THE SPOTS WORTHY OF YOUR PENNIES
Islington is packed with great pubs, but there are some absolute beauts that it’d be a shame to miss out on. We’ve spent many a night in them, and we use this actual list to plan our nights out when in the area. From beer gardens, gastropubs, craft beer havens, neighbourhood spots and more, there should be something in there for ya.
FOR OUTSIDE BOOZING
Earl of Essex
CRAFT BEER & SUNSHINE
Just a short walk from Angel Station, nestled amidst the terraced back streets off Upper Street, lies The Earl of Essex.
What seems an unassuming pub holds two badly-kept secrets: the first, they’re a craft beer mecca, dedicated to serving the latest in the craft brewing scene; the second, they have a wicked beer garden out back.
On the craft beer front, The Earl of Essex houses a large, old-school hymn-like board which proudly displays their ever-rotating brews. And there’s a lot: around 17 tap beers, ciders, kegs and casts. So if you’re unlike me and enjoy mixing things up, start working your way through the list – well, some of it at least.
As for the beer garden, it wraps around the pub and is larger than expected. It’s a calm and secluded spot, ideal for spending a sunny afternoon with friends.
Pub rooftop terraces aren’t that common – in fact, they’re pretty rare, and that’s why The Castle had to be included on this Islington pub list.
Is it our favourite pub in the area? Probs not. But its rooftop is one of the best pub spots for some al fresco drinking. The space is partially covered so you’re able to embrace the sun or shade, depending on your tolerance. If you’re one for getting some fresh air in the colder months, they also have heaters and offer blankets as the temperature drops.
We’re more fair-weather rooftop goers, and The Castle is one of the group’s first mentions when the sun has got its proverbial hat on.
The Narrowboat always crops up in online recommendations, and whilst we agree it’s worthy of a mention, it comes with a heavy caveat: go for drinks and nab a balcony space.
The balcony overlooks the canal and is a beaut spot for soaking in the afternoon sun. It’s not the biggest and doesn’t seat many, but it’s prime real estate bearing in mind few places offer this sort of thing.
We’ve had mixed experiences with food – sometimes great; other times not so – so plump for drinks and enjoy the view.
FOR FINER FOOD
The Pig and Butcher
The Pig and Butcher might be set in the heart of Islington, but it could quite easily have been lifted from the countryside.
It’s a country pub kitchen through and through, even in the way the team sources their produce. They pride themselves on receiving meat from the best farms in the UK and butchering, smoking and curing on-site.
The menu is constantly evolving, but our most recent visit involved a braised Tamworth pig’s cheek, pickled fennel & apple salad to start proceedings (so delicious – the apple cut through the rich meat); Cumbrian confit chicken leg for one main and Lake District Herdwick lamb for the other – both sublime, though the chicken probably had the edge.
Though the menu constantly changes, you’re guaranteed a disgustingly good meal, not to mention a range of top-tier wines, craft beer and a lovely pint of Guinness.
There is a shedload of gastropubs in London but not all are made equally. In fact, to call The Baring a gastropub does it a disservice – it’s a warm and inviting modern pub that produces food of the highest quality. This isn’t a place plagued by cod and chips vs steak pie conundrums; it’s a spot that offers refined dishes that put local and seasonal produce centre stage.
They opened in 2022 and already place highly in the UK’s Top 50 Gastropubs. No mean feat, but one that we can easily see them topping in the next year or so.
Current menu highlights include quail shish, garlic yoghurt and chilli; salt marsh lamb rump; grilled hispi cabbage; and 24-month aged comté with Pam’s chutney. Pair this with a choice from their wide range of British craft beer or organic wines, and you’re well on your way to a great evening (note: this will likely set you back £60-70).
All in all, The Baring isn’t quite a gastropub, it’s also not a restaurant – it sits between the two, and it’s a spot I’d like to spend more time in.
