Unlike the strip of brass which marks the Meridian, an invisible line divides tourists from the residents of Greenwich; they occupy different spheres.
Time may have a coach-party-pleasing name, a position in a Georgian triangle in downtown Greenwich and a history older than Time itself, but this bar and restaurant in the world's first purpose-built music hall gives you access to inner SE10 - and a sensational glimpse of the Cutty Sark. It also overlooks the bones of the indoor market stalls which, on Sundays, are stuffed with second-hand clothes and tourists.
We climbed a tatty stairway to a lofty first-floor room where intense, groovy young villagers occupied butch, black leather-and-chrome sofas. To us, if not them, the masts of the tea clipper, viewed through a sash-window frame as if it had just docked, rather than been marooned in a concrete pier, looked as surprising and dramatically incidental as the ship berthed at the bottom of the hill in Hitchcock's Marnie.
The keyboard player didn't pause when we walked in, but I could imagine he might hit an ironic minor chord if a group of camera-toting day trippers found their way up here. For their part, they might be put off by huge, offensive paintings of the Kray brothers and Hitler, which stand out among the art school abstracts. Another deterrent might be the dank, underground lavatories.
This bar is typical of behind-the-sights Greenwich: slightly grungy, arty, wearing its history lightly and resisting attempts to put a gloss on it. There's only one door to the glassed-in gallery that houses the restaurant, so to snatch a handbag would be fairly daring, but a notice warns that the establishment cannot take responsibility for customers' belongings. As if determined to make his own link with low life, the keyboard player seguÃ©d from "Paint it Black" to the Minder theme tune. "This makes me feel more at home," muttered my consort, who generally feels uneasy this far south of the Thames.
The Top Cat theme followed with a funky insistence that might put off more sensitive souls who like to commune quietly with their food. And there is plenty to contemplate, starting with a menu that shows ambition running ahead of its grasp of spelling. "What's gribiche?" my party wanted to know. Not to mention "pepperanata" and "gramolata". One sauce; one red and yellow pepper and tomato stew; a garlic, parsley and lemon zest garnish and two misspellings, and each an aspect of three dishes that showed knowledge and care in the cooking. The fate of several langoustine was juicily sealed in scrotally wrinkly ravioli, though why they'd been confined with shredded carrot wasn't clear, except for the connection with the rather too limpid and not sufficiently fragrant orange, cardamom and carrot butter sauce. The oyster mushroom and Puy lentil salad had twice as much goat's cheese as it needed, but the smoked haddock and baby leek terrine was a refreshing version of a classic combination.
No gripes, either, about the gribiche: an oily, eggy, caper and herb sauce squiring a terrine of pork knuckle and foie gras, wrapped in Savoy cabbage. Accuracy is a quality that preoccupies pompous food critics, and although the main courses weren't precision-cooked, none fell very wide of the mark. Both seared scallops on peperonata with new potatoes, and roast cod with a not-bad saltcod brandade and baby leeks (and the gremolata dressing) could have been cooked fractionally less so the seafood stayed opalescent. Balsamic vinegar seemed to have been liberally splashed on both dishes.
But if a measure of success is how much others want to share your supper, the grilled salmon with seafood risotto, with creamy parsley sauce over squid ink, was a triumph. It looked beautiful, too, when the ink made dark swirls as it broke through the pale green sauce. Also gratifying was braised oxtail, boned and arranged in a pat, with mashed potato swirled like a Walnut Whip, carrots and fried curls of parsnip.
An unflustered waitress coped single-handed, if not very speedily. She recalled who'd ordered what, which was a refreshing change for my brother-in-law, whose name is often abbreviated to the English translation of casserole. More than once I've seen him baffled by waiters demanding "Who's Stu?".
We weren't sorry we ordered the stodgiest puddings. Stu made light work of an airy steamed sponge with orange crÃ¿me anglaise, and the treacle tart with brown-bread ice cream was not an insurmountable pairing, even if it combined two desserts made of bread.
Time has been nominated for Time Out magazine's best local restaurant award. Dinner costs £18.50 for two courses, £22.50 for three. This is 50p more per course than lunch at another restaurant in Greenwich with a menu that's not so different. Yet Acclaim, the home of modern British cooking at the Dome, has received critical opprobrium. Visitors and villagers should get into Greenwich proper and find Time.
Time, 7A College Approach, London SE10 (020-8305 9767). Mon-Sat lunch and dinner, Sun dinner. Two courses £18.50, three courses £22.50. Sun lunch £14.50. Major cards except Diners. No disabled access
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