Where To Eat Around Highbury
Highbury is more than a stadium, a station, or a corner. It’s a thriving residential neighbourhood and home to some great places to eat.
Highbury is many things to many people. For little Artemis running across Highbury Fields, or even littler Apricot demanding artisanal Babybel from La Fromagerie, it’s home. For Arsenal fans, it’s a weekly date with affliction. And then, for much of London, it’s a prime interchange. Highbury and Islington station can get you north, south, east, or west. It’s also home to superb food. From no-nonsense Italian to one of the best Chinese restaurants in London, here’s where to eat around Highbury.
Thursday lunchtime at Trullo. An elderly man dressed to the nines in a linen suit, sitting alone eating beef ragu with a glass of wine. They call him The Professor. A son taking his mother out for lunch. He’s back from uni but she doesn’t know it’s for good. Two people who work for a restaurant review website, inventing stories about people in a restaurant they never want to leave. Trullo is Padella’s older sibling. It’s a place for grown-ups to spend their day and night eating and drinking and never, ever looking at their watch. It’s a proper restaurant for anyone and everyone at all times. Just make sure you haven’t got anywhere else to go.
Every neighbourhood in London should have a no-nonsense, comforting restaurant. Those ones where if you live nearby, you probably eat there at least once a week because it’s just so bloody easy and so bloody good. Au Lac is one of those. It’s a family-run Vietnamese restaurant just down the road from Highbury Barn that’s been serving tasty as anything food for years. The mince pork and dry fish with aubergine is something you’ll end up coming in to eat alone (or order for takeaway), and the same goes for their Ha Noi fish. A no-brainer that will make you want to move into the neighbourhood.
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The restaurant Formerly Known As Black Axe Mangal is, arguably, the jewel in Highbury’s crown. Only F.K.A.B.A.M wouldn’t really wear a crown. Unless it was drunk, naked, and air guitaring to Queens of the Stone Age. Then it would wear a crown. Come to this little, smoky delight if you want to have fun and eat fun food. Despite a slight name change and shifting to a set menu format post-pandemic, it serves much of the same, vaguely Turkish-inspired food and the reasons you come here are also largely the same. Boisterous flavours and atmosphere are still a priority.
Xi’an Impression is bang opposite Arsenal’s stadium. For years it was the undiscovered star that everyone in the vicinity was crying out for. Yearning for. Only it was a restaurant, not a footballer. That doesn’t matter though. It’s a little more well known now but it’s just as good. This is proper Chinese food direct from the Xi’an region. Their cold cucumber noodles are legendary. As are their potstickers. As are their biang biang noodles. As is everything really. This is one to go out of your way to get to.
A football fan, in the eyes of many, is a pint-swilling and pavement-gobbing cretin. While this is an accurate description for some, it’s a slightly different scene in Top Cuvée on match day. This Blackstock Road wine bar and bistro often plays host to Arsenal fans swilling a glass of Austrian riesling and picking on a lovely bit of house terrine, pre-kick off. Outside of Saturday afternoons it makes for an extremely pleasant spot for a couple of glasses of this and a croquette full of that.
Sambal Shiok is a casual Malaysian spot on the Holloway Road serving dishes like fried chicken, salads with peanuts, and rice dishes. But the real attraction is the laksa—a noodle soup with a flavour slap to the face. Yes, some of the food is spicy enough to act as a chemical peel to the tongue. And yes, it can get a little crowded. But for hefty portions and a drink for £20 a head, Sambal Shiok can quickly become a weeknight dinner addiction.
The second location of the French wine bar is on Blackstock Road and it feels extremely comfortable in N5. There are nibbles to have with wine or bigger and more buttery plates such as duck confit and gratin. Swing by for a couple of drinks at the bar or call ahead to nab one of their charming little booths. It’s not a big space, FYI. You might find a few red and white shirts here on match day but regardless of who you support, you’re likely to be a fan.
