Where To Eat In Highbury & Islington: The Best Restaurants

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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 a 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’s our guide on where to eat in Highbury & Islington, and the best restaurants in this part of North London.

Xi’an Impression

Ideal for thick handpulled noodles seconds from the Emirates Stadium…

By Irene Cheng

Pre-match sloppy frankfurter, this ain’t. Just seconds from the Arsenal ground, Xi’an Impression brings dishes from the Shan Xi province to the heart of Highbury with aplomb.

At the woks is chef Wei Guirong, who honed her skills in Soho’s Hunanese restaurant Ba Shan before setting up shop here, with a view of The Emirates stadium and a view to bringing the flavours of her birthplace to this little corner of North London.

Man, it’s good; the signature biang biang noodles, known for their belt-like shape, are the obvious highlight. Thick and slippery, these are masterful; starchy enough that they double back on themselves in the bowl appealingly, bringing even more tension. Top them with a tangle of stir-fried Xinjiang chicken that sings with Sichuan peppercorns, fermented soy beans and chilli, and slurp the rust-coloured juices that pool below the noodles. Ruin your shirt in the process.

It’s not just the noodles that deliver here. The Rou Jia Mo, often referred to as a Chinese hamburger, here features succulent, savoury shredded pork and a fluffy bun. It’s excellent, as are the pig’s ears in chilli oil; gnarly and gelatinous in the best possible way.  

With a BYOB policy and all of the above clocking in at under thirty quid, Xi’an Impression still represents great value, despite its ever rising popularity and, accordingly, prices. It’s walk-in only here and the dining room is compact, so be prepared to wait.

Address: 117 Benwell Rd, London N7 7BW 


The Tamil Prince

Ideal for a thoughtfully rendered desi pub experience in the heart of Islington…

A beautifully conceived riff on the Great British-Indian tradition of the desi pub, The Tamil Prince on Islington’s Hemingford Road presides over the former site of the Cuckoo, and much of the pub’s layout and features remain faithfully present. 

The food and vibe, however, has very much changed, with Prince Durairaj, a chef with roots in Tamil cuisine and time spent at Gopal’s Corner and Roti King, presiding over the kitchen here, whilst Glen Leeson, former general manager at Bao, works the floor.  

The two originally joined forces in 2021, working on a Tamila street food concept in Hackney Wick that quickly gained traction, and a bricks and mortar place followed swiftly, just a year later.

We’re so glad it did, as the Tamil Prince is one of the most enjoyable places to settle into for a meal just about anywhere in London, with a fine selection of craft beers from local breweries and innovative cocktails (like the off-menu The Prince – a heady, intoxicating blend of cardamom rum, lime, and rosewater marked with the Tamil Prince logo) really hitting the spot.

Yep, we’d come here for a pint regardless of the kitchen’s nimble, talented hands, but when you throw okra fries, a balloon-like channa bhatura, the signature sea bream, here coated in a thick spice rub and grilled whole until caramelised, and a side of flakey, buttery roti into the mix, there’s no stopping us here. 

Website: thetamilprince.com

Address: 115 Hemingford Rd, London N1 1BZ 


Sambal Shiok

Ideal for a range of invigorating laksas…

London suddenly feels very much alive with the flavours of Malaysia, with the city increasingly conversant in the intricacies of nasi lemak and mee goreng, and well versed in their laksa preferences.

Sambal Shiok is one of a ever-growing number of excellent Malaysian options in the city that pays little lip service to diluting the essential flavours of the country’s cuisine, and we’re very much here for it. 

Fronted by Mandy Yin, the food here is influenced by the chef’s Peranakan Chinese heritage, though she freely admits that the ‘authenticity’ of her food isn’t her number one priority. Instead, the dishes at Sambal Shiok bring to the foreground her own take on the cooking traditions and street food of both Kuala Lumpur and Penang, as well as drawing inspiration from her upbringing in the UK.

The restaurant is particularly famed for its laksas, with the country’s two most distinctive styles both available here. Our go-to is always the Penang assam laksa, a thick, sour number that’s anchored by mackerel and shrimp paste, its rich, puckering acidity the result of plenty of tamarind. It’s a bowl that pulls off the impressive balancing act of being both soothing and invigorating, fiery and funky, and is just incredible. Thick, sticky rice noodles cling on to the broth ‘till the last bite. Heaven.

