The Prince of Greenwich:
London's Museum Pub
I have always had a weakness for pubs and could possibly live on a diet consisting solely of fish and chips and beer, if it wasn't for health reasons. There are many pubs in London I love but The Prince of Greenwich is surely unlike any of them.
It's not fish and chips you should expect upon arrival, but the finest southern Italian food, from homemade pizza and pasta to fresh fish and seafood and mouthwatering desserts. Should you be lucky, Pietro La Rosa himself will greet you like a long lost friend and you're likely to fall under his spell like I did nearly 3 years ago. The whole place is filled with fascinating objects that wouldn't be out of place in a museum. Indeed, The Prince of Greenwich is a museum pub.
'You must have coffee and you need to eat' says Pietro with a smile. I make my excuses about coffee as it's 4pm and I'd risk a sleepless night. I'm amazed to learn he has his coffee before bedtime at 2am and doesn't need more than 4 hours of sleep. Pietro is full of energy and only his grey hair and beard betray his age. He is an amazing host and before I know it, a mix of irresistible bruschetta and a glass of chilled beer appears in front of me.
'We eat the same food upstairs with my family' my Sicilian host admits. Pietro is having a cappuccino while I'm holding an artichoke bruschetta in one hand and a pen in the other one.
'I was 17 years old when I was working in a pub in London, the Swan in Stockwell' I knew that when I finish travelling I'll have my own pub' says Pietro. His travels took him around the world. He kindly innumerates all the places: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, China, Japan, USA (Miami, New Orleans), Texas and Brazil where Pietro and his family lived for 10 years before moving to London.
From early on he discovered his passion for collecting objects. 'It is an illness' Pietro confesses though his eyes seem to be saying that he wouldn't like to get cured. In every country he has visited he bought a barber's chair as a souvenir. As a result there are now 14 of them in La Rosa collection and 4 pianos as well. He eagerly shows me one of the pianos. An eccentric instrument just like his owner, the piano has an inbuilt lights that change as required and you can see the mechanism inside in motion when you press the keys. Above the instrument there is an impressive real sperm whale bone on display. 'My little dog found it on the beach in Brazil' comes an explanation. 'He's now 15 and he speaks Portuguese!' my eccentric host says and such is his charm, that I believe him. The dog is called Peteka and is named after a traditional sport played in Brazil.
We sit down again and I mention their old family house in Brazil. Pietro admits they have managed to bring 'some parts' of the house with them. Beautifully carved guilded frames with exotic looking cherub faces can be easily spotted on the walls. They were originally the shutters in their old place. One of them has been skillfully converted into the door at the back of the bar. We walk upstairs to see the front door that leads to the La Rosa family living quarters. It is the very same wooden carved door they used to open back in Brazil.
While first customers start appearing downstairs, the upstairs room is still quiet. It's like a curiosity shop and a cosy music club at the same time. The glass cabinets are filled with fascinating objects and the walls covered with images of some of the greatest jazz and blues musicians. A huge colourfully painted tin fish is hoovering in the centre above our heads. It's not just an artwork, it's a lamp and I soon discover many more tin lamps in the shape of various animals including pigs around the place.
While we are upstairs, Pietro shows me into the tiny bar. He points towards a case with small aperitif glasses: 'They belonged to my grandfather. He liked to travel to Sahara desert from Sicily. It takes 3 hours by boat. Then he sat there and drank his rosollio.' Pietro makes sure I write the name of this traditional Italian liqueur down.
The matters of food and drink are naturally of great importance to someone who grew up in Sicily. Indeed Pietro first learned to cook while watching his mum and grandma make local specialities.
Every object in the Prince of Greenwich has got a story to tell. 'It's the action behind the object' that I'm interested in reveals Pietro. We're sitting again at the table below a massive head of a rhino that Pietro made from fibreglass. 'It took me 6 months to make the first rhino and it looked like a penguin. This one took me 9 months.' my talented host laughs. I have long been aware that rhinos are very special to Pietro but today I learn something new. The story takes us back 15 or even 20 years when Pietro was working as a fashion desinger. 'Just one of my different jobs in life' states this man of many talents. We watch a short video clip on his phone, and while the commentary in Italian is lost on me, I recognise Pietro and his lovely wife Paola surrounded by catwalk models wearing Pierponch outfits. The company's logo features a rhino.
The pub is filling up and now and again Pietro greets his patrons with a smile and a hug. For the last 3 years The Prince of Greenwich has been right in the heart of the community and many of its customers are local residents. Here is a family run place with warm welcome and delicious food. In its eccentric and eclectic surroundings you can listen to live music or enjoy one of Italian cinema afternoons and practise your Italian. Well behaved children and pets are welcome in this pub. 'I call it public home not a public house' says Pietro.
Just before I leave I cast a glance around the place. I wonder what changes will I notice when I come here again. 'Every Monday I go to my storage and bring some new things with me. I like to change things around.' says my host. I also learn that the menu changes every 3 months.
I'm leaving reluctantly and I am already planning my next visit, this time with my husband and daughter. Needless to say, our pets (2 very curious cats) will have to stay at home!
You will find The Prince of Greenwich at 72 Royal Hill. It's open every day except Mondays.
For more details visit https://www.theprinceofgreenwichpub.com