FEBRUARY 2020: We’ve added two new Italian spots (Milan-esque Latteria and Puglian-inspired Terra Rossa), as well as the Islington branch of hip kebab joint Bababoom. We’ve also singled out the utterly brilliant burgers at Four Legs at the Compton Arms as well as the mouth-numbing esoteric victuals on offer at Sichuan House. Finally, we give the nod to the N1 branch of ‘brunch and booze’ favourite Brother Marcus.
There’s plenty to please the sophisticated palate in N1. Take a tour of the great restaurants in Islington: Turkish delights on Upper Street, poshed-up gastropubs and modern European brasseries are just a few things you’ll find.
The best restaurants in Islington
It’s named after a song by The Strokes, there are vinyl sleeves on the walls and the tables are all scuffed up, but it’s quality all the way at this near-flawless solo venture from chef James Cochran (ex-The Ledbury and the Harwood Arms). Flavours are new-Brit with a Scottish/Caribbean kick reflecting Cochran’s roots, while compositions are complex but never OTT. Midweek lunches (Wed-Fri) promise three plates for £15, and Sunday lunch is one mighty blowout.
Overlooking Islington Green, Afghan Kitchen is a long-serving local favourite that’s never needed to change its style. The two-floor premises are bright, tidy and compact, with lots of shared tables and a menu of equally straightforward home cooking – think proper breads, hearty, warming stews and filling rice dishes, with plenty for veggies as well as carnivores. It’s also cheap as chips, with most mains weighing in around £7.50. Just remember to bring cash – it doesn’t take cards.
A hip kebab diner for the twenty-first century, the Islington sibling of Bababoom in Battersea serves up the real Middle Eastern deal from a cleverly designed, bespoke charcoal grill. Ingredients are lovingly prepped, portions are generous, and fillings are modishly off-piste (marinated mutton shawarma with whipped feta, smoky pink ‘kraut, pomegranate seeds and harissa, say). Don’t forget to order some well-oiled za’atar bread, dukkah fries and sticky sumac wings too. Weekend brunch is also worth checking out.
Like its siblings in Balham and Spitalfields, this branch of Brother Marcus sells itself as an all-purpose neighbourhood hangout with the emphasis on brunch and booze. By day, it offers on-trend brekkie and lunch combos with an Eastern Mediterranean slant and names like Yummy Mummy (falafel, quinoa tabbouleh, burnt aubergine, preserved lemon and beetroot tahini); in the evenings, it’s all about cocktails and more ambitious small plates from ‘land’, ‘earth’ and ‘sea’.
If you only order one thing at this small dining room above the Compton Arms in Canonbury, make sure it’s their bona fide, utterly brilliant cheeseburger. It’s the stuff of dreams, a sloppy, messy thing comprising a thin and juicy chargrilled patty made from Dexter beef with all your favourite accompaniments. The rest of the menu is a bit of a mixed bag, although we like the salad-based numbers such as watermelon with needles of salted ricotta and flashes of fennel.
Old enough and wise enough to deserve the title ‘Islington classic’, dapper family-run Frederick’s (born in 1969) just keeps on keeping on – driven along by loyal customers who greatly appreciate its lofty conservatory, striking contemporary artworks, pretty hidden garden and gently fashionable modern European food. Menus change with the seasons at this ritzy local treat, while fixed-price deals and Saturday brunch ensure that it’s great value as well as great fun.
Venue says A family-run place in Angel founded in 1969. Menus from £17 (two-course) and £21 (three-course), plus private dining and wedding options.
A class act in the veggie scheme of things, this self-proclaimed ‘plant-based pioneer’ charms punters with its modern, monochrome interior, open kitchen, huge windows and on-trend industrial-style lighting. Every dish is beautifully presented, with bespoke accompaniments complementing the global big hits – think marinated tofu with a quinoa, avocado and tomato salsa or shiitake ginger gyoza with crispy kale, teriyaki sauce and roasted cashews. Friendly staff are bang-on when it comes to allergies and special diets.
Despite its longevity on the Islington scene, Isarn still exudes a slinky, contemporary vibe – thanks to timeless black-and-white interiors and warm yellow lighting. Although it’s named after the chef’s home region of Isaan, the menu is mostly composed of familiar Thai salads, soups, curries and stir-fries rather than distinctive regional specialities. Isarn may look expensive, but the food remains surprisingly wallet-friendly – especially if you pop in for one of its special set lunches or a bowl of pad thai.
A loveable slice of 1950s Milan on the lesser-visited strip of Essex Road, Latteria flaunts its daytime charms against a stylish backdrop of pillarbox-red tiles, trendy terrazzo flooring and retro Italian provisions. The menu’s easy to love too, with its crowd-pleasing line-up of classic cicchetti, antipasti, pasta, pizzas and big-plate secondi. Latteria also flexes its culinary muscles in the evenings (Thu-Sat) with a roster of similar dishes. Enjoy it all alfresco on the fair-sized terrace in good weather.
Venue says Latteria is a cafe, restaurant and bar that draws inspiration from the pasticceria, panino shops and pizzeria’s in Milan.
