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Islington area guide

Discover great restaurants, bars, pubs, live music venues and shops on offer in N1

© Heloise Bergman

Islington is not just for the champagne socialists – its boutiquesbars and restaurants offer something for the weekend, whichever way you lean. With a vibrant arts scene and big-name clubs drawing headline bands, N1 is guaranteed to offer a daytrip or big night out that gets your vote.

What are your favourite Islington haunts? Let us know in the comments.

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Ottolenghi

Hit cookbooks have made this flagship branch of the burgeoning Ottolenghi empire a point of pilgrimage for foodies the world over. Those Americans brunching nearby are as likely to be tourists as local émigrés from the banking sector, and back in the US they’ll rarely have seen french toast as fat and fluffy as the version found here. Made from brioche and served with crème fraîche and a thin berry and muscat compote, it makes a heady start to the day and, regrettably, tends to prevent further indulgence in tempting muffins and pastries. If you’re not seeking a sugar-high, alternatives include welsh rarebit, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon or a lively chorizo-spiked take on baked beans served with sourdough, fried egg and black pudding. The queue at the front contains much takeaway custom for the lavish spread of taste-tingling salads, cakes and other nibbles such as flaky cheese straws. In the evening (when bookings are taken), the cool white interior works a double shift as a smart and comparatively pricey restaurant serving elegant fusion dishes for sharing. Expect the likes of grilled quail with smoked chilli chocolate sauce, potato, pak choi and sesame – and expect to have trouble snaring a table. The three other branches are smaller, operating as deli-shops rather than restaurants.  

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs

The Alma

A friendly Islington local with a welcoming vibe and an array of movie posters, alongside other film paraphernalia. A British menu is served up from their kitchen daily (including the weekly Sunday roast), while the bar is well-stocked with imported and local craft beers, real ales, ciders, wines and spirits. The Alma also hosts a weekly pub quiz and open jam folk night.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants

Coffee Works Project

Upper Street and its tributaries have more than their fair share of cafés and restaurants, but a decent coffee shop is still hard to find there. Coffee Works Project is the first proper new-wave coffee bar to spill its beans near the Angel, drawing in a mix of chatty families and creatives hunched over their laptops. A changing selection of three filter coffees is advertised on a blackboard above the bar, and friendly staff are happy to explain their distinct flavours. A caramel-coloured Ethiopian Yirgacheffe (served in a glass jug) was so light that it looked more like a black tea. We were advised not to add any milk to it, since this would hide its delicate floral notes. The brew didn’t need any sugar either – it was inherently sweet. But for a proper caffeine hit, choose the flat white. Served in a glass, the Kiwi classic was strong and smooth without any trace of bitterness. Behind the bar, a windowed fridge reveals British charcuterie (from Moons Green) and Neal’s Yard Dairy cheeses, which are used in the café’s sandwiches, salads and on cheese and charcuterie boards. There’s also a selection of cakes: the ginger and cardamom cake sprinkled with pomegranate aril, looked pretty but disappointed with its crumbly dryness. Better though was a thick slice of banana and chocolate cake: it was moist and generously crammed with dark chocolate chunks. The decor is kept simple: white walls, reclaimed school chairs and tables, and a vast wooden bar in the current coffee shop fa

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Shopping

Home and Pantry

An independent fashion and homeware boutique specialising in rustic-chic and Scandi home furnishings, as well as accessories and gifts. 

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Music

Union Chapel

The devil might have all the best tunes, but the Union Chapel is proof that him downstairs knows nothing about architecture. The Grade I-listed gothic masterpiece, completed in 1877, is still used as a working church and help centre for London's homeless. Noble purposes, to be sure, but equally uplifting is the effect the environment has on performances – and performers. Put simply, bands raise their game when they're playing the Union Chapel – it'd be sacrilege not to – and the spellbinding surroundings and acoustics mean it still beats the crap out of the most modern, purpose-built venue the twenty-first century has to offer. While itmade its name hosting acoustic nights and occasional jazz shows, the Union Chapel has since become a magnet for the thinking bands and their fans, particularly as part of the rightly lauded Little Noise Sessions for Mencap.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants in Islington

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Tierra Peru

Venue says: £16 instead of £21 for our all-you-can-eat buffet every weekend for brunch (noon-6pm). Book with the code #timeoutoffer, via the phone.

