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. Unless there’s a light breeze and a plastic bag blows onto the tracks, in which case the overground will be down for a week.
In that case, or lots of others, you’ll need somewhere to eat and drink close by. So it’s a good thing our guide has got everything from no-nonsense Italian to one of the best Chinese restaurants in London. Here’s where to eat around Highbury.
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.
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 matchday. 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. Especially for a low key date night. While the mood is great, not all the food is the same. So we’d recommend sticking to the smaller plates.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who hasn’t dreamed of a relaxed wine spot opening at the end of their road? You know, the type with a bar made out of upcycled wooden crates. Where the owner will enthusiastically engage you in conversation about grape varieties, without ever boring you senseless. That’s what the Mountgrove Bothy is. It’s friendly. It’s comfortable. It’s not at all precious. And it’s run by people who love wine and love to share it with their customers. Besides wine, they also serve simple seasonal small plates and, at weekends, they have pop-ups like the Chinese Laundry take charge of the food. Whether you’re coming for a full meal of dumplings and spicy fried sea-bass, just dropping by for a glass before heading somewhere else, or stopping in for a bottle to takeaway, you’ll like it so much you’ll want to come back here again and again.
Vins is another 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 pigs cheek and spring onions (small sharing plates are also available), and, as such, is not the kind of place you leave feeling hungry. In fact it’s a great neighbourhood spot. 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.
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.
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.
Aside from its disconcertingly Shining-like ‘REDRUM’ logo, Jolene is one of the friendliest and most comfortable places we’ve been to in London for quite some time. This Newington Green all-day bakery and café, serves homely and grainy fare for breakfast, lunch, and (from Thursday to Sunday) dinner. Think soups and toasties, pastas, and spelt salads. It’s all very nice and it’s a lovely space, making it one of those spots we could genuinely spend all day (and weekend nights) in.
If your idea of the perfect neighbourhood restaurant is a spacious and elegantly shabby corner spot serving dishes like a bull’s heart tomato with black olive and sheep’s curd, then Perilla on Newington Green is the place for you. Even if that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you should give Perilla a go. The tomato is typical of what they do, and it’s delicious. They take their food very seriously here, and while the place does lack the kind of banter you might get in some of the more fun spots in town, it is surprisingly relaxed for a fine dining spot. Yes, you can do the £44 tasting menu with wine pairings, but you could also stop in for drink at the bar, and work your way through a doorstep of seaweed sourdough (served with braised greens and yoghurt), while nodding along to a hip-hop soundtrack.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 star of the show 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, Shambol Shiok can quickly become a weeknight dinner addiction.
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.