It may lack the intimacy of the East End original, but Islington’s Little Georgia is still a happy find for anyone craving some indigenous Eurasian cuisine. The colourful dining room is stuffed with vintage Georgian artefacts and plastered with vintage political posters, while Tiko Tuskadze’s menu deals in ethnic classics from her homeland – don’t miss the freshly baked khachapuri (traditional cheese bread) or family recipes such as tabaka (roast poussin with chicken livers and Georgian plum sauce). Unusual Georgian wines too.
The location may be respectable N1, but this punk burger chain’s only concession to its Upper Street home is the lifting of an embargo on bookings (hooray!). Otherwise, it’s business as usual: grungy, warehouse-style interiors, throbbing music cranked up to 11 and a hell-raising rock ‘n’ roll vibe, plus X-rated cocktails and gut-bustingly delicious food. The celebrated ‘dead hippie’ burger and deep-fried pickles are must-haves, but it’s full-on stuff all the way.
Tom Oldroyd was chef-director of Russell Norman’s tentacular hit Polpo before going it alone with this diminutive and deceptively laid-back solo debut in Islington. Small plates and high-impact flavours from Italy, France and Spain are the kitchen’s calling cards, which could mean anything from salt cod and chilli croquetas with squid-ink aïoli to rare-breed porchetta with cavolo nero and salsa verde. Wines and cocktails are also seriously good… and (joy!) you can book.
Even if you’ve never heard of Yotam Ottolenghi, you can’t pass the flagship branch of his café-deli empire without stopping to admire the sight. Fronting the all-white dining room is a huge window display, while the long counter is piled with bowls and platters of food that look so darned healthy. Salads and veggie combos are the headline acts, but every globetrotting dish is a masterclass of vibrant flavours, colours and contrasts. Downsides? Small portions and a not-so-small bill…
The owners may be holed up at POTL’s offshoot in Padstow, but this original branch still pulls the crowds with its offer of briny fresh seafood served in a buzzy neighbourhood setting with a fishmonger’s attached. Menus depend on the day’s catch (perhaps Porthilly mussels with clams and manzanilla or whole mackerel with ‘’nduja and fennel) – although whole Padstow lobsters, crabs and glistening platters of fruits de mer steal most of the limelight.
What was the Almeida restaurant (opposite the namesake theatre) has been refashioned by D&D London with help from star chef Francesco Mazzei (he of Sartoria in Mayfair). Swooningly pretty by design (think terracotta walls, oversized terrazzo floor tiles and a sparkly bar), Radici majors in classily reinvented trattoria staples inspired by the chef’s native Calabria – albeit at W1 prices. To keep the bill in check, we suggest ordering a couple of tip-top antipasti followed by a ‘molto, molto buono’ pizza.
You’ll find duck with pancakes and familiar stir-fries on offer at this friendly Islington restaurant, although you’re better off stepping into the esoteric world of mouth-numbing mapo tofu, dry-fried pig’s intestines and other regional obscurities. A plate of salty deep-fried green beans with pork goes down well with a cold Tsing Tao beer, but for a real blast order the ‘spicy steam pot’ with all sorts of weird and wonderful additions. Can’t take the heat? Staff are happy to turn it down a tad.
The waiters have tattoos by default and the aromas from a fired-up grill permeate the Shaker-style dining room at this ultra-hip Canonbury gastropub – a venue that has got the balance between boozer and restaurant just right. Everything revolves around top-quality produce, which is cured, roasted or grilled over coals – think Korean pulled pork or smoked poussin with zhoug and yoghurt. Rare-breed cuts have their moment when it comes to the Sunday roast, while strange brews figure prominently on the beer list.
Although it’s rooted in the traditions of Puglia’s ‘cucina povera’, this low-key family-run Islington Italian is also in tune with London’s trends when it comes to provenance and plant-based dishes. Check out the pappardelle topped with chunky wild boar ragù in negroamaro wine or the dark, nutty ‘grano arso’ pasta (made from ‘burnt grains’ and served with yellow tomatoes, black olives and broccoli purée). Tip: the best seats in the house are out on the pavement in summer.
Highbury’s star Italian has made the restaurant biz look like child’s play since day one by combining irresistible food with spot-on service and affordable prices. Trullo is home to some of London’s best pasta (the pappardelle with slow-cooked beef-shin ragù is a silky delight) and there’s some brilliant stuff from the charcoal grill, plus a selection of wicked fruit tarts to finish. A comprehensive all-Italian wine list helps to emphasise the restaurant’s true calibre.
Ignore the functional decor and go for the full-on regional burn at Yipin, where the vast menu highlights the earthy flavours of Hunan province alongside more familiar Cantonese dishes and lip-numbing peasant-style specialities from Sichuan. Bold, fiery riffs abound, whether you’re tackling a wonderfully sour plate of pickled runner beans with minced pork or a delectably fatty portion of twice-cooked pork belly. Just remember that this is an upscale Chinese in upscale Islington, so prices aren’t Chinatown-cheap.