The Best Restaurants In Islington

From handmade pasta, Peruvian skewers, and pisco sours to vegan Chinese and top-tier gastro-pubs, here are Islington's best eating options.

Islington is the spiritual home of every north Londoner if tabloids are to be believed. Around Upper Street it’s got a Vue and an Everyman, a Sainsbury’s and a Waitrose. A ’spoons and, well, not ’spoons. The problem with Islington is that so much of the area is idyllic-looking streets with decent-looking restaurants... that turn out to disappoint. So—without further ado—from pubs off the beaten track serving perfect pies to old-school Italian delis making the freshest of caprese salads, these are the Islington restaurants that are actually worth checking out.


The fact that Caravel is a floating restaurant on a converted barge isn’t the only brilliant thing about this riverside delight. The candlelit barge is permanently moored between Old Street and Angel and while it’s a beautiful and unique setting—something not dissimilar worked for J.Lo and Ben Affleck, after all—Caravel is doing a lot more than just bobbing along. Its intimate cabin dining room is matched by simply cooked delicious bistro-ish food that dots around from thickly-stuffed prawn toast to a chicken liver pâté so smooth that an influencer would be forgiven for trying to contour with it. This is a boat that everyone wants to be on.

It’s rare that an all-vegan restaurant makes as big and as positive an impact on London’s dining scene as Tofu Vegan has (sorry, By Chloe). The Chinese spot on Upper Street is heaving seven days a week, as everyone tucks into house-made silken tofu in Sichuan sauce, mock meats like Chongqing chicken, and dim sum like tofu and mushroom xiaolongbao. The space is big, so much so that it spills out onto the pavement, much like the sizzling fish-fragrant sauce that will likely fall from your greedy spoonfuls, and, considering the scarcity of notably good places to eat around Angel, it’s no wonder this place is always bustling.

photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch

Tierra Peru review image

Tierra Peru

££££+44 20 7354 5586
Hours:TUESDAY05:00PM to 11:00PM

Our enthusiasm for Tierra Peru is not not related to its sensational pisco sours. Nor should the fuzzy feeling we get from seeing a local restaurant on the Essex Road regularly heaving on a Wednesday night be ignored either. Also, the tender ox heart skewers with a lively chimichurri play their part but, more than anything, it’s those biscuits. Tierra Peru’s alfajores. They’re small, dinky things, and short in every sense of the word. Perfectly crumbly and filled with a centimetre of sweet, luscious dulce de leche. Come here with your family and friends, because it's a loving and celebratory kind of restaurant. But, be warned, you'll likely have to share your biscuits.

Trampoline is one of those cafes where you can simultaneously convince yourself that you’re cool enough to write a memoir and also not care that you’ve got the crumbs of one of London’s best pain au chocolats down your top. A social enterprise cafe on Angel’s Camden Passage, it helps refugees find work while also serving hefty pastries, great coffees, and daily sandwiches, like chicken salad in toasted focaccia. The bright orange fronting makes Trampoline hard to miss and there’s some cosy hidden seating upstairs. Just be aware that it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. 

Saponara is a little deli and restaurant in a quiet bit of Islington between the Essex Road and Upper Street, but nothing about this old-school restaurant is particularly quiet. The staff are joyful, there are bright Fellini posters and Ferrari flags on the wall, and the pizza is something to shout about. Yes, the pie topped with speck and shavings of grana padano is crisp and salty and all the things you want a pizza to be. But sometimes you just can’t beat gooey, expertly formed, blink-and-it’s-gone margherita. Perfect.

El Inca Plebeyo is covered in colourful paintings, tiles, pottery, and tablecloths. It’s loud, it’s proud, and its ceviche is just as bright on the eye. Both the raw dishes and the grilled meats at this Ecuadorian restaurant are big plates but it’s the hornado, a national dish of slow-cooked pork that’s worth coming out of your way for. There’s always music playing and group dinners are great here—try to get the big table at the back where you can see the kitchen in action.

A blink-and-you'll-miss-it restaurant, Sushi Show serves up excellent sushi in a tiny spot down Camden Passage. You can pop in to grab a takeaway, or sit at the bar opposite the window and watch the fools who don’t realise what they’re walking past. The sashimi is reasonably priced and cut fresh in front of you. If sushi isn’t your thing then there’s also a small selection of donburi bowls as well.

Although Four Legs and its much-papped cheeseburger have now left the kitchen at The Compton Arms, that doesn’t mean you’re not going to be well fed. The new residency in the kitchen is Belly, by a chef formerly of Bao and Satsu. Expect small plates like lamb kofte, caesar salad, and bavette as well as bigger (also changing) dishes, like a whole plaice in a caper and butter sauce. Best of all is that the pub is still as friendly and fantastically enticing to spend all day and night drinking in, whether that be inside or out in the garden.

Llerena is a tapas restaurant opposite the town hall on Upper Street that’s so slight you could miss it. Once you are inside there’s bar seating around a single beer tap, some more counter seating up front, and a cosy dining area at the back. This simple set-up sums up the approach. It’s an unpretentious and refreshingly inexpensive spot specialising in products from the family farm in Extremadura, a region southwest of Madrid. Whether you’re here to eat ham and cheese over a glass of beer, or for a quiet and intimate date night, it doesn’t disappoint. Don't overlook the stews. The morcilla mondonga—a spicy blood sausage drenched in tangy tomato sauce— is unmissable.

