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. But 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, these are the Islington restaurants worth checking out. From pubs off the beaten track serving perfect pies to old-school Italian delis making the freshest of caprese salads.
photo credit: Seyi Odeyemi
Jam Delish, a vibrant vegan Caribbean spot on Tolpuddle Street, has the kind of Good Times energy that will enable a round of colourful cocktails, even on a Tuesday night. You could make a meal from small plates like ‘fish’ tacos and whole jerk plantain with sharp pomegranate, but don’t miss mains like incredibly tender, warming ‘oxtail’ (jackfruit and mushroom) stew. That said, you could equally come here just for the turned-up R&B playlist, foliage-covered walls, and people-watching in the lively dining room.
photo credit: Lateef Photography
Opened by a former chef at pasta favourites Bancone and Tavolino, Noci was always going to fit into Islington Green. The roomy restaurant has a decent buzz to it and a focus on handmade pasta. This is what you come here for. The pesto and crispy pancetta ziti will put all your memories of fingering jars of Sacla to shame, while the brown butter cacio e pepe is something we could shovel for the rest of eternity. You can take or leave the sharing plates with little fuss—carbs are the star of the show here.
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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, Caravel is doing a lot more than just bobbing along. Its intimate cabin dining room is matched by simply cooked bistro-ish food that ranges from thickly stuffed prawn toast to 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—and it has a next-door barge bar, Bruno's.
Saponara is a little deli and Italian restaurant in a quiet bit of Islington between the Essex Road and Upper Street, but nothing about this old-school spot 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 pecorino 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.
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 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.
The Compton Arms
The Compton Arms’ kitchen residencies are the stuff of legend—looking at you Four Legs cheeseburger. Best of all is that the pub is friendly and fantastically enticing to spend all day and night drinking in, whether that be inside or out in the garden.
photo credit: Tofu Vegan
Tofu Vegan is a Chinese spot on Upper Street that’s 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.
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
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.
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.
photo credit: Karolina Wiercigroch
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 setup personifies the approach. It’s an unpretentious and refreshingly great-value spot specialising in products from the family farm in Extremadura, a region south west 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 con tomate—a spicy blood sausage drenched in tangy tomato sauce—is unmissable.
photo credit: Jamie Lau
The appeal of Indian Veg is simple: all-you-can-eat buffet at an amazingly low price. Get the ace onion bhajis as soon as possible after they come out of the kitchen and bring a couple of beers—there’s no alcohol licence. Prepare yourself for some pretty intense anti-meat propaganda on the walls (‘Cancer danger in your fry-up!’) and a carb-heavy meal.
photo credit: Afghan Kitchen
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 warm naan-e-Afghani. 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?
photo credit: Jamie Lau
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. 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. 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. Order spiced fungus (a kind of wild mushroom), numbing and hot beef, and stir-fried pig knuckle.
Sushi Show serves excellent sushi in a tiny space 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, there’s also a small selection of donburi bowls.
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—try to get the big table at the back where you can see the kitchen in action.
With its decorative posters, vintage telephones, and hunting horns, Little Georgia’s got good times written all over it. 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, and there’s also an excellent Georgian sparkling water called Borjomi. The soundtrack is also all-Georgian, and if you’re lucky, the owner will get up and dance with one of the waiters.
photo credit: Ottolenghi
Salads are the main draw as at the other Ottolenghi venues, and a selection of three makes a satisfying lunch. But the first thing you see at this spot along Upper Street 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. Some people do just come just for a quiet pint. But it’s at its best visited with a gang, for way too much beer and way too much meat.
Tanakatsu is a simple Japanese diner near Angel specialising in katsu, teriyaki, and sushi, however we reckon your best bet 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. Although sizes are more than big enough for one, you should definitely consider a side of chicken kara-age. And chocolate mochi for dessert.
photo credit: Jamie Lau
The Drapers Arms
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. Inside, you’ll find a bar downstairs with three ales on tap and as well as tables ideal for sharing roasts and killer pies. Head for the garden in good weather. Book pretty much always.
photo credit: The Pig & Butcher
The Pig And Butcher
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.
photo credit: Jamie Lau
Ask anyone in Islington where they go for brunch, and you’re almost sure to hear about Sunday. One of the hottest places in Barnsbury, this breakfast/brunch/lunch place is 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 and the eggs benedict is awesome. Just... be patient.