Islington is London’s restaurant scene in miniature: a blend of prime high street real estate mired in chain mediocrity; achingly cool indie darlings setting up shop where rents and rates are a little more affordable; world-class immigrant-led assimilation food; and proper, grown-up places, where discerning adults can while away most of an afternoon or evening. All this, plus brunch. This map plots a slightly mazy, zig-zag route from the bottom of Upper Street all the way up to the Emirates stadium – in 2018, a day’s entertainment considerably cheaper and more fun-filled than a ticket to the Arsenal.Read More
All the Best Restaurants in Islington
Deep, rich laksas, modern seafood cooking, hand-pulled Xi’an Chinese noodles, and more
Open since last year, this hidden gem would have passed largely unnoticed were it not for the attention of area expert (and sometime Eater London contributor) Ed Smith. Those willing to seek out this katsu and teriyaki specialist on a side-street near Angel will find simple things done exceptionally well: flavours balanced, service speedy and personable, seasoning just so. The pork katsu set — featuring greaselessly fried cutlet, prawn and pumpkin over rice, along with pickles and bottomless cabbage salad in house-special ‘mighty’ dressing — might well be the area’s best and most fulfilling lunch.
2. Indian Veg
With its daily array of traders, Chapel Market retains some of the rough-and-ready atmosphere of the old Islington that existed before the shiny Byrons and Wahacas swooped in and made this one of the most buzzed-about dining areas in the city. Fittingly, given its location, the all-you-can-eat offering at Indian Veg may not be the most finessed or meat-based (in both cases, the clue’s kind of in the name) but at £7.95 it still represents exceptional value for N1. It’s the sort of winningly no-frills offering that seems built to last, far more so than just another branch of a PE-backed chain rollout.
3. Delhi Grill
A stalwart across multiple editions of Eater London’s essential 38 restaurants, Delhi Grill knocks out affordable, (largely) Northern Indian in which the flavours are every bit as arresting as the dining room plastered in pastels and Bollywood posters. Anything from the tandoor is sure to be a success — sheekh kebabs and tandoori paneer are especially strong — while dhaba (roadside food stall) classics like railway lamb and butter chicken are just the ticket for anyone on the hunt for a more conventional Great British Curry. At lunchtime, heaping thalis give even Indian Veg a run for its money in the affordability stakes. It may not be fancy, but so few truly essential things are.
Small, cosy, tiny, perfectly formed — pick any descriptor you like for Tom Oldroyd’s Upper Street jewel, but “roomy” is unlikely to be one of them. The relatively narrow confines work entirely in the restaurant’s favour, making for a homely conviviality that’s absolutely in tune with the simple —but far from simplistic — food that’s on offer. Seasonally changing croquettes are always a winner, as is anything involving pasta or risotto rice – and do try to save a bit of space for puddings, which veer away from cloying sweetness and towards judicious pairings like almond tart with crème fraiche. It would be easy for Oldroyd and co to rest on their laurels like many of the other local incumbents, but there’s none of that here: A totally meat-free Monday offering is evidence of the relentless drive for self-improvement that keeps the restaurant deservedly humming.
5. Yipin China
London N1 0QD, UK
Customers left hungry after dinner at Yipin certainly couldn’t blame a lack of choice — the menu here is a multi-double-page-spread behemoth. An easy initial triage: focus as much as possible on the Sichuanese and Hunanese specialities, which are uncompromisingly spiced, and occasionally feature unfamiliar-for-N1 ingredients like pig’s intestines, jellyfish and frog. Gutsy pork wontons arrive in a slick of oil stained carmine with chilli; ‘legendary’ dan dan noodles have a lot to live up to but make a decent fist of it. Cash preferred, groups recommended.
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6. Pophams Bakery
Could Pophams have been a success even if its deeply photogenic bakes tasted absolutely atrocious? Probably — in the short term at least. What is striking, in this age of one-and-done Instagram tourism, is how many repeat visitors the bakery seems to welcome back — plainly, there’s substance here to go with the style. The various laminated-pastry “croissants” (especially the instant-classic maple-bacon) rightfully attract most of the attention, though the house breads are also excellent, not least when enclosing some enjoyably robust sandwiches. To leave without a loaf or two — or a sweet snack for the road — is to have missed a trick.
7. The Drapers Arms
A superior pub without any airs of superiority, The Draper’s Arms is everything anyone could want from a local. There’s decent wine for those that want it, decent beer for those that don’t; the food is short on presentational flim-flam but long on flavour, comfort and a hard-to-pin-down just-rightness. Sunday lunches get murderously (but justifiably) busy, but things cool off just a little for services during the week, making The Draper’s Arms a perfect spot for a restorative pint or two, before something a little more substantial.
