Highbury is many things to many people. For some it’s the leafier, quieter sibling to Islington next door, the perfect area to call home and raise a family. Imagine little Artemis running across Highbury Fields, or even littler Apricot demanding artisanal Babybel from La Fromagerie. Charming. For others it’s a weekly date with affliction, as they trudge to go and watch the most expensive football club in the world, Arsenal. A £5 pint here, a £6 pie there, and a two nil loss for your efforts. Good stuff. And then, for a lot of London, it’s a prime interchange. Highbury and Islington station can get you North, South, East or West. The city is your oyster - thanks TFL. Unless, of course, there’s a light gust of wind and a blue plastic blag blows onto the tracks, in which case the Overground will be down for a week, and you’ll need a place to eat close by. Find that place in our guide to the best places to eat in Highbury.
Every neighbourhood in London should have a no-nonsense, comfort restaurant. Those ones where if you live nearby, you’re probably eating 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 neighbourhood, family-run Vietnamese restaurant just down the road from Highbury Barn that’s been serving no frills, 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.
Any restaurant that puts your food down on the table and tells you that “yer not goin’ home hungry from ’ere” 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, it’s bang opposite Highbury and Islington station, so it’s perfect to drop into for a quick and easy meal.
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, a catch-up. And something very nice to take home.
Newington Green is a part of Highbury (kind of) that’s changed a lot in recent years. By changed we mean it’s gone from quite grotty to quite great. Trattoria N16 is part of a little line of excellent restaurants and cafes looking out onto the green. It’s an all-day cafe situation that serves pretty decent wood fire pizzas amongst other smaller Italian plates and salad. There’s a very easy-going vibe which makes it an ideal spot to set up in for the day, or to use for a casual dinner in the evening.
Yield N16 is one of those (fairly) rare things in London: a wine shop that focuses on selling wine. Sure they do a some tasty charcuterie spreads, and other little food bits, but wine is their thing. It’s what what they do. Bang on Newington Green, it’s an excellent spot to sit outside when London’s weather allows you to, and if not there’s also a lot of bench space inside too. It’s directly next door to its sibling Trattoria N16, so there is excellent wine and wood oven pizza within five steps of each other. Literally.
The area around Canonbury station and Newington Green isn’t short of pubs and casual drinking spots, but Bergen House has the slightly timeless feel of a place that you’d want to call your local. It’s only open from 4pm in the week, which is shame because it’s a place that looks like it was made for day drinking. It also has a full menu, so once you’ve installed yourself at their big wooden bar - or one of the two seating areas - and ordered a beer, a rib-eye steak with fries, and then another beer, it’s very easy to forget what time it is.
When we were growing up, a meal with eggs was a pretty basic, but tasty dish. You’d have egg soldiers as a kid, a bit on your face, a bit in your mouth. You’d have drunken eggs on toast at 2am as you got older, experimenting - as generations did before you - with a combination of Stellas and the stove. 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 here are poached with tarka dal, naan, and chutney. Eggs are perfectly perched on top of duck and jersey royal hash, hispi cabbage slaw beside it. At this neighbourhood cafe (which also hosts supper clubs), eggs are the foundation for a truly delicious breakfast, brunch, or lunch, making Franks a weekend must.
One minute from Highbury and Islington station is St. Pauls Road, and another extremely good parade of restaurants, cafes, and things you need to eat and drink. St Paul Islington is one of these places. It’s a spacious coffee-cum-wine-bar place that does everything you’d expect. Sandwiches, charcuterie, coffee, wine, massages, avocado facials, dog therapy, camembert counselling. Okay maybe not all those things but you get our drift.
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 mum 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 the other diners in a restaurant that 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 watches. It’s a proper restaurant. Just make sure you haven’t got anywhere else to go afterwards.
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. From now on we’ll refer to these restaurants as W.A.S.P.s, because - as long as you don’t confuse them with the pejorative acronym for Americans of British ancestry (or angry not-bees) - it’s easier. Westerns Laundry is a W.A.S.P. restaurant from the same people as W.A.S.P. O.G., Primeur. The focus is on seafood plates, but it has other things too, and the the menu changes daily according to what’s in season. The food here is really very nice, as is its slightly secluded location in a repurposed industrial building in Drayton Park. It’s a great, 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.
Highbury is spoiled for spots where you can get a great glass of wine and something nice to eat too, but Linden Stores shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a few minutes walk away from Highbury Corner, but it’s well worth the stroll. You’ll find a bright wine shop up top where you can grab a quick glass, and there’s an exposed brick cave downstairs too. The kitchen serves small but satisfying portions of things like oxtail pie with marrow mash, or roasted beets with prune puree and hung yoghurt. Unsurprisingly, they all work well with the wide range of wine on offer, much of which is available by the glass.
Prawn on the Lawn sounds a bit like the horse your grandad bet the second mortgage on in the ’64 Grand National, only for it to fall at the first fence and be tended to by vets live on the BBC whilst your grandma called the family lawyers. Thankfully though, it’s not. It’s the signature dish of this fish restaurant on St. Paul’s Road. It involves prawns on smashed avocado on toast. And it’s very nice. This is a decent little spot if you’re of the pescatarian persuasion and fancy a bite and some wine. Don’t expect to be blown away, but you will be pleasantly satisfied.
Black Axe Mangal is, arguably, the jewel in Highbury’s crown. Only BAM 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. Because that’s what BAM’s about.
Xi’an Impression is bang opposite Arsenal’s stadium. For years it was the undiscovered gem 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.