I’ve spent many happy hours at North London Polytechnic over the last 15 years, but I was never enrolled on a course there, and the only studying I ever did was of a menu. The entrance hall of the building that once housed this academic establishment, you see, had been turned into a Pizza Express, and it’s a three-minute walk from my house.
It was a fabulous place, with swooping mezzanine floors, a spiral staircase, a glass dome in the ceiling and oil paintings of (I think) the college’s grand fromages. In one corner there was a wire sculpture of a human figure that always led to a conversation about whether some apathetic art student had jettisoned it at the end of their course. I used to love those conversations as much as I loved the interior, despite its increasing shabbiness, and the fact that I never saw anyone eat so much as a dough ball at any of the upstairs tables.
Unfortunately, my midweek pizzas and speculations about the building’s past have come to an end. The place closed earlier this month and although I haven’t been able to find out for certain, I’d wager a tenner that it’ll be turned into flats – something I find bittersweet. I’d always fantasised about what an amazing flat it would make (despite concerns such as “it would be a bugger to heat” and “it’d be dark at the back”), but I’ll be very dismayed if it is turned into accommodation – what about all the fun people have had over the years imagining living there over their lasagnes, and planning the parties they’d have? If it becomes apartments, all the romance will be sucked out of it (and the flats at the back would be very dark).
I know it’s only a C-list pizza restaurant but it’s the first place I went, a decade and a half ago, in the bit of London I now call home. I’ve watched my stepdaughter grow up there over countless divorced-dad weekend lunches. Thrillingly, I sat at the table next to Michael Palin (lovely Michael Palin) the last time I went.
Despite its peeling paint and rickety fittings (the ladies’ loos were particularly dodgy), the place harked back to Pizza Express’s old policy of picking unusual buildings for its branches, and to a time when I thought a La Reine with spinach and an egg – my own invention, FYI – was the height of sophistication. The experience was about more than the food and the building was more than a location, it had become a sort of friend. Still, I suppose it’s cold comfort to know that if it does get tarted up and transformed into the inevitable flats, they’ll no doubt be a bugger to heat.