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants

Meat People

Alfredo’s, then a little S&M (the former Sausage & Mash café, that is): as Islington landmarks go, this position is a prime cut, now carved out by Meat People. The 1920s Grade II-listed building with its tiled ceiling, wooden panelling and steel-framed windows still evokes the ocean-liner era, even with its vibrant yellow banquettes. The current trend for steak and burger places means that competition in now hotter than a Josper grill. Meat People is no Hawksmoor or Meat Liquor, though – it’s a neighbourhood joint. We opted for the Meat People Platter, a board bearing a selection of their main courses: slow-grilled beef short ribs, onglet steak and Iberico pork. The standout piece was the onglet, tender and yielding and cooked medium-rare as requested. The other two cuts had had a less profitable time on the grill. The pork was too blackened – the charring overpowered rather than offset the cut’s underlying flavour. The rib meat required a few chews too many, but the chimichurri garnish was good. Beetroot and a handful of broad beans, although incongruously cold, nicely accompanied the pan-fried sea bream. The most exciting part of the dish was the huacaina sauce, a Peruvian mix that included white cheese and yellow chilli. This is not a Latin American restaurant, but the chef happens to be Argentinian. A South American influence continued into the light desserts. Slices of caramelised banana were joined by a creamy scoop of dulce de leche ice cream, and slivers of lime rin

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants

Food Lab

A clean, somewhat rustic and brightly lit setting in which to enjoy a quick cuppa or bite to eat, while you catch up on a bit of work. Or sit down for a meal in their restaurant earlier, where they serve fine Italian pastas, seafood dishes, risotto and more. There are also a few products such as Tuscan olive oil, jam and pickles to buy from Food Lab's shelves.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Restaurants

Mahal

Indian restaurant on Essex Road in Islington serving traditional Indian dishes to eat in or takeaway. Closed on Monday.

Users say
  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs in Islington

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69 Colebrooke Row

This tiny place, a short walk from Upper Street on an Islington backstreet, is where bar-wizard Tony Conigliaro first came to widespread prominence. Conigliaro has a laboratory upstairs, producing unique cocktail ingredients which find their way into the drinks here and at his other venues. The cocktails here actually seem much straightforward than many people expect, with fewer (and less weird) ingredients than those found at many other London bars, although there’s real dedication evident in every sip. There’s a serene simplicity in mixes such as Death in Venice: campari, grapefruit bitters and prosecco. The visual style is classic jazz-age, and a pianist provides the soundtrack. Conigliaro’s fame and the bar’s size mean that it’s best to book, but the prices, given the reputation behind the place, are extremely reasonable.  

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs

Earl of Essex

The first thing you might notice on entering this backstreet Georgian pub is the beautiful island back-bar with a ’60s ‘Watney Red Barrel’ sign; the second will probably be the vast hymn-type board advertising that day’s beers on offer. Staff are constantly hopping up on to chairs to change the names as kegs run out – it’s that sort of place. Nowadays, almost every new pub tries to sell itself on a ‘craft beer’ offer, but not all manage it on this scale. There are 11 on keg, five or six on cask, plus a couple of quality ciders. The range covers Britain from Devon to Cromarty via Ilkley, before jetting off to the Continent, Scandinavia and the USA. And it gets even better – there’s usually one beer pouring from the on-site Earl’s Brewery. Staff are happy to offer tastings and know their stuff. On the menu, dishes are all listed with beer recommendations. Whether we really need a suggested beer match for a fishfinger sandwich I’m not sure, although it’s a nice touch. Like most things in this pub.

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs

Lord Clyde

A quality makeover, this, a few bus stops north of the spaghetti junction of bars around the Angel. It’s a big place to keep busy with return custom, with the huge interior supplemented by an umbrella-festooned front terrace (‘The Deck’), but the owners succeed thanks to excellent food, decent ales (Harveys Sussex Best plus a guest, such as Hook Norton’s Old Hooky or Cotleigh’s 25) and a pub-like atmosphere with nods to modern manners. Lending itself to peaceful newspaper perusal at lunchtimes, ideally in the big armchair by the open fire, the Lord Clyde also suits the pre-party crowd, with music at conversational level, San Miguel, Amstel and Aspall Cyder on draught, and superior, own-made bar snacks (sausage rolls, scotch eggs). Lunchtime meze, Harveys-battered haddock and chips, and Sunday roasts (served until 7pm) provide further sustenance.  

Time Out says
  • 5 out of 5 stars
Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Bars and pubs

Barrio North

It's all about street culture at this Essex Road bar - one of three London venues from the Barrio group. The vibe is influenced by urban art and music from some of the world's big cities - London, Lisbon, Miami, Mexico and elsewhere.  Cocktails play a lead role here, not least during the generous happy hours. Options range from the rumshackle (Santa Teresa rum with orange curacao, orgeat, pineapple and lime) to the ram berry jam (homemade raspberry jam liqueur with Stoli vodka, lemon and cava) and the pinata paloma - a mix of tequila, passion fruit, fresh lime, guava and Ting served in a porcelain pinata.  There's an international flavour to the bar food, with wasabi peas, chilli rice crackers and platters of meats and cheeses alongside mixed olives, chips with dips, houmous with pitta and ciabatta with olives and chorizo.  The venue's centrepiece - a '70s caravan with one side lopped off - provides the plum seats.

Users say
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Comments

1 comments
John R. O'Neon
John R. O'Neon

Great area but I would like to know where Alan Davis lives? I want to send him a small 'Blue Whale' and can't find his contact address anywhere. I hope sombody can help me. Thanks John