Islington is a borough that swallows up little chunks of the City of London to the east, and sprawls all the way back up Holloway Road in the North. It’s a misshapen place that I had little knowledge of when I first moved here, but have grown to love as I discovered its nooks and crannies.
To say it’s diverse would be an understatement. Its borders span Upper Street, said to have the largest number of restaurants in any one place in all of London, and fondly known as ‘Supper Street’.
Here you can find Nando’s touching noses with Ottolenghi: a borough to suit every taste, budget and any meal of the day.
Belle Epoque, 262 Upper Street, N1 2UQ
Be not fooled by the slick Parisian marble décor, walk into Belle Epoque and feel immediately at home. The staff here are as warm and friendly as a hot brioche straight from the oven. An early morning coffee with one of their many divine pastries is enough to make you feel all is well in the world.
Piacha, 280 Upper St, N1 2TZ
Not a coffee drinker? Never fear, Upper Street is home to a dedicated tea bar. Piacha prides themselves on “interesting tea blends, fresh bold tastes and skilfully brewed tea”. I have spent more than one happy, rainy afternoon sitting in one of their comfy chairs, cup of ginger and chilli tea in hand, and a good book on my lap. The lovely thing about Piacha is that there is always soft jazz playing as well as copious amounts of plugs, making it a great place to go and get some work done.
Little Gem, 15 Corsica St, N5 1JT
In this case a name could not be more apt. I am a bit reluctant to include this one as I really do feel it’s my café. This special haunt is tucked away just off Highbury fields on a residential street, serving organic Monmouth coffee and gorgeous pastries and savoury bites with a Japanese twist. Not only is the coffee artfully made, it is served in gorgeous handmade cups. Taking a time-out at this café is like putting on a pair of headphones: it shuts the noise out and keeps the calm in.
Naturalis Coffee House, 9 Chapel Market, N1 9EZ
Naturalis is a French secret hidden away deep in Chapel Market and makes my favourite cup of coffee in London. Chapel Market is what you might imagine Albert Square would look like if it came to life: a proper London market where you can pick up a new phone cover and groceries in one trip. On a Sunday morning, Islington farmer’s market takes place right in front of Naturalis where you can take one of the tables outside and soak up the market atmosphere. The guys who run the café are lovely, and make the most delicious croissants and croque madames to make your morning start with a song.
Kipferl, 20 Islington High St, N1 8ED
This little Austrian café is perched in the very pretty cobble stoned Camden Passage. Although right across from the Breakfast Club with its long hipstery queues, resist the temptation to join the masses and get yourself in here to enjoy strong Austrian coffee, mountain cheese, spinach dumplings, rye bread, apple strudel … Have I convinced you yet? Good.
Chinese Laundry, 107 Upper Street, N1 1QN
The brightly coloured tiles and vibrant dining room of this 80’s inspired eatery is enough tocatch your attention, not to mention the whisper of ‘crispy scallion pancakes’ and ‘milky little buns’. It’s not often in London that you come across something truly (dare I say it) unique, but I really believe this is one such place. The food is inspired by the family style eating of Northern China. The style is reflected in the overall atmosphere of the restaurant,which is friendly and casual: proper living room eating.
Bellanger, 9 Islington Green, N1 2XH
Bellanger opened it’s newly shined brass doors a few months ago on the leafy Islington green. It is a decadent all-day café/brasserie inspired by the original Alsatian brasseries in the Paris of yesteryear. The sumptuous surroundings make it a treat to come here for an early evening glass of something. Sit, relax and close your eyes as you whisk yourself off to another time, a time where you wear evening gloves and your millennial garb transforms, frozen-style, into a shameless array of furs and velvet. I think you get the idea.
The Lamb, 54 Holloway Rd, N7 8JL
If it is less diamonds and pearls and more pint and crisps you’re after then look no further than The Lamb on Holloway Road. In a sea of Wetherspoons, The Lamb is a completely independent pub that specialises in craft beers from the likes of Hackney Brewery and By the Horns, as well as some carefully selected wines and spirits, includingBán Poitín. If you feel peckish, they have a deal with Piccolo Sogno across the road allowing you to order a delicious pizza delivered straight to your table. Heaven!
Provisions, 167 Holloway Rd, N7 8LX
Also on Holloway Road, Provisions is a relatively new “wine, cheese, bread and beer shop”,in other words, all of the good stuff. The French and English owners are fresh from their deli in Oslo, and more than happy to chat as you taste some of the fantastic cheeses. Sit inand enjoy some of their carefully selected wines and cheeses at the bar.
Tinto, 11-13 Theberton St, N1 0QY
Tinto is one of those rare places in a city like London which ticks all of the boxes. The owner Pierre has created a warm and friendly restaurant with small sharing plates inspired by the cuisines of Spain, France and Japan. It boasts a fantastic selection of wines and the food is simply always delicious. It would be easy to drop in for an aperitif, share a bottle of wine over a cheese board or stay for the evening and have all the courses!
Zen Mondo, 326 Upper St, N1 2QX
I admit that despite loving all types of food and boasting a strong willingness to never rule any food out (within reason!), I hadn’t tried sushi until about two years ago here in Zen Mondo. In fact, ever since launching myself into the sushi world I always find myself coming back here. In my limited experience I have yet to find a place that can match this jewel in the Upper Street crown. The restaurant is owned and run by Japanese chefs and the food is served on beautiful dishes handmade by the owner herself. A true find.
Saponera Pizzeria, 23 Prebend St, N1 8PF
When I first moved to Islington I lived across from Saponera without noticing it for about a month, such is its unassuming exterior. It is both deli and restaurant founded by the Saponera brothers who hail from Southern Italy. It doesn’t seem like it has changed much since it opened in 1989 either, which is certainly a good thing. Their mouth-watering pizzas are listed on a menu, but the pastas on offer that evening are presented theatricallyon a wooden board, where the staff guide you around the shapes like some tantalising tourof Italy. Take a detour here and you won’t regret it.
Sarah is among many Irish people living in London, where she delights in exploring its exciting food scene. She is passionate about food markets, spending her weekends trawling around Borough market grazing, chatting and stocking up on all things edible.
She dedicates a blog to her adventures in the markets, from her local farmers market to those she happens upon on her travels. Writing for TheTaste allows her to share tales from the food front line with fellow eager eaters.