Any restaurant serving portions that say 'you're not going home hungry from here' is already doing a good job of wooing us. Especially when you take a bite and it tastes good as well. Trevi is a bish-bash-bosh kind of Italian restaurant. Lasagnes the size of your thigh. Mozzarella, basil, and tomato salads that skimp on nothing. Pints of Birra Moretti on tap. This is, essentially, what school dinners were meant to be like: hearty and tasty and incredibly good value. What’s more is that it’s bang opposite Highbury and Islington station, so it’s perfect to drop into for a quick and easy meal.
Prawn On The Lawn Islington
Prawn on the Lawn sounds a bit like the horse your Grandad put the second mortgage on in the ‘64 Grand National, only for it to fall at the first fence and be put down live on the BBC while your Grandma called the family lawyers. Thankfully, it’s not. It’s actually the name of this fish restaurant on St Paul Road. This is a decent little spot if you’re of the pescetarian persuasion and fancy a bite and some wine. Don’t expect to be blown away, but to be pleasantly satisfied.
Fink's Salt And Sweet
Highbury is one of those areas where there are lots of people about in the day. People with kids, people without kids. People who are young, people who are old. People who are middle-aged as well. People of whom you often wonder: what are you doing? Where are you going? Well, it turns out Fink’s is the answer to both of those questions. This is a very nice cafe to spend a few hours in, have a coffee and a bit of avocado and nice things on toast. Or even a glass of wine or a beer with some small plates in the evening. Whether you’re working, catching up, or not doing very much at all.
A therapist is playing word association with a client. “Highbury”, she says. The patient, eyes closed, smiles and begins to speak softly. “Comte.” “Riesling.” “Addison Lee.” He takes a deep breath before exhaling... “La Fromagerie.” This place is at the heart of the area Highbury is today, having set up shop over 25 years ago. Predominantly a cheesemonger, there’s also a small cafe that serves breakfast, small plates, charcuterie, and cheese boards, obviously. It’s ideal for wine, snacks, and a catch-up. And something very nice to take home.
The Thai-influenced spot has been around since 2017 and quickly became a neighbourhood favourite. There are small plates like the miang bites (betel leaves stuffed with prawn and pomegranate) and curries which combine British produce with sweet, sour, spicy, and salty Thai flavours. The space, once an old-school Italian spot, feels very much like Farang's now—the outside facade has been painted black and the tables inside provide bright colours courtesy of dishes like prawn and herb-laden jungle curry and lurid-looking gai prik.
Vins is a spot specialising in serving low-intervention wine and simple food. It bucks the small, expensive, sharing plates trend by serving big rustic dishes like fregola with pig's cheek and spring onions (small sharing plates are also available). As such, it's not the kind of place you leave feeling hungry. It’s perfect for a date, but it’s equally good for crowding a bunch of old friends around a table and catching up over a couple of bottles of wine.
When we were growing up, a meal with eggs was a pretty basic but tasty dish. You’d have egg soldiers as a kid. You’d have drunken eggs on toast at 2am as you got older. Now you have scrambled eggs after the gym because you’re pretending to be an adult. At Franks Canteen eggs aren’t a basic dish. Eggs are poached and served with tarka dal, naan, and chutney. Eggs are perfectly perched on top of duck and jersey royal hash, hispi cabbage slaw beside it. Eggs are the foundation to a truly delicious breakfast/brunch/lunch here—a neighbourhood cafe that does far more than the bare minimum. A weekend must.
photo credit: Patricia Niven
Wine and small plates is a thing. Most people know this nowadays so, to be honest, it’s quite long saying it over and over again. So from now on we’ll refer to these restaurants as WASPs because it’s easier. Westerns Laundry is a WASP restaurant, from the same people as WASP OG Primeur. Its focus is on seafood plates—but not solely so—with the menu changing daily and according to what’s in season. The food here is really very nice, as is the setting of a slightly hidden old garage in Drayton Park. It’s a great and romantic spot for a date or for a catch-up with a friend. Just don’t go with more than one person, because small plates.