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A spread of laksa bowls and Malaysian dishes at Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar London

Islington foodie guide: where to eat and drink

Published: September 27, 2018 at 11:29 am
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Check out our favourite restaurants, cafes, bars and foodie spots in Islington, north London

Looking for Islington restaurants? Here are our favourite restaurants in north London’s leafy borough around Angel and Highbury and Islington stations. The best foodie spots include curries at Afghan Kitchen, gluten free pizza at Zia Lucia and laksa at Sambal Shiok. Check out our ideas for eating and drinking in Islington, from Upper Street to Holloway Road and beyond...

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Vins Restaurant and Wine Bar, Grosvenor Avenue, Canonbury

Small is beautiful at this cool north London restaurant. Run by a two-person team, owner Vinny Burke handles the front of house and serving duties while in the tiny kitchen Emils Fjodorovs knocks up inventive wine-friendly small plates (the pair previously collaborated at Spitalfield’s Jago).

The interior is all dark wood, dim lighting and muted grey walls and although cosy, tables are well spaced so there’s no eavesdropping on your neighbour’s business. It’s a grown-up space (the website requests over 16s only) and the quirky background music is carefully chosen by Vinny to reflect the relaxed vibe.

The menu is fun and eclectic. There’s lots to indulge in but an emphasis on using great seasonal veg means it’s well balanced. There are snacks that could be ordered with a glass of wine for a quick pit-stop as well as lots of small plates and a couple of bigger serves to linger over.

From the smaller dishes, chicken liver parfait is silky-smooth, served with thick sourdough toast for spreading and tangy ribbons of pickled cucumber. Crisp golden croquettes have a surprisingly light filling of potato and spring onion and come with rich garlic aïoli. The crunchy fried taleggio sandwich is a must-order (though we recommend you get a plate of house-pickled veg on the side to offset this oozy cheese-fest). A larger dish of roast aubergines, Jerusalem artichokes, skordalia (a purée of potato, olive oil and garlic) and toasted walnuts was a heavenly mix of creamy, smoky, nutty and crunchy.

Vinny’s other passion is natural wine and he curates a regularly changing list (mostly from France, Italy and Spain though there were some bottles from Slovakia on our visit). We tried a Tuscan chianti that was rich, warm and full of ripe fruit, with a little background funkiness – an easy introduction to natural wine if trying for the first time.

Vins is the kind of hidden gem that every neighbourhood should have – Canonbury residents are very lucky that it’s on their doorstop.

vinsrestaurant.co.uk

A plate of fish and vegetables on a wooden table with a glass of wine in the corner
There’s lots to indulge in but an emphasis on using great seasonal veg means it’s well balanced

Prawn on The Lawn, Saint Paul's Road

Like its Cornish sibling in Padstow, Prawn on the Lawn in Islington is a fishmonger and restaurant all rolled into one. Rick Toogood and his wife Katie launched the restaurant in 2013, and since then it has expanded from its early roots as a seafood bar to a 35-seat restaurant and separate private dining room.

The couple moved to Padstow two years later to open a second site and now split their time between the two restaurants. Fish and shellfish arrive daily from fish markets and day boats in Devon and Cornwall, ensuring the freshest produce ends up on ever-changing menus.

Dishes might include Porthilly mussels, clams and manzanilla; ray wing with olives, chilli and agridulce; or a whole Padstow lobster with lime and coriander butter. The restaurant also runs seasonal oyster happy hours daily from 4.30pm to 6.30pm, during which time freshly shucked Porthilly oysters are served as they are or deep-fried with garlic crème fraîche.

prawnonthelawn.com

A dining room has white tiled walls and exposed brick work. There are long bench seats with cushions on as well as high stools
Like its Cornish sibling in Padstow, Prawn on the Lawn in Islington is a fishmonger and restaurant all rolled into one

1251, Upper Street

Chef James Cochran’s new north London restaurant sees quirky small plates served 11 to 11, alongside Brick Brewery beers, organic wines and fragrant, grown-up cocktails.

Spread across two (funky, painted wooden) floors of this Victorian building, minutes from Angel and Highbury and Islington tube stations, the décor here is minimal but contemporary (think pink leather banquettes and modern art).

We’re told to order a couple of ‘snacks’ each before moving onto at least one or more ‘plates’ proper – but regardless of how many we order across the menu, the idea is to share. Don’t leave without ordering the fried buttermilk rabbit – it’s the best dish on the menu. Gnarly, super-crunchy and yet juicy and tender – it gets even better thanks to some arty blobs of sweet apricot, fragrant tarragon and a snow shower of freshly grated horseradish.

Smoked kipper and leek toastie, too, with sweet, crunchy brioche slices is perfectly balanced and so good that you’ll probably need to order a second.

Click here to read our full review of 1251

Buttermilk Rabbit with Tarragon, Horseradish and Apricot
Buttermilk Rabbit with Tarragon, Horseradish and Apricot

Sambal Shiok, Holloway Road

Mandy Yin has gone from street food stall to Malaysian pop up, and now has her own laksa bar in Highbury.

The cosy room is paved with wooden floorboards, dark-blue walls are lined with Malaysian street scenes in gilt frames and bright artwork posters. Mandy and her team hustle away behind a counter in the open kitchen, assembling bowls of comforting laksa and sprinkling fresh herbs onto veggie salads.

