THE SANDCASTLE’S Michael Bell was the owner of Notting Hill’s famous Portobello Gold pub, restaurant and hotel for 32 years. A direct decedent of artists Gwen John and Augustus John, he has had strong ties to Pembrokeshire all his life.
THE PORTOBELLO GOLD was one of Notting Hill's jewels in the Crown and credited by some for having started the whole Notting Hill craze. It was an eccentric and informally elegant place that effortlessly and seamlessly set the pace for Notting Hill trends, decade after decade. It had the ability to adapt and remain fresh to the local community with its faithful, eclectic clientele as well as to the bastion of more international followers. Not to mention the Gold’s stellar staff: The Portobello Gold was known far and wide as a haven for those who wanted award-winning food and wine served with passion and personality.
It all began when The Princess Alexandra, “the Alex”, as it was affectionately known, was laid to rest in January 1985 and the Portobello Gold was created. In the beginning, wishing to distance himself from the Hell's Angel reputation of the Alex, Michael re-established the traditional Sunday roasts ... then introduced London to the oyster-shooter and to draught-wheat beer. The Gold partied through 30 Notting Hill Carnivals. In spring 1995, their cleaner Keith, an ex-US Navy programmer who never quite went home after his tour-of-duty here (until finally being deported in 1996), helped him to become one of the first Cybercafés in the world. In 1996, the upstairs bedrooms were also wired up, making them the first UK hotel with Internet access in the rooms - remember, this is back when people had to travel with modems.
Michael saw his fair share of VIPs pass through, and in December 2000, President Bill Clinton, complete with his entourage of Men in Black, helicopters and full motorcade, dropped in for lunch with the US Ambassador, whose daughter was a regular ... during a power cut and, so over-awed were they by the unique atmosphere and the ability to entertain them so well in the dark, they left without paying (not that they were asked to!), thus creating an international incident!
The Gold had live music every Sunday night ... hosted Gallery openings for local artists and photographers ... threw great parties ... offered our roof terrace as the perfect venue to hold a BBQ ... provided an upstairs private conference room for those deal-making moments ... and was used as a regular filming site by local production companies ... and generally served as a home away from home for all who entered.
Michael sold The Portobello Gold in 2016 and has carried on his love of providing easy hospitality at his newly-opened luxury holiday home, The Sandcastle. He lives also in Oxford with his wife, Linda Johnson-Bell (www.thewinelady.com), an award-winning wine critic, author, conference speaker and climate-change analyst, along with their two teenage sons.