London has never quite got tapas right. Of course, the capital’s Spanish restaurants are frequently fantastic, but the more common method of enjoying them is to bed into a single location for a whole afternoon or evening, blitzing through pretty much the entire menu. Llerena is an advertisement for the more quintessentially Iberian practice of stopping in for a couple of really good things at a place that does them really well, then moving on elsewhere for a couple of other really good things, and so on. The stuff to go for here is simple: a range of cured meats, cheeses, and caldos (stews) that make the best possible use of prime-grade Extremadura produce. Perhaps skip the tortilla, and definitely tuck into more than a couple of pint-sized G&Ts, then toddle off elsewhere.
Islington N1 1, UK
Go early. That’s pretty much the only useful piece of advice for those bent on avoiding what can be one of the city’s fiercest queues, and a particularly brutal one for those yet to get their daily fix of caffeine. Once through the door, any further advice is moot — there really aren’t that many ways to go far wrong with a breakfast and brunch menu so long on inventive-but-still-comforting dishes like buttermilk pancakes and corn fritters. Anything involving smoked haddock, whether a chowder, or a ludicrously restorative riff on Welsh rarebit, may well be the best possible course of action; a side of banana bread should also be mandatory. Do not plan any strenuous activity for the afternoon.
10. Black Axe Mangal
London N1 2UP, UK
No introduction is necessary for this genuinely essential but otherwise category-defying institution, a serious capital-R Restaurant disguised as a tattoo parlour run by a biker gang. If anything, recent months have shown the already-brilliant getting even better, broadening an already-indiscriminate set of interests to encompass influences as diverse as Arbroath smokies and KFC. Dinner has the same pulsating energy of old, the food an edible hammer of the gods; weekend brunch, inexplicably, remains relatively under-populated. Add it to the to-do list sharpish.
One of the city’s great dining rooms, at once understated and characterful, contemporary and classic. On the plate, it’s much the same: start with a winking take on traditional antipasti like shallot fritti with gorgonzola fonduta, move on to the immaculate pappardelle with beef shin ragu, stop off for an unfussy slab of fish or hunk of meat en route if needs must, and finish with an affogato, tart or fortifying amaro. The wine list is heavy on natural selections and the service can occasionally have an accompanying air of the we-know-bests, but nine times out of ten Trullo oozes elegance and class.
12. Zia Lucia
The latest wave of salt-water sourdough pizzaioli may turn their noses up at the more traditional offering here, but no one else with an iota of sense should. Bases are thin, crusts are blistered, toppings are generous and of pristine quality. Negronis are vast, wines are cheap, service is breezy but never flustered. It’s just a neighbourhood pizza place at the end of the day, but it’s still a really, really good one.
13. Sambal Shiok Laksa Bar
Terribly-named Laksamania may offer similar quality without the need to spend whole hours in a queue, but there’s still an indefinable something special about Mandy Yin’s homage to some of Malaysia’s most storied dishes. Even the belacan-averse can find plenty to keep themselves entertained (especially in the outstanding fried chicken); those happy to get down and dirty with fermented shrimp funk will be even more content. Pro-tip: a couple of doors down, Provisions is an excellent location to while away the ninety-odd minutes until you can get a table — it can also do full dinner duty if the wait gets too long.
14. Westerns Laundry
The occasional ideologically-motivated exception aside, the response to Westerns since it opened last year has been little short of rapturous. And with good reason: few places in London can make simple things — fish, mostly — taste quite so special. On one of the city’s best blackboard menus, small chunks of fried stuff — whether cod cheeks or croquettes — are an excellent way to kick things off, and the rum baba is a pretty unimpeachable way to finish. In between, anything can happen, though it’s likely to be fresh and involve doing little more than making things taste exceptionally of themselves. For those leery at the prospect of the all-natural list, there’s always beer, an especially alluring prospect with a shot of Picon to perk it up.
15. Xi'an Impression London
Brillat-Savarin never said “tell me what you order at Xi’an Impression and I shall tell you what you are”, but he may as well have done. On a menu so chock-full of hits, navigating a way through becomes a profoundly expressive act of personal taste. Some like their noodles hot, some cold; some could not contemplate lunch or dinner without tucking into a rou jia mo or two. Arguably every order should feature the smacked cucumber salad and some Biang biang noodles in special sauce — two vegetarian dishes that pack more umami and excitement in than most other restaurants’ meatiest offerings — but perhaps this is too definitive a position to take. What is for sure is that London is finally starting to appreciate the breadth and splendour of regional Chinese food – it’s hard to see how this could have happened had it not been for this unassuming room in the shadow of the Emirates.