Simple Malaysian dishes are executed very well. A vegetarian salad of shredded carrot, thin slices of mooli and pickled cucumber is tossed in peanut sauce with tiny cubes of fried potato, and Malaysian fried chicken is some of the best we’ve tried – super-succulent chicken pieces are marinated in turmeric and fennel seeds with cumin and coriander then tossed in chickpea gram flour and fried until extra crunchy and golden.

There are five laksas to choose from – tofu, chicken, prawn, and a special laksa encompassing all of the above, as well as a vegan special with charred aubergine and sautéed potatoes. Slosh around in the fragrant liquid to find succulent chicken pieces, huge plump prawns, spongy pieces of tofu and crunchy green beans. Slippery rice and springy egg noodles add to the various textures that are slurped up from the rich coconutty broth. Beef rendang is a melting concoction of tender beef in a deep and complex sauce, served with fluffy rice.

Click here to read our full review of Sambal Shiok

A spread of laksa bowls and Malaysian dishes at Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar London

Zia Lucia, Holloway Road

For the best selection of pizza bases, visit Zia Lucia on Holloway Road and choose between a traditional, wholemeal, vegetable charcoal or gluten-free base. The 48 hour fermented doughs are cooked in a wood-fired oven, each resulting in a different flavour and texture.

We recommend the gluten-free base which has a crisp yet light texture. You can create your own pizza and choose from the large selection of toppings including spianata, broccoli, butternut squash and taleggio goat’s cheese.

The Carlotta is an unusual, indulgent pizza, topped with fresh Italian sausage, crisp, sliced roast potatoes, pecorino and dill.

Click here for our favourite pizza restaurants in London

Pizza Zia Lucia Brook Green

Afghan Kitchen, Islington Green

Tucked away on leafy Islington Green, this north London institute is a must visit for hearty home cooking. Book ahead for a table in the evening (or join the lengthy queue) before taking a seat at communal tables in the compact dining room.

White, laminated menus list the curries and sides, all of which can be shared. Succulent lamb and earthy spinach is one of the heartier dishes on the menu, while tender chunks of chicken bathe in a light, fragrant yogurt sauce, ready to be mopped up with crisp, fluffy flatbread, generously drizzled in oil. Vegetarians are equally well catered to, with smoky aubergine or roasted sweet potato, both served with yogurt.

Service is fast-paced and breezy (and the restaurant is cash only), so head to the counter to settle up and order some sweet, sticky baklava to take away with you.


Radici, Almeida Street

Radici is the latest venture from Italian chef Francesco Mazzei, who also oversees Sartoria in Mayfair. More of a neighbourhood trattoria than its Savile Row sibling, Radici’s menu incorporates dishes such as seafood fettuccine and calf’s liver involtino with pancetta, garlic and rosemary served with smoked potato mash.

“I would call Radici a ‘refreshed old-school Italian’,” says Francesco. “We’re true to who we are.”

Fiume restaurant, Battersea, London

Brother Marcus, Camden Passage

Balham brunch institution Brother Marcus has opened its doors in north London with a relaxed all-day dining spot in Angel. Tucked down buzzing Camden Passage, grab a seat on the street for an al fresco breakfast, or, head inside and cosy up on tables for two under a lush living wall. Each of the classic brunch dishes has a twist, from Sugar Daddy, where cinnamon French toast comes in crumpet form, to Sister Special – bacon and poached eggs on toast served with a side of avocado and spinach drizzled with rocket oil.

For egg lovers, order the Brother Special where rich, softly scrambled eggs are served on North London Celtic Bakers sourdough toast, topped with silky slithers of in-house beetroot-cured salmon and stems of al dente grilled asparagus. If you’re feeling really peckish, choose between small side plates of halloumi with orange and pistachio as well as grilled aubergine with chilli.

The Step Sister is a must. Spicy sweet potato, courgette and feta fritters are served with avocado, spinach and kale with a subtly flavoured, creamy turmeric yogurt and a perfectly poached egg. Peruse the well-stocked cake counter before you leave as well, brimming with Portuguese custard tarts and slices of banana bread.

Click here for our favourite brunch spots in London

A blue plate topped with sweet potato and feta fritters, kale and a poached egg that the yolk is running out of

Tootoomoo, Highbury East

Tootoomoo wants to bring the punchy flavours of Asian street food to a restaurant setting – this time to a cosy and colourful site on St Pauls Road.

Expect to find many classics of Asian cuisine here, from miso soup and potsticker dumplings to rendang curry. These jostle with less typical creations like shichimi squid with Japanese pepper and sweet chilli or duck and watermelon salad with cashew and hoisin.

Dishes at Tootoomoo are simply presented but hugely enjoyable to eat. Our crispy smoked chicken with chilli salt and spicy mayonnaise was an umami dream (think grown-up chicken nuggets), while the playful popcorn shrimp with nori dust was addictively moreish, the saltiness of the shrimp pairing well with the subtle citrus tang of a yuzu-spiked mayonnaise.

Click here to read our full review of Tootoomoo

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Words by Ellie Edwards, Janine Ratcliffe, Alex Crossley, Laura Rowe and Mark Taylor

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