The North Pole
Greenwich High Road, SE10
A venue on three floors – A young, funky bar on the ground floor, a smart restaurant upstairs and a groovy nightclub The South Pole downstairs.
I first went to the restaurant in the 90s before I moved to Greenwich, for a business lunch, and I guess I’d always associated it with business lunches ever since and not bothered visiting. At the time it had only been open for a week and it was dazzlingly fresh and smart. Giant chandeliers with glass bowls hung from the ceiling, complete with goldfish swimming round and round; large bowls of fresh gladioli stood in the window sills, surrounded by deep swag curtains. I remember wondering at the time how long that all would last – not least because the only way to feed those fish would be to climb on a stepladder, and the only way to clear them out would be to take the whole chandelier down.
There is a separate entrance for the restaurant, but it isn’t always used, so that the way in is through the hip bar below. Richly dark, the partition walls inside are punctuated with water feature windows – slim tanks of underlit water which constantly bubble up creating a virtual net curtain. The main bar is dark and intimate, with light fittings made from pieces of chandelier glass, the “VIP” lounge area at the back louchely furnished with outsize sofas in cowskin. The only things that spoil the effect are the four SKY TV screens constantly blaring out the Live Match, making it impossible to escape from the telly, and totally breaking any funky atmosphere the place might have had.
I did have a little smile at one online review which talks about how some guy had come along to watch a big En-ger-land match and complained at the lack of tasty female talent in the bar…
The way up to the restaurant is via a spiral staircase, lit by disco rope lights, just this side of tacky. At the top, a gigantic old-fashioned chandelier is a very welcome sight.
The atmosphere above is very different to that of the bar . Dark red painted walls and heavy swag curtains at the windows affect a much more classy air, the high ceilings hi-lit by twinkling fairy lights. There are two rooms – one dominated by a baby grand piano, which is played from time to time which is rather nice (personally I’d avoid the Rat Pack tribute evenings where some bloke pretends to be Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra – no one can imitate Sammy – but some people like that sort of thing…) It is, unsurprisingly, decorated with framed black & white photographs of Rat Pack favourites – a slightly tired idea now, but then I guess this was decorated in the 90s.
The “Fine Dining Room” next door is divided with a glass door. The decor is much the same save that the framed pictures have a more botanical theme.
The food is modern European. The menu is appealing, with some really nice options. My companion’s fois-gras was tasty and came with a sauce that virtually saw him licking the plate. Some of the presentation is a bit cliched – am I the only person who’s getting a bit bored of the “tower of food” concept where everything’s placed on top of everything else with an artistic drizzle of sauce – sorry, jus – around the outside? Still, it tasted very good indeed – and you can’t knock that.
The Lamb Chump was equally good – generous portions and nicely presented. My risotto was a little less exciting – a watery basic-stock relying on the flavour of the additions for taste – but it was well-cooked and nicely filling.
The service was sweet and attentive. Our waitress was on her own and only just managing, juggling opening our wine with trying to take a booking on her mobile phone. That’s hardly her fault. She was chatty without being intrusive, friendly and very human. She told us that she’d been attacked on her way home to Brockley so many times that she now gets a cab home when she finishes at 2.00am (not paid for by the management.)
I had noticed that the chandelier in the “fine dining room” still had some (rather murky) water in it and a piece of pondweed floating on top, but no goldfish. Our waitress told us, almost with tears in her eyes, that it had just died. She feeds the goldfish herself and when one dies she gets very upset. She climbs a ladder to get to them, but the water’s not as clear as it could be because she’s not strong enough to lift down the light fitting and has to rely on someone else to do it.
So. Another mystery solved.
I like the North Pole. I wouldn’t visit the bar on an important match day, but the restaurant is still pretty smart (even if the glads have now been replaced by artificial flowers) the food is good and the service very sweet indeed.