Monthly Archives: October 2012

The North Pole

north pole

An authentic London pub is a hard thing to find, one which also serves a range of American-themed comfort food is even harder.

Now I realise the two hardly seem comparable and I can hear you screaming this already and you are completely right, but paired together they make a strange yet ultimately charming duo.

You’ll find the pub a stone’s throw away from Essex Road among the classic Victorian town houses of Islington which to me are the antithesis of the area’s appeal and feature heavily in pretty much every Richard Curtis film ever made. On the other side of the road, there’s a long stretch of grim, concrete housing blocks creating a strange paradoxical clash where of North meets East London.

Among this divide of cultures, you can find the The North Pole pub which exudes a welcoming, homely feel making a pleasant change from the numerous gastro pubs across North London which more often than not are utterly soulless.

This pub is different as can be seen from the rustic, but not in a trying-to-hard manor and the friendly staff who will gladly talk you through the extensive drinks list.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned it twice already I’d better explain. The pub specialises in real ale and craft beers and not only has a strong selection of local brands but also bottled and on- tap varieties from around the world.

Now although a lot of pubs advertise this fact, this one really means it. So that’s 10 real ales and two ciders on tap, and these are constantly changing as they only include independent suppliers.

The London Fields Brewery is a regular along with Brew Dog in Camden and Meantime in Greenwich. There are also 12 different beer kegs and more than 20 different bottled versions.

With such a selection in front of you the main question will be what to go for first and secondly how you’re going to get home after drinking so much. While I’m not a massive beer or ale enthusiast, I tried several on offer and was pleasantly surprised by how each matched my requirements of a ‘light tasting beer without the headiness you’ll get in a dark ale’.

My friend Hugh on the other hand is a self-confessed drinks snob and he managed to quaff down several beers, both bottled and on-tap, and gave each an enthusiastic applause, the more so the further we ventured on in this drinks flight.

Now by this stage Hugh and I, after several half pints of the sweet stuff, were ready to embark on some stodgy food to soak it all up. To meet our requirements, there’s a snack menu, (one for £4, two for £7.50, three for £10,50) and these are the perfect afternoon filler between lunch and dinner – or if you’re just feeling greedy and want something extra
alongside your main meal.

In the snacks there are all the pub favourites such as a very runny scotch egg, pork scratchings with spiced apple sauce, a pint of prawns and finger licken’ chicken strips with ranch dressing. As a warning to those like me with eyes bigger than your stomachs (do people still use expressions like this?) the servings are big so if you’re planning on going past
this part stick to one or two each.

The mains are pretty standard pub food fodder apart from a few American-inspired dishes thrown in such as the mac and cheese and jerk chicken with rice, peas and coleslaw.

For the sweet-toothed fiends, the pudding menu changes all the time but when I was there featured delights such as waffles with maple syrup (carrying on the American theme), cheesecakes and fruit crumbles.

It’s nice to find a pub which hasn’t been too affected by the gastro-pub force and still retains a bit of tradition while serving well-cooked pub grub with a bit of a twist and independently-sourced ales and craft beers.

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As a north Londoner I rarely venture south of the river so when I heard all the buz around new Italian restaurant Antico I thought it would be worth making the trip and I am very glad I did.

Nesteled on the corner of the so-called ‘up-and-coming’ Bermondsy (do people just say that about rather unimpressive areas which get lucky with a few good restaurants/bars?!), it’s about a 10-minute walk from the tube.

When we went the rain outside was pelting down at us from every direction and with a flimsy umbrella I arrived looking less like myself and more drowned rat. Luckily as soon as we stepped into the charming little traditional Italian restaurant, I was met with a wave of warm air and the smell of the delicious, aromatic flavours of Italy.

The newly-opened restaurant used to be an antiques warehouse but it’s now going for the ‘rustic’ Italian look and although this isn’t really achieved – there’s a lot of modern-looking wood everywhere – the food does tick this box. In fact it ticks it in a big fat black marker.

It’s hard to start with the food as everything I had was simply outstanding. I am guilty of over-egging certain things in life, but in this instance I truly mean it.

To start we had a bowl of plump Nocarella olives and spongy focaccia and the salty mix of the fresh olives and airy bread was just the right way to begin the fest.

Next up a creamy burrata which I imagine is the kind of thing you’d be served in heaven. It’s pure melt-in-your mouth loveliness which is dolloped on top of some salty prosciutto on ciabatta bread. We also tried some juicy scallops sprinkled in pancetta which were another ‘Am I really eating this it’s so good’ moment.

When it comes to the main meals the major thing missing is the generic pizza and pasta dishes you’ll find on most Italian menus. In fact there’s not a pizza in sight and only a very small pasta selection. The pasta however, is not to be overlooked. The restaurant’s owner, Nick Crispini, says “pasta is easy to make but difficult to master,” and he is right. This is not the kind of pasta I’ve ever eaten before and I am quite a connoisseur and greedy lover of the stuff. It’s strong enough to hold its shape and provides a delicate crunch instead of the normal slop I’m used to.

Finally to top it all off despite being comfortably full, the waitress tempted us into having Tiramisu and a chocolate, almond and hazelnut cake and it again surpassed all previous expectations. I’m not really a fan of Tiramisu or any kind of desert with alcohol-soaked sponge layers, but this one was exceptionally light, creamy and luscious.

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