Supposedly the home of the museli-munching Guardian readers: for one of London’s most desirable locations, Islington has a funny reputation. But N1 has so much to offer. From the full-on fun of Upper Street – which has more bars and restaurants than any other street in Britain – to the charming canals and back-alleys, Islington has everything on its doorstep. Here’s our guide to living like a local in Islington – and getting the most from one of London’s quirkiest postcodes.
Ultra Cool Cafe Hangout
OK, if you don’t like cool places, look away now. Sawyer & Gray is the ultimate hipster cafe, but even that sells it short. Single-origin beans provided by guest roasters take care of the coffee, and a Scandi-style minimalism informs the decor – think untreated wood, black-and-white chiaroscuro colour palettes and brass light fittings. A range of handmade sandwiches and specials, from avocado on toast to Eggs Benedict, seals the deal.
Gastropub with Principles
Every neighbourhood needs a favourite pub, and Islington is no exception. The Duke of Cambridge seems to capture the spirit of Islington perfectly. Partnered with Riverford farms, one of the UK’s most celebrated food producers and farm shops, the Duke of Cambridge has a truly knock-out menu featuring beef short rib, rainbow chard and Moroccan-stewed pepper chachouka. A runner-up at last year’s the Observer Food Monthly Awards, the food here is great. But the pub itself is also top-notch: all their beers are from small microbreweries, with no big brands stocked, and all their soft-drinks are hand-pressed. Great food, great drinks and a conscience: what’s not to love?
Creative Vegetarian Restaurant with a Community Vibe
You can get meat all kinds of ways in London, but good vegetarian food is surprisingly rare. Islington locals are fortunate enough to have one of the city’s most loved vegetarian restaurants just around the corner. Forget chestnut mushrooms stuffed in burgers – this is properly imaginative dining, with fresh vegetables, grains and pulses transformed into complex and delicious dishes. A number of dishes are vegan, too, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Avant-Garde Drama with an Intimate Feel
The Almeida isn’t one of London’s biggest theatres, but it’s definitely one of its edgiest. Respected around the world, the Almeida’s provocative output has consistently drawn crowds from all over the city. The 325-seater theatre has a personal feel, keeping audiences close to the action. If you like brave, thoughtful theatre, this is the place for you.
Middle Eastern Restaurant and Deli
One of Britain’s most sought-after chefs and food writers, Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant colourful Middle Eastern and North African cuisine is excellent. With long, communal tables, Ottolenghi is a great place to relax with friends over a leisurely brunch or dinner. It’s also a deli, dishing up fresh meat, cheese and vegetables to locals. Lucky!
Rustic Italian Restaurant
A good Italian restaurant is a must. The Handbook wouldn’t move anywhere without one. Trullo is Islington’s Italian joint of choice. Simple, fresh Italian ingredients are brought together harmoniously – the papardelle with eight-hour cooked beef shin ragu is eye-poppingly good – with great service and atmosphere. The food critics, from Jay Rayner to Giles Coren, absolutely love it, and so do the locals.
Quirky Chinese Restaurant
Everybody knows that the Chinese food we eat in the UK is basically not Chinese. Takeaways up and down the country serve up a gloopy mush unknown in the Far East. Luckily, a new breed of Chinese restaurants are bringing the true taste of the Orient to our shores. Chinese Laundry, on Upper Street, goes one step further. Inspired by 1980s Chinese domestic life, the restaurant looks like a real house. Try the Old Beijing Lamb Skewers with cumin and chilli, or the thrice-cooked layered pork belly (Mei Cai Kou rou). The Chinese ’80s have never tasted so good.
Beautiful Sugar-Free Bakery
Sugar is seriously addictive. The Handbook knows this from bitter personal experience. Hats off to Romeo’s, then, for becoming London’s first sugar-free bakery. Yep, you heard right – everything, from the delightful cakes to the delicate pastries, are made entirely without sugar. They shouldn’t taste this good, but they do. Romeo’s also bake fresh bread every day and whip up some seriously tasty quiches.
Relaxed Modern European Restaurant
In an area full of traditional European restaurants, Salut! stands out from the crowd. Describing itself as ‘a fusion between Nordic and French with some German influences’, Salut’s menu is full of rejuvenating treats. Enormous street-facing windows flood the place with natural light, and the friendly staff create a relaxed, informal atmosphere.
Traditional French Brasserie
Alsatian cuisine isn’t well known in London, but if Bellanger is anything to go by it definitely needs to be. Founded by the team behind the legendary Brasserie Zedel and The Wolseley, Bellanger’s big-game pedigree is backed up by the menu. Traditional treats like Tartes flambées (a bit like France’s answer to pizza, topped with fromage blanc, onion and lardons) and choucroute are a revelation, transporting you to a rustic French brasserie. No wonder Islingtonites love it.