping with the rest of fashionable Notting Hill, there is a nice vibe here and the set-up is quirky enough to keep you coming back. If you pop by on a sunny day you might be surprised to see the pub fairly empty. That’s because everyone’s in the enormous beer garden out the back, which gets plenty of sunshine. This is probably the main reason the pub continues to attract locals and tourists despite the glut of more modern, stylish bars in the area.
When you arrive at the Earl of Lonsdale you’ve got two choices – left for the ‘saloon bar’ or right for the dining room. It’s not often that a traditional pub like this has such a big, separate dining room but it’s a welcome touch, though its décor is reminiscent of a B&B and not quite in keeping with the rest of the site. It’s nice and cosy, though, and there’s a fairly extensive, typically British menu on offer with a decent vegetarian selection. Try a brunch burger (topped with bacon, cheese and a fried egg) with chips for £8.50, a steak and ale pie for £7.95 or a vegetable nut roast for £8.95.
Needless to say, the drinks on offer are all straight from Sam Smith’s own brewery, so steer clear if you’re after a pint of your favourite brand tipple. On draught you’ll find their pure brewed organic lager, wheat beer, alpine lager and cider reserve amongst others, all ranging between £2.30 and £4.25. By the bottle you’ll also find imperial stout, nut brown ale, oatmeal stout and a few more besides. Small glasses of white or red wine start at £3, with the rose creeping up to £3.30.
The Last Word
The thing with a Sam Smith’s pub is you’ll either like it or you won’t. If you want a pint of Foster’s or a glass of Sprite you’ll be disappointed, but if you’re happy to be adventurous and try something different (and cheap) you’ll be rewarded with a laid-back, friendly pub and a varied menu of classic pub comfort food.