Islington, it’s safe to say, is a place you can expect to eat and drink well. The home of the champagne socialist and champagne football, of allotment enthusiasts, Little Italy and apparently more restaurants than days of the year; if you can’t find some good grub here, well, you’re just not looking hard enough. But with such choice comes paradox; sifting through the standard and sub par to find something truly exceptional can be time consuming. Don’t worry, we’re here to help; here are our 5 IDEAL restaurants in Highbury & Islington, London.
BLACK AXE MANGAL
Would you like some glitter with your foie gras doughnut, sir? Actually, we doubt they’d call you ‘sir’ here, and Black Axe Mangal (B.A.M to those who know) is all the better for it. The food matches the provocative art and riff-heavy soundtrack, with big, bold flavours, vital visual appeal, and a fitting taste of the flame provided by their wood fired oven. Flatbreads are the order of the day; the squid ink rendition with smoked, whipped cod’s roe and egg yolk a particular favourite. It’s a compact place, and only open for dinner during the week, so getting a table is tough, to say the least. The good news is, they do a Saturday and Sunday brunch which starts the ball rolling on a rollicking weekend or adeptly cures the previous night’s ills. Or both. It’s usually both.
Sure, its younger sibling Padella may now be the favourite child, but Trullo is the ultra-knowledgeable, trend-setting older brother who, deep down, everyone knows is still the cooler kid. And it’s not just about the pasta here. This is nourishing, homely, expertly sourced, expertly cooked food which any borough would be proud to call their ‘neighbourhood’ restaurant. Any in-season, whole fish cooked on the grill is a guaranteed winner.
PRAWN ON THE LAWN
Originally a fishmongers, the operation quickly expanded to fully fledged restaurant to satisfy the fish lovers of Islington, of which it turns out, there are many. With a daily changing menu owing to what’s fresh scrawled on chalkboard (small plates, platters and whole fish) this is as close to the beach as you’re going to get in inner-city London. It’s testament to the chef’s skills and freshness of the produce that the dishes produced within the tiny open kitchen are of such sterling quality; a mackerel and ‘nduja dish, in particular, induced rapture. Their taramasalata with seeded crackers has a well-deserved cult following.
Thai food in the capital is now so popular that the usual explanatory diatribe seems unnecessary; you probably know farang means foreigner, dishes are designed to be shared, everything revolves around rice, the food of the country is hugely different from region to region……
But just because we’re all now so well versed in the vernacular, it shouldn’t overshadow just how splendid the cooking is at Farang. The larger, sharing curries, cooked low and slow, consistently pack a huge punch of depth and verve, and their gai prik – deep fried chicken wings with a sweet fish sauce glaze – are simply divine.
We finish up at Westerns Laundry in Drayton Park, in their beautiful, bright dining room, perched at the bar, sipping natural wine and watching the chefs work. ‘Modern European small plates’ are listed on a blackboard to the right of our stools, and the menu leans heavily on the sea’s bounty. The vibe of the food, just like the room, is light and freed from frippery; a pork chop with borlotti beans and salsa verde is superb, as is grilled brill’s head. The team behind Westerns and Primeur have recently opened Jolene, a bakery and restaurant, a little further east, to much early acclaim. We can’t wait to try it.