As the traffic thunders through north London up Kentish Town Road on its way from Camden Town to Archway, you might catch a glimpse of Kelly Street, a crescent of cottages painted in a rainbow of colours; or Caversham Road, a wide, leafy street full of fine Victorian houses.
Kentish Town is a neighbourhood that hides its delights behind its run-down main road, but only a few steps away from this busy thoroughfare there are roads and roads of solid Victorian houses, where prices are significantly lower than in nearby Camden Town, Hampstead or Highgate.
In the years after the Second World War, it was Irish and Greek Cypriot families who made NW5 their home; now it is leading lights in the media world who are settling there. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, TV journalist Jon Snow, the Beatles biographer Hunter Davies and his novelist wife Margaret Forster, writer Julian Barnes, DJ Edith Bowman and actors Bill Nighy and his wife Diana Quick all live in NW5.
Kentish Town sits between Chalk Farm to the west, Highgate to the north, Islington to the east and Camden Town in the south. Most of the housing is Victorian, ranging from bijou terrace cottages to the west of the high street in Kelly Street, Wills Road and Alma Street, to the large semi-detached villas in the Dartmouth Park conservation area. As well as two- and three-bedroom cottages and large family houses, Kentish Town is also a good place to look for spacious flats in converted houses.
Once famous for its piano- and organ-makers, Kentish Town is still a good place to buy a piano, with Phelps Pianos in Fortess Road and the Piano Warehouse in Highgate Road. And this musical tradition lives on at two of the capital’s most famous music venues, almost next door to each other in Highgate Road. The Bull and Gate hosts gigs by new bands — Blur, PJ Harvey, Keane and Coldplay all played there in their early days — while the Forum caters for more established bands.
The local high street, Kentish Town Road, is a mixture of small shops and chain stores, and although there are plenty of independent fruit-and-vegetable stalls, there is also a smattering of cash converters, pound stores and charity shops. High points are the Owl Bookshop, a long-established independent bookshop; the Renoir, a popular café; the Oxford, a gastropub; newcomer Earth, a large organic grocer with an impressive salad bar; and just off the street in Holmes Road, there’s Troy, a café where Kate Moss was recently spotted.
There is also a history of community-led protests in the area. Most recently, local people successfully campaigned to retain the splendid red-brick Victorian baths in Prince of Wales Road, which is getting a £25 million restoration. Others have rallied around to support the residents of picturesque Little Green Street, a row of bow-fronted Georgian cottages on a narrow cobbled lane, which is threatened with use by heavy building lorries.
Paul Mould, of local estate agents Benham & Reeves, says that high house prices in surrounding areas are bringing new buyers to Kentish Town. “About 40 per cent of our buyers are from outside the area. For example, a one-bedroom flat in Kentish Town sells for between £250,000 and £300,000. This compares with between £350,000 and £600,000 in Hampstead.”
* Local authority: Camden (020 7278 4444). Band D council tax is £1,300.52.
* Schools: the best-performing primary schools are Holy Trinity and Saint Silas C of E in Hartland Road, Eleanor Palmer in Lupton Street, which is surrounded by its own “home zone” that excludes cars from around the school gates, and Fleet in Fleet Road. Holy Trinity and Kentish Town primary were among this year’s crop of Ofsted’s outstanding providers.
The local comprehensive schools are: Camden School for Girls, which takes boys in the sixth form, and which Ofsted rates as a very good school; Acland Burghley, rated “good with many strengths”; Parliament Hill (girls) described as “a good school with excellent features”; William Ellis (boys) “good and improving”; and La Sainte Union RC (girls) “good with many outstanding features”. The last four schools operate a joint sixth-form known as La Swap. Local private schools are Channing (girls) and Highgate (boys), both in Highgate, and South Hampstead High (girls) and University College (boys) in Hampstead.
* Theatre: The Roundhouse at Chalk Farm (020 7424 9991).
* Cinema: Odeon Camden Town (0871 224 4007).
* Music venues: The Bull and Gate (020 8826 5000), The Forum (0871 230 1093) and The Roundhouse (see above).
* Shopping: Owl bookshop (020 7485 7793) and Earth Natural Foods (020 7482 2211) in Kentish Town Road; Phelps Pianos (020 7485 2042) in Fortess Road; and Piano Warehouse (020 7267 7671) in Highgate Road. Highgate Road is a good place to shop for oriental carpets. Try Orientalist (020 7482 0555) and Seneh Carpets (020 7482 1632); Alindo (020 7482 7007) in the same road sells furniture with an Eastern influence.
* Eating out: Café Renoir (020 7485 7186) is a popular local café in Kentish Town Road, as is RED (020 7482 7300) a café, restaurant and deli. Lalibela (020 7284 0600) is an Ethiopian restaurant in Fortess Road. Pubs serving food include: The Junction Tavern (020 7485 9400) in Fortess Road, The Oxford (020 7485 3521) in Kentish Town Road; The Vine (020 7209 0038) in Highgate Road, The Dartmouth Arms (020 7485 3267) in York Rise and The Lord Palmerston (020 7485 1578), Dartmouth Park Hill.
* Other things to do: Kentish Town City Farm (020 7916 5421). The Torriano Poets (020 7267 2751) meet every Sunday evening at the Torriano Meeting House in Torriano Avenue.
* New homes: Tally Ho Quarter, Highgate Road. A total of 34 one- and two-bedroom flats with shops below to be completed in spring next year. One-bedroom apartments cost from £310,950, and two bedrooms from £360,950. Contact Benham & Reeves (020 7284 0101)