The appeal of Indian Veg is simple: all-you-can-eat buffet at an amazingly low price. Most all-you-can-eat buffets are as appetising as mouldy bread, but here it’s genuinely good if inevitably a little carb-heavy. Get the ace onion bhajis as soon as possible after they come out of the kitchen. Prepare yourself for some pretty intense anti-meat propaganda on the walls (‘Cancer danger in your fry-up!’). And bring a couple of beers—there’s no alcohol license.

Afghan Kitchen serves hearty, tasty Afghan food in a minimalist setting. The food is saucy. Like, literally. Things like chicken in yoghurt and fish stew are perfect, and are excellent to mop up with their homemade bread. The cosy nature of the space makes it ideal for a very personal party. Why host in your own kitchen when you can take over somebody else’s?

This beautiful pub is a little bit of a wander from public transport, which also makes it a welcome break from the crowds on and around Upper Street. The area feels like you’ve stepped through a magic curtain into a place where people no longer exist. Seriously, we once walked around the Draper's for over 20 minutes and didn’t encounter another human. Inside, you’ll find a bar downstairs with three ales on tap and as well as tables ideal for sharing roasts, killer pies, and a well-priced wine list. Head for the garden in good weather. Book pretty much always.

Bellanger is owned by the same group as The Wolseley and Brasserie Zédel, among others. It looks beautiful, the service is polished, and you can order anything from a light snack to a very filling three-course meal. There’s no time of day when you shouldn’t come here but late afternoons are perfect for tea or an early drink. At dinner, order veal schnitzel, sausages, and a tart or cake. Bellanger looks and feels very grown-up, but it’s not stuffy at all. And dogs are very welcome.

Delhi Grill is a simple Indian restaurant that has been dishing out excellent-value curries and tandoori meats for years. Go for lamb cutlets and kebabs and all the delicious snacks like pani puri and fish pakoras. It can be a bit of a lively spot and the atmosphere is loud when the place is full. In other words, it’s a place for mates rather than dates. The ideal plan is to assemble five or six of you, push two of the plain wooden tables together, and cover them completely with food. And beer.

Yipin’s menu covers a lot of the map of China, but you should concentrate on the Hunan and Sichuan sections—that’s where the chefs are from. This is upscale Chinese in an upscale area and therefore not cheap, but big portions mean you don’t have to max out your plastic to get well fed. Many dishes contain massive quantities of chilli, fresh and dried. You can eat them all or just swallow a mouthful of napalm—it comes to the same thing. Order spiced fungus (a kind of wild mushroom), numbing and hot beef, and stir-fried pig knuckle.

We wish ‘funnest’ were a word so we could call Little Georgia the funnest restaurant in Islington. It looks fun, with its decorative posters, vintage telephones, and hunting horns. And the waiters are fun: smiling, jokey, and eager to advise about ordering. Order a shot of Georgian vodka and let them guide you through the menu. The all-Georgian wine list is inexpensive and great. The soundtrack is also all-Georgian, and if you’re lucky, the owner will get up and dance with one of the dashing waiters. 

Meat, meat, and more meat. If you like the sound of that, then you’re well on your way to liking The Pig & Butcher. This Islington pub specialises in rare breeds of cattle, pigs, and lamb that are butchered on site for their daily changing menu. As long as you’re not vegetarian, vegan, or offended by very descriptive British farm chat, then The Pig & Butcher is perfect for a casual catch-up with your favourite carnivores. It also does a mean Sunday roast.

Ottolenghi is the place that made London fall in love with salad, firing dozens of fresh flavours onto each plate in a way that wasn’t just healthy but exciting. Salads are the main draw here as at the other Ottolenghi venues, and a selection of three makes a satisfying lunch. But the first thing you see is the beautiful spread of cakes and pastries in the front window, and you should give in to temptation. If there are two of you, try to snag one of the small tables rather than sit at the long ones that provide most of the seating.

You come to Smokehouse to eat some of the best fire-cooked meat in London. You’re not going to need starters, but you’ll order them anyway, so have the pork tacos and prawn toast. After that, get whatever form of beef, pork, or lamb is on the menu. Lamb shoulder is the speciality. And the Sunday roasts are among the best in N1. Formerly a pub, Smokehouse has a beer selection that itself makes a visit spiritually rewarding. And some people do just come just for a quiet pint. But it’s at its best with a gang for way too much beer—and way too much meat to wash it down.

Tanakatsu is a simple Japanese diner near Angel specialising in katsu, teriyaki, and sushi, however we reckon your best bet here is to stick to the katsu. Pretty much every katsu option you might want here—with curry, over rice, or in a sandwich— is priced at under £20, and although sizes are more than big enough for one, you should definitely consider a side of chicken kara-age. And chocolate mochi for dessert.

Ask anyone in Islington where they go for brunch, and you’re almost sure to hear about Sunday. This is one of the hottest places in Barnsbury, a breakfast/brunch/lunch place that’s always packed out at weekends—and sometimes even during the week. It’s worth queuing, even in the rain, for consistently well-executed standard dishes and a few more out-of-the-ordinary ones. The pancakes are some of Islington’s fluffiest. Eggs Benedict is awesome. Just... be patient.

This old-fashioned caff has been going since 1959, and it’s an Islington institution. The menu divides into standard caff fare, including enormous breakfasts, and Italian dishes. And all at crazy low prices. Big plates of pasta are the favourite at lunchtime when it’s packed out with locals. And when it’s really busy, you might find yourself sharing a table—but this only adds to the lively atmosphere. The owners manage the crowds well (both when seated and when waiting), and service is speedy. It’s a happy revolving door kind of caff.

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