For years, it seemed the main purpose of Blackstock Road was to funnel Arsenal fans to the old Highbury stadium; this street has long been a place where passions run high. Gunners-themed shop signs let you know whose territory this is in footy terms – but all the red and white is also a show of community spirit in this rising culinary and cultural hotspot.
Linking Stroud Green Road and Highbury Park, Blackstock Road was slower to develop than surrounding streets because of its location on the Hackney Brook. People used to catch trout in this ancient stream, which cut the road in half until it was covered over – first with wooden planks, then streets and houses. Now, when the new stadium spills out on a match day, it’s impossible to imagine this once-rural route as anything other than part of a big and boisterous metropolis.
It’s a road of two halves. Defending from the north end: a proud line-up of chippies, offies, butchers, overflowing hardware stores and bustling North African delis. This is the high street you can’t believe still exists. Attacking from the south, it’s the London you’ve been told to hate, but secretly envy: here a petite florist, there a kooky antiques dealer; everywhere a brunch to be scoffed. It’s these wonderfully chaotic combinations that make Islington what it is.
The Winston, one of the three hearty brekkies at the Blighty UK Café.
Tortellini, tagliatelle or tiramisu – or indeed all of the above – at rustic Italian eatery Little Sardegna.
An 18-inch TSB (tenderstem broccoli, topped with manchego and pine nuts) at Yard Sale Pizza.
Pho and summer rolls at trendy Viet newcomer Salvation in Noodles.
Perfect kedgeree at Franks Canteen, just down on Highbury Park.
Garlic or falafel naans from Baban’s: a local institution so tiny it’s practically just a hole in the wall, selling nothing but naan.
Give the pottery wheel a spin at Clay Time, where you can simply drop in and sculpt or paint unique gifts.
Settle in and get cosy for a screening at Ink@84, just past the bottom of Blackstock: a bookshop/café that turns into a miniature arthouse cinema at night.
Laugh until you wet yourself at the T-Bird Comedy Club's regular Friday night sesh.
An ever-rotating selection of gins at the Bank of Friendship, an over-21s pub with a shady garden.
Locally made Square Mile coffee at the Highbury Arts Club. This place – just down on Highbury Park – manages to be a café, arts and music venue, and a tapas bar.
Local craft beers from panelled watering hole The Woodbine. The art deco walls of Arsenal’s former East Stand loom nearby.
A retro suitcase – and other stuff you never knew you needed – from Eighty-Seven. One of several antiques shops nearby, it’s crammed with wacky framed pictures and furniture.
Handsome handmade furniture made from reclaimed wood by the craftsmen at Gathering Moss.
Well-thumbed paperbacks from secondhand bookshop House of Hodge, to make yourself look brainy on the tube.
If you only do one thing…
Characterful corner boozer The Gunners is lined floor-to-ceiling with Arsenal memorabilia – but you don’t have to be a footy fanatic to enjoy its live music and comedy nights.