Though we’ll remain faithful to the assam version forever more, Sambol Shiok also does an excellent bowl of coconut curry laksa, in the campur style – thin and soupy, and sweet from coconut milk, but also with the funkiness of the Penang style throbbing freely away in the background. Hey, you could order both!

Images via @sambalshiok

Just a 5 minute walk around the corner from Highbury and Islington Overground, Sambal Shiok is a popular spot, and booking in advance is highly recommended.  

Website: sambalshiok.co.uk

Address: 171 Holloway Rd, London N7 8LX 


Afghan Kitchen

Ideal for soul nourishing Afghan stews at reassuringly reasonable prices…

Something of a North London institution and in a pleasant spot overlooking Islington Green, Afghan Kitchen is reassuring in its simplicity, flawless in its execution. Just eight mains are available here, four meat and four vegetarian, all intricately spiced, soul-warming stews, plus a handful of sides – rice, pickles, bread and chutney. Nothing costs more than a tenner, the sides a couple of quid each at most.

These are profoundly flavourful dishes. Our go-to here is the ghormeh subzi gosht, a fragrant lamb and spinach stew that’s savoury and warming, but also a heady affair, redolent in fenugreek leaves and nutmeg, and with a pleasing astringency from dried limes. The whole affair is thickened with braised, murky-coloured spinach and given freshness with fresh herbs – coriander and parsley are added right at the close. Have it over rice, or with a side of excellent glazed flatbread (only served in the evenings), and a tea that’s only 80p, and luxuriate in one of the city’s best value spreads. 

Address: 35 Islington Grn, London N1 8DU 


The Draper’s Arms

Ideal for one of London’s most reliable gastropubs and a celebration of British beef…

The Draper’s Arms is a gastropub beloved of Londoners, known for its charming ambiance and comforting, broadly British food. Owned by Nick Gibson, this pub emphasises a seasonal menu that showcases the best of local produce, with beef dishes a clear standout.

In fact, half of the mains focus on beef. We’re particularly enamoured with the restaurant’s sticky, gelatinous braised shortrib, which arrives glossy and spoonable on a feather light celeriac purée. Gorgeous.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, if you’re after one of the best roast dinners in Islington, it’s here you should come. The 54 day aged t-bone steak that comes with all the trimmings is a treat, the flamboyantly risen yorkies blessed with plenty of beef fat flavour.

The Draper’s Arms also boasts an impressive selection of local ales and a curated wine list that is more keenly priced than most in this neck of the woods. The building, dating back to the 1830s and has been a cornerstone of the Islington community for nearly two centuries, its Georgian architecture offering a cosy retreat with fireplaces and a picturesque garden for those warmer London days. 

The pub is also something of a hub for hospitality gatherings, too, with charity events aimed at supporting the industry often held here (and £1 from every sale of the pub’s iconic suet crust beef bourguignon pie going to Action Against Hunger). On a more anecdotal note, it’s one of London’s most popular places for chefs to hang out on their days off. That should tell you all you need to know.

Website: thedrapersarms.com

Address: 44 Barnsbury St, London N1 1ER 


F.K.A.B.A.M (Formely Known As Black Axe Mangal)

Ideal for fire, flatbreads and throwing out some hand horns…

Would you like some glitter with your foie gras doughnut, sir? Actually, we doubt they’d call you ‘sir’ here, and Black Axe Mangal (now called F.K.A.B.A.N) 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.

Originally opened in 2015 by chef Lee Tiernan, who previously honed his skills for a decade at St John Bread and Wine, and his wife Kate, this establishment quickly became renowned for its rock’n’roll, tattoo’d, trailblazing vibes.

Despite a temporary closure due to the pandemic in March 2020, Black Axe Mangal has made a triumphant return as F.K.A.B.A.M, continuing to serve much of its beloved menu while introducing new elements. The restaurant now operates under a set menu format, priced at around £58 for five courses shared between two people, changing monthly to keep the offerings fresh and exciting. Some items, like the lamb offal flatbread, are thankfully ever present.

