Not much changes at this long-running restaurant overlooking Islington Green. The two-floor premises are bright and clean, with spring-green and grey paintwork, simple blond-wood tables and stools, and no decoration beyond a few pot plants. The menu of Afghan home cooking is equally straightforward: eight dishes (three meat, one fish, four vegetarian) of which the focus is hearty, warming stews that feature plenty of yoghurt and mint. Spicing is subtle rather than fiery.
The route between the Almeida theatre over the road and this D&D London restaurant is a well-trodden one: visit of an evening and there’s an exodus before curtain-up. The pre-theatre menu here, then, is often just that – and is excellent value at £17 for two courses, £20 for three. Those without a show to rush to can take more time over the sophisticated cooking, which is broadly modern French with a few excursions around Europe and Britain.
There are two very different Anteplilers in north London. The Green Lanes branch is a straightforward, functional canteen, but this time we visited the Upper Street restaurant, which feels like it’s been lifted straight out of a lifestyle magazine. Blue neon mosaics on a black background, making the venue resemble an Ottoman-themed nightclub, are an acquired taste. Thankfully there’s nothing showy about the food, some of which originates in Gaziantep province, near the border with Syria.
Located on an Islington corner site, this well-established gastropub has a USP as ‘Britain’s first and only certified organic pub’. Its care for ingredients stretches to a strict fish policy, ensuring only UK fish caught through sustainable fishing with minimal discards are used. A big, often buzzing outer room for drinkers leads to a welcoming, bare-bricked dining room, lit by a large skylight. The blackboard menu features dishes that encompass both gastropub staples, such as moules frites, and more creative dishes – perhaps pan-fried scallops with cauliflower purée and wild garlic.
Having started out as a bar, the Elk presents more of a gastro face during busy lunchtimes, but regulars to this Camden Passage haunt aren’t discouraged from ordering up a Cucumber Martini (with Hendrick’s gin, £8) or Tobia Rioja and occupying a wooden table for a while. Elk in the Woods is also a place for a quality breakfast, with the likes of duck egg with asparagus, sausage and toast dippers, and over-the-top sandwiches: veal doorstep, or rare breed lamb burger in torteno roll with grilled courgette and mint jelly.
The slightly ritzy plush of Frederick’s entrance cocktail bar, the surprising spaciousness of the dining room beyond, the striking 1980s artwork, the lofty conservatory and pretty hidden garden alongside – all come together to convey the idea that a meal here is a bit of a treat. Food has sometimes come second to the overall experience, but lately the kitchen seems to have picked up extra verve.
This is a class act, with a modern and airy interior featuring an open kitchen/bar and big industrial lights under which to examine the menu. There are plenty of à la carte starters and mains and, for the indecisive, a great mezédes menu – one plate for £4, three for £10, five for £15. Every dish was beautifully presented, with a little dish of aïoli, pepper coulis or harissa to complement the leading flavours: halloumi skewers; artichoke tempura; crunchy balls of couscous, feta and mint; tortilla with tasty beetroot and goat’s cheese filling.
Slinky, contemporary decor, with dark wood and oversized lampshades, gives Isarn a polished, expensive image, but the menu is surprisingly wallet-friendly. Set lunches, which come in a bento box, are good value, and include a selection of spring rolls or fish cakes, curry, rice and fruit. Don’t expect authentic Thai fieriness or superb cooking, but do sample some of the more unusual dishes, along with stalwarts like curries and pad thai – all stylishly presented.
While lacking the intimacy of the Bethnal Green original, Islington’s Little Georgia still stimulates interest in the under-documented culture of Georgia, with old telephones, traditional drinking horns and graphics-heavy political posters bringing originality to the otherwise standard jade green and cream interior. The menu is identical in both outlets (owner Tiko Tuskadze makes the dishes for the two restaurants in the N1 kitchen), and is a pleasing introduction to a cuisine that has influences from Europe and Asia.
Hands up if you haven’t heard of Polpo. Didn’t think so. This wildly successful group played a starring role in popularising small plates when it opened in 2009, inspired by Venetian cooking. Now it has six branches and three offshoots under different names. Tom Oldroyd was a chef-director at Polpo from the beginning. When he opens the first restaurant under his own banner, you know it’s probably going to be worth a visit.