Comprising the constituencies of Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry, Islington is an area of affluent lefties who love the arts (Sadler’s Wells and the Almeida Theatre are a stone’s throw from Upper Street) and – you guessed it – food.
From Angel to Arsenal, the Islington food scene is jostling to join the ranks of London’s premium hospitality. But at the same time, the capital’s smallest borough isn’t trying to be anyone else – N1 marches to the beat of its own drum, attracting quirky outlets specialising in unpretentious, quality food.
This is the latest project from James Cochran, the ex-Ledbury, ex-Harwood Arms chef who started his career at an oyster bar in his native Whitstable. He opened 12:51 (named after the Strokes song) in 2018, the same year he won the BBC’s Great British Menu. The food is always changing, but it is generally ‘British-with-a-twist’ – Cochran’s parents hail from St. Vincent and Glasgow, and his dishes are a perfect reflection of this. For example, cured Cornish mackerel comes with buttermilk, coconut, hazelnut, chadon beni and kohlrabi, while curried hake is accompanied by sweet potato, a crispy chicken wing and gem lettuce.
107 Upper St, N1 1QN, 1251.co.uk
Brother Marcus is the creation of best friends Arthur, Alex and Tas, who were inspired to start their own restaurant during their travels to the Eastern Mediterranean. Named after Alex’s younger brother, the rustic-chic Islington outpost offers mezze and mains in a relaxed setting – think grilled sea bass with confit mango, leeks, almond marjoram and garlic oil, or kefir-fried chicken with lime leaves, paprika and romesco sauce. Don’t forget dessert: malehbi – an Israeli set coconut milk served with pomegranate and vissino cherries – sounds particularly interesting.
37-39 Camden Passage, N1 8EA, brothermarcus.co.uk
The Islington branch is one of six delis and restaurants co-owned by the Israeli-British chef, restaurateur, and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi. Located just opposite the Almeida Theatre and a pre-theatre favourite, Ottolenghi seats about 50 people on mainly long, communal tables for Mediterranean-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Patrons can also opt for a magnificent salad served at the counter, like the yoghurt-roasted cauliflower with pickled chillies, sultanas and pine nuts, or the sweet and sour red onions with sultanas, walnut salsa and goat’s cheese.
287 Upper St, N1 2TZ, ottolenghi.co.uk
Prawn on the Lawn
Prawn on the Lawn is a fish-lover’s dream. It started life in 2013 as a fishmonger and seafood bar – such was its success that it moved to a larger location, and now provides Islington denizens with fresh deliveries from Cornwall and Devon daily. Start with seared tuna with soy, mirin, and spring onion, or buttermilk-fried fish with sriracha creme fraiche, then choose between shellfish (a whole Padstow lobster or brown crab served either on ice or hot with lime and coriander butter); oysters from the Jersey or Porthilly rocks; or ‘fish for the table’ (there are all the usual suspects, including sea bass, brill and plaice).
292, 294 St Paul's Rd, N1 2LH, prawnonthelawn.com
Frederick’s is an Islington institution with a loyal cohort of regulars in the market for wholesome European staples like salt and pepper squid, beef carpaccio, or a great steak. An ever-changing menu of crowd-pleasers from chef Wilson Montoya is accompanied by an extremely comprehensive wine list, or a good cocktail. The family-run restaurant, which was opened in 1969, also offers a relaxed and contemporary bar and private dining options.
106 Camden Passage, N1 8EG, fredericks.co.uk
Radici is situated just off Upper Street, on the former site of Almeida, and is a traditional trattoria celebrating the Mezzogiorno provenance of chef patron Francesco Mazzei (‘radici’ means ‘roots’ in Italian). The food, created by Francesco’s fellow Southern Italian chef Giuseppe Cafarois, is rustic, humble and delicious, from Calabrian pizza and pasta staples (try the paccheri lamb ragout or the ‘Pizza Radici’ – a veggie option topped with chilli jam, pesto and pumpkin seeds) to antipasti, fish, and meat.
30 Almeida St, N1 1AD, radici.uk
Since Smokehouse opened its doors in 2013, it has sought to clinch the claim of ‘the best smoked and grilled food in London’. In pursuit of this goal, the restaurant works with the best UK farms and butchers its meat on-site. Fish is delivered daily from Cornish markets, and everything is grilled, roasted and smoked using sustainably sourced English oak. The result is delicacies such as Gloucester Old Spot pork chop, smoked featherblade, and rare breed steaks. To wash it down, there is an incredibly comprehensive range of beers (20 on tap and 60 by the bottle) and wine sourced from boutique, family-owned vineyards.
63-69 Canonbury Rd, N1 2DG, smokehouseislington.co.uk
Trullo claims to ‘care about food the same way that [its] producers do’ – a philosophy which translates into plates of simple, seasonally-focused ingredients cooked well. Expect pasta hand-rolled minutes before service, whether that’s pappardelle with beef shin ragu or ravioli of ricotta and summer squash, alongside antipasti options including ox heart, burrata with Italian black figs, and monkfish carpaccio. Meat and fish-lovers won’t be disappointed either; Brixham brill and Tamworth pork chop are cooked over a charcoal grill.
300-302, St Paul's Rd, N1 2LH, trullorestaurant.com