BRUNCH IN ISLINGTON
WHERE TO GO & WHY
Grabbing brunch in Islington is an easy feat – there are plenty of quality cafés. But not all places are created equal: we’ve been to some bang-average places because of poorly researched articles or, dare we say it, we’ve been beguiled by spots that prioritised style over substance. Lessons learnt.
Anyway, we’ve compiled the below so you don’t make the same mistakes – this is the actual list we share with each other. Hopefully it helps.
Our summary of Brother Marcus as being tasty and dependable may seem a little passive, but it’s meant as a compliment: an observation of how many brunch spots offer a great dish one week, only to disappoint with a lacklustre rendition the next. But not Brother Marcus. They’re a consistent force in a brunch game filled with unpredictability.
Let’s talk about the space:
We’re in Camden Passage: the traffic-free cobbled back street that could easily sit in the heart of Brighton’s Lanes or one of Cornwall’s quaint villages. Brother Marcus nestles among a pretty parade of shops, cafés and restaurants – a small area that can keep you occupied for hours.
First things first, they’ve got a decent number of outside tables (around 8 that each sit 2 people), so if you’re heading in the warmer months, nab a table out front and enjoy a rare al fresco brunch – I say rare as, well, it’s England.
Inside you’ll find a very chilled space, complete with neutral colours, wood panelling, hanging baskets and plants adorning a feature wall. It’s a disarming decor that makes the café-restaurant feel a lot more spacious than it actually is.
What about the menu?
Drawing inspiration from the vibrant flavours and culinary traditions of the Eastern Mediterranean, Brother Marcus serves up an array of tempting mezze dishes. We’re talking the likes of Za’tar roasted cauliflower, pan-fried halloumi, feta & ricotta börek, among many others.
But we’re here for brunch, and Brother Marcus is known as a brunch destination. The menu contains its very own ‘Brunch Classics’ section which serves up dishes like beetroot houmus & avo, eggs benedict and a sensational smokey shakshuka. My favourite has to be their sweet potato fritters, which come accompanied by turmeric yoghurt and a gooey poached egg.
Why we like it:
Is it a brunch to make you forget all others? Probably not. But it’s bloody good. And it’s consistently good. A dependable friend, if you will.
Oh, and the sweet potato fritters. Delish.
TOASTIES TO RIVAL THE BEST
Highbury & Islington Station
Urban Social might only be a stone’s throw away from Highbury & Islington station, but it manages to offer a quiet haven away from the masses.
Great coffee, amazing toasties, here’s why you need to give it a visit…
If the sun’s out, so are Urban Social’s outdoor tables. This is another spot for al fresco brunching but one you can do as a group (unlike the other two-person setups).
Inside, you’ll find a fresh and modern space that, if we’re honest, could fit into any trendy coffee shop. It’s not different, per se – just something you’d expect from a quality café-coffee shop. The real star of the space, though, is the cosy conservatory hangout. Here, natural light floods the area via skylights, while plants cascade from the main room divider. It’s an unexpected space given its immediate size, but one that truly stands out from the rest of the pack.
All in all, it’s the ideal setting for a brew and brunch.
Urban Social get their pastry and doughy goods from Dusty Knuckle. If you’ve not read our review of DK, we’re BIG fans. Think of the best bread you’ve had. DK do it better. With that in mind, it won’t come as a surprise that our fav things on the menu are the toasties. Why? Sure, the bread, but Urban Social have also achieved a challenging feat: creating fillings that are on par with the quality of the bread. Example: ‘kimcheese’ toastie. SO good.
After that, three items come to mind: the spicy shakshuka stew, the truffled mushroom & scrambled egg croissant, and the wild mushrooms on toast. Disgustingly good.
Coffee-wise, they tend to rotate guest roasters and always have Allpress at the ready. The baristas know what they’re doing and we’re yet to have a bad cuppa. Scratch that, we’ve always had great ones.
Why we like it:
Outside seating, a bright and cosy conservatory space, with some brunch items that rival the very best of them. High praise and we mean it.
VEGGIES & SWEET TREATS
Ottolenghi needs no introduction, the man is a renowned flavour king. His books and restaurants jumpstarted the veggie revolution, and his delis are renowned for their sensational salads, shakshuka, and sweets that’ll have you salivating at first sight.
Small but mighty, the Islington Deli is unmistakably Ottolenghi: intricate cake displays, large counters that play home to intricate pastries and desserts, a salad station, and a pantry that we can only dream of having at home.
You’ll find two large communal tables and a handful of tables or two. A quick note on the communal tables: sit at them. Even if you’re not usually one for them, just take the plunge. They’re somehow different at Ottolenghi Delis – I can’t explain it, they’re just way more welcoming and comfortable. Put it this way, they’re the only communal-style tables I actually enjoy sitting at.
Breakfast is served until 1pm on Saturday and 12pm for the rest of the week. The menu includes a breadboard with a beaut of a cherry jam, french toast, fried turmeric eggs, their famous shakshuka, as well as those delicate pastries and cakes we were talking about.
Why we love it:
It’s everything you love and expect from an Ottolenghi deli. Say no more.
YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD CAFÉ
‘They’ say to find the best spots you should follow the locals, and that if a place is busy then it’s probably worth a visit. Well, Sunday ticks off these boxes with ease. It’s a proper neighbourhood café and not uncommon to see queues forming before 11am for weekend brunch – heck, even weekdays. The sign of a good place? Most definitely.
Small and cosy. No-frills. Just a neighbourhood café looking to provide a laid-back setting and banging dishes. Both of which they do with ease.
Now we’re talking. Sunday’s reputation for stellar brunches precedes itself, and they’ve got a shedload of items to choose from.
Got a sweet tooth? You’re in the right place. They serve one of the best brioche French toasts we’ve had in and around the area – it comes with crème fraîche, berry compote, caramelised bananas and salted caramel, all of which come together to produce a dish that tastes even better than it sounds. They also serve the fluffiest pancakes with honeycomb butter – sure to get your blood sugar levels rising, but the succeeding crash is well worth it.
Savoury more your thing? Mushrooms and spinach on toasted sourdough is a delight, as is the eggs benedict with sage and onion pork sausage. We’ve agreed our favourite (so far) is the courgette fritters with poached egg, yoghurt and dukkah – super flavoursome and oh-so-satisfying.
Why we like it:
Sunday breaks free from the tired mould of typical London cafés that boast about being unique and purveyors of the best speciality coffee, only to blend into the already-crowded scene. It’s a proper neighbourhood spot that directs its focus in the right place: the food.
In other words, what a café should be.
So if you’re after a brunch in Islington, you’ve got to give it a try.
Delaterra isn’t your typical brunch spot – it’s a tapas bar that also serves brunch, and that’s what makes it so good. You won’t find your run-of-the-mill staples here, rather brunch classics with a Spanish twist. It’s quickly becoming one of the first places we recommend to friends and family visiting the area.
Very cosy. Seating really is limited but this somehow adds a dose of charm. It feels like a place for only those in the know.
Despite being small, it’s a super chilled space, featuring lots of brickwork and carved wood – it immediately disarms. Pair this with a service that’s friendly and faultless at once, and it’s hard not to feel at home. In fact, coming here for brunch is like going around a friend’s house. We love it.
The beauty of Delaterra is its versatility. Basically, you have options. Fancy brunch? Choose between the likes of baked eggs on tomato sauce, chorizo, cheese and garlic on sourdough; spiced scrambled eggs with avo, dill yoghurt on sourdough, accompanied with gazpacho; or plump for truffle turkey with mushroom cream and truffle eggs – sounds decadent and it is, but it isn’t sickly.
All great, but you also have the option of plumping for lunch items – these are small tapas plates teeming with flavour. Our most recent visit involved a charcuterie and artisan cheese board, pincho de tortilla, and baked eggs. Everything was sublime. You can see the menu here.
Why we love it:
Incredible food. Faultless service. So much variety. Oh, and the coffee is excellent – better than a lot of local coffee shops. We don’t have a bad word to say about Delaterra.
Fig Tree Café
Amidst the ongoing Londonfication of bars, cafés, and restaurants, it’s refreshing to stumble upon a place that reminds you of the true essence of a café. A time when brunch didn’t involve all things avo on toast, and when bottomless brunching meant something else entirely. Enter, Fig Tree Café.
No industrial-like decor here. Instead, you’ll just find wooden floors, tables and the occasional trinket. And this isn’t a criticism – it’s like stepping into someone’s abode, and that’s the highest compliment we can give to a café. It just feels right.
There’s more than meets the eye: venture further in and you’ll enter an open conservatory that acts as the ideal spot to take a well-earned break. It overlooks the cafe’s garden and allows you to decompress from the stresses of city life.
And that’s the other thing, the garden is wonderful. As soon as the weather permits, get yourself out there. You might be out for brunch in Islington but you wouldn’t know it. Verdant and well-kept, it’s absolutely gorgeous in the summer.
Nutritious salads (we had the falafel and the chicken), pillowy bread, jacket potatoes, baguettes, salmon, scrambled eggs, quiche, lasagne and way more. All homemade and you’re guaranteed a generous portion.
Why we like it:
The service is second-to-none. The decor makes you feel as if you’re entering someone’s home and the owner welcomes you as if you are. Very few places can do this.
All in all, it’s just a really good café that nails the art of what a café should be.
Kissa Wa Café
When someone says brunch, the usual culprits come to mind (think avo, poached eggs, pancakes, you know the drill) – all fine, but it can get a tad tiresome. That’s where Kissa Wa comes in, throwing a proverbial spanner in the works via their flavour-packed Japanese-style breakfasts and brunches.
They offer a ‘Japanese Style Breakfast’ which includes a poached egg, tofu, wakame and vegetables nestled in an original miso broth, with mini granola and yoghurt. My partner had this during a recent visit and could’ve fooled us into thinking she licked the bowl clean.
The rest of us had their balance bowl. You choose a rice base, noodles or leaves, and a topping of mackerel mayo, teriyaki chicken, or tofu and avo. Each option comes with kale, beetroot, wakame and a hell of a lot more. It’s a seriously delicious and nutritious dish that I want to have more often.
They’ve got plenty of other options too which we’ll soon be working our way through.
So if you’re out for brunch in Islington and after something different to the norm, head to Kissa.