Tanya Gold

Tanya Gold reviews The Churchill Arms, London

Text settings

The Churchill Arms in Kensington is a sort of Winston Churchill fetish bar, full of every conceivable piece of Winston Churchill memorabilia, or toy. Relics of his actual corpse may lurk, loitering behind a decorative mug or a Plasticine bust of his head. There is a three-quarter-size cardboard cutout of the Queen, photographs of every other British prime minister looking confused or disappointed, and what I think are the ‘scores’ from the Battle of Britain.

I am here because it is seasonal suicide week and who needs to be near Richard Caring’s event napery or log styling in seasonal suicide week? There has been a Thai restaurant inside the Churchill Arms for many years although no one seems to know exactly when it opened; the mid-1980s is my best guess, until a Thai pub historian intervenes. It claims to be the first London pub to serve Thai cuisine, but this may only possibly be true, because the Churchill Arms also claims, on a blue paper disc, that Churchill made his wartime broadcasts here, and laughed at Hitler’s watercolours while drinking banana daiquiris and farting.

It is the pub of a madman. There are maybe 40 Christmas trees on the roof. Gerry the Irish landlord is obviously a sort of Radagast the Brown figure. (Radagast had a chariot pulled by atomic rabbits in Lord of the Rings). And he decided that what the Churchill Arms was lacking was a garden sitting on its head. It was once Evening Standard pub of the year because it is within crawling distance of the Evening Standard and its co-tenant the Daily Mail. (They call this newspaper factory the Death Star, even if it is above what is supposed to be a health food shop, but what I know is a portal).

It is, as far as I can see, the only pub in Kensington that still contains natives, that is, people born within the district, who have never cried inside a branch of Foxtons. Barflies with face foliage who can only survive in this corner of the fragile Notting Hill ecosystem — because I would be amazed if there were any council flats left around here — sit at the bar with incredible natural balance, stroking their whiskers, running gnarled fingers down the Racing Post. And they clash, like a tide of a great river, with the Notting Hill incomers, who like to eat in the Thai restaurant because it is good and cheap. It feels right that the Churchill Arms should be a war zone. It is Yalta with prawn crackers.

The incomers are men with flabby pink Ralph Lauren ears, or Sloaney ponies with long noses and glittering, contemptuous eyes. They enter swiftly and jog for the restaurant, eyes averted from the natives, because silence is still the Sloane weapon of choice, although a Russian T-42 would be more effective. The restaurant is full of dead butterflies and house plants, so you feel you are in Star Trek, on that strange planet that compulsively sprouts leaves as if it were bulimic. And here, at the gateway, as in a mystical quest, another barrier, or labour, awaits the Sloaney pony or the man with Ralph Lauren ears who wants a meal for £8 — an angry fat Thai woman. She does not care that George Osborne once walked past you in Costa Coffee on Notting Hill Gate and smiled with at least 2 per cent of his mouth, or that you once licked Prince Harry’s face. She shouts at everyone. She is the only democrat left in W8, or possibly the world.

And the food! Steaming plates of meats and spices, brought by what I call brusque anti-service, swamped with gravy and the sort of rice Europeans can’t make. I am often asked where I eat in London when I am sad. The answer is here, with Churchill’s wobbling ghost.

The Churchill Arms, 119 Kensington Church Street, London W8 7LN, tel: 020 7727 4242.