These dishes are complemented by a selection of innovative drinks, including the quirky borscht back, which has earned itself something of a cult following in the city. Here, a combination of a vodka shot, a borscht shot, horseradish, and a frankfurter on a stick is available as a bolt on, for £6.66. Oh, go on then. 

Address: 156 Canonbury Rd, London N1 2UP 

Website: www.blackaxemangal.com


Trullo

Ideal for perhaps the best Italian food in the city…

Now well into its second decade, Trullo feels like it goes from strength to strength, and is arguably Highbury and Islington’s most cherished neighourhood restaurant, a place where you can take your parents or go on a first date equally, and one where the welcome will always be warm-hearted and the food just downright darn delicious.

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 that any borough would be proud to call their ‘neighbourhood’ joint.

They have a way with pulses and beans at Trullo, make no mistake. You’re guaranteed to get a gorgeously cooked piece of meat or fish sitting atop a bed of beans, usually with a piquant salsa to help things along. Think Black Hampshire pork chop with borlotti beans and salsa verde or Whole Brixham mackerel with roast yellow peppers, coco blanc and salsa rossa. Think both.

Indeed, any in-season, whole fish cooked on the grill is a guaranteed winner here, as is the legendary beef shin ragu with pappardelle. Right now, the former is a whole Brixham sea bass with charred leeks and a sauce of St Austell mussels and their cooking liquor. It’s a stunning piece of work, the fish arriving longer than its plate and with gently blistered skin, it lifts off the bone neatly, making it a glorious centrepiece for sharing. Pair it with a Gulfi Carjcanti 2020, its  its crisp acidity and notes of citrus and white flowers standing up well to the the smokey flavours of the grill.

Address: 300-302 St Paul’s Rd, Highbury East, London N1 2LH 

Website: trullorestaurant.com


Prawn On The Lawn

Ideal for roleplaying that you’re at the beach…

Originally a fishmongers, the operation at Prawn On The Lawn 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, too.

While you’ll find dishes inspired from all over the world on the menu, it’s often the simple plates that are the best here. Recently, a prosaically titled, prosaically adorned red mullet, olive oil and lemon dish was spectacular in its simplicity.

Situated just a stone’s throw from the Highbury & Islington station, the interior is reminiscent of a seaside eatery, and features an open kitchen and a casual yet chic dining area, where diners can enjoy their meals accompanied by expertly mixed cocktails like classic negronis or cucumber-and-chilli margaritas. 

Address: 292 – 294 Saint Paul’s Road, London N1 2LH, United Kingdom

Website: prawnonthelawn.com  

Read: The best prawn dishes in London


Farang

Ideal for punchy, uplifting Thai food in a kinda chaotic dining room…

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.

Sure, the dining room may be acoustically challenging and the service sometimes erratic, but it’s worth looking past these minor obstacles for Farang’s uplifting food.

Address: 72 Highbury Park, Highbury East, London N5 2XE, UK

Website: faranglondon.co.uk


Westerns Laundry

Ideal for light, airy food in an even breezier space…

We finish up at Westerns Laundry in Drayton Park, in their beautiful, bright dining room (a repurposed 1950s industrial building that once served as North London’s largest commercial laundry), 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 brainchild of Jeremie Cometto-Lingenheim and David Gingell, who previously captivated the London food scene with their venture Primeur, Westerns Laundry opened its doors in late April 2017. The space now features a 60-cover dining room that opens onto a charming 20-cover cobbled courtyard adorned with olive trees, ideal for the warmer months ahead. During winter, the restaurant’s private dining room is a gorgeously intimate space for a Christmas meal with friends, by the way.

The vibe of the food, just like the room, is light and free from frippery; a thick fillet of blistered hake over lentils and mussels was a recent highlight.

Be warned; Western’s Laundry is a little bit of a walk from Highbury & Islington station, but those who traverse the ten minutes will be richly rewarded.

Address: 34 Drayton Park, Highbury East, London N5 1PB, UK 

Website: westernslaundry.com 

Onward, upwards and to our next feed south of the river, to Clapham Common’s best dining options. Care to join us?

Joseph Gann
Joseph Gann
Chef and food writer, with an interest in mental health and mindfulness

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