Upper Street in Islington is emerging as an unexpected microcosm of London’s restaurant flux. With three restaurants closing and one expansion shelved in little under six months, there’s something in the water in N1.
Cabana’s Upper Street site closed in April, but was recently acquired by Redcomb Pubs, suggesting that (at least those) operators believe the address is viable. Even more recently, Vietnamese restaurant Nem Nem and tapas/paella restaurant Jamon Jamon have closed. While Nem Nem is independent, both Cabana and Jamon Jamon have multiple sites, the former with six London sites and the latter with three. The three closures follow on from the slightly bizarre closure of James Cochran N1 in December 2017: the restaurant posthumously announced itself as a pop-up, despite being billed as a regular new restaurant on opening.
Upper Street also appears to have lost some gravitational pull: ethical fried chicken purveyors Chik’n had plans to take over a vacant Costa Coffee on the street as long ago as September 2017; a tipster recently told Eater London that the site’s “To Let” sign was back up, amid confusion following Chik’n’s Baker Street relaunch. Given the Baker Street original initially had to close following overwhelming demand for chicken — something neighbours KFC can sympathise with — the trouble would appear to be with the site above anything else: sister brand Chick ‘n’ Sours recently expanded its Dalston restaurant, which suggests a company not lacking in capital. It transpires, in fact, that Chik’n only require one 2,000 square feet side of the building, and will be sub-letting the real estate remaining.
Some of the capital’s most-loved restaurants are in the area: Oldroyd, Trullo, Black Axe Mangal to name but a few. Given that Upper Street’s relatively high concentration of restaurants exists in a residential area — and a divided one, at that — its restaurants are more susceptible to flux in eating out habits; while Soho, central London and Shoreditch may also suffer, a healthy and fairly constant tourist market can provide some artificial buoyancy. It remains to be seen whether this is a blip, a trend, or something else entirely: on hotly contested real estate, shrewd decisions are crucial.