GASTRO WITHOUT THE PRETENCE
The definition of a gastropub is pretty loose right now – it seems to encompass any pub that serves food: a spectrum that stretches from bang-average reheated meals to those that take pride in produce and flavour. If you haven’t already guessed, hicce hart is in the latter part of the camp. A gastropub that nails the gastro part, but manages to get the pub part right too.
On the food front, you can grab a drink and plate for £13 during lunch hours – this includes a choice of salt & vinegar spare ribs; a pulled pork sandwich; tagliatelle with basil and hazelnuts, roasted chicken with baby gem and pickled cherries, among others. It’s a super relaxed space to catch up with friends and enjoy a small bite. Alternatively, head upstairs and explore more of the menu. The service extends to dinner where the ambience switches to a more restaurant-like feel.
hicce hart claims to be a place for every occasion, and we agree. It’s easy to forget that it’s a neighbourhood pub at heart – so if you’re not in the mood for food, don’t let that stop you from coming here. The service is great and pretentiousness isn’t in their vocabulary.
JUST GREAT PUBS
The Hemingford Arms
UNAPOLOGETICALLY EXTRA, UNDENIABLY BRILLIANT
Eccentric, unique, extra – all things you can use to describe The Hemingford Arms. One word you’ve got to use: unforgettable.
The Churchill Arms is famed for its flower-packed façade but let’s face it, everyone heads there. The Hemingford Arms might be lesser known, tucked away in Barnsbury, but it’s just as much of a beauty. Verdant and colourful flora blankets the pub’s exterior – it’s as inviting as any pub I’ve seen.
As you step through the door the fun continues: the interior is a museum of bric-a-brac; an assortment of random trinkets and collections that have stood the test of time. We’re talking pots, baskets, guitars, trumpets, barrels, film posters, even an air raid shelter sign – you get the picture. It’s not one for those who like minimalist decor; it’s for those who like their pubs to have character. We bloody love it.
Set over two floors, there’s ample seating space, televisions showing sports, a thai food menu, and a bar that invites you to pull up a pew and drink the night away.
Undeniably charming, unapologetically itself, The Hemingford Arms is one of our favourite pubs in Islington and the surrounding area.
The Old Queen’s Head
QUIET TIPPLES TO CLUB NIGHTS
The Old Queen’s Head is surprisingly hard to describe: it’s extravagant and chilled at once; it’s one for a quiet tipple or a full-raucous club night; it’s not one for craft beers but offers good value cocktails. All of this may seem that it doesn’t quite know what it is – that it has some figuring out to do – but it’s quite the opposite: it’s unlike other Islington pubs, in the best possible way.
The decor: it’s like something out of a Gatsby shindig, boasting ornate walls and ceilings, with grand chandeliers sectioning parts of the large room. Ancient Greek-style faux sculptures line the bar, chesterfield sofas pepper the building and there’s a large open fire for the colder months. It’s maximalist decadence – odd for a pub but it somehow works.
Drinks-wise, expect your typical pub draft beers and wine selection. No speciality craft brews here – we’re talking Guinness, Camden Hells, Moretti, Asahi, that sort of thing. We mentioned cocktails, and there are plenty of them. Highlights include their Espresso Martini, a spicy margarita and strawberry & basil bramble. Food is provided by Lucky Chip who serve up indulgent burgers, ribs, fries, and alike. We’ve heard good things about their Sunday roast too – we’re yet to give it a go but will update once we do.
All in all, The Old Queen’s Head prides itself on being a place of variety: they run regular pub quizzes, comedy gigs, life drawing (yep) and club nights. They even have a vintage foosball table and plenty of board games.
Suffice it to say that this Angel pub has something for everyone – even the moaner of your group – and is well worthy of a visit.
A FRIENDLY FACE
Sure, the place can get busy, but it’s a different kind of busy. It’s a local neighbourhood pub filled with groups catching up and wanting a respite from the week. The benches by the entrance are ideal for watching the world go by as you enjoy the odd drink or three.
They serve cracking food too, much better than most pubs in the local area. The menu is pretty varied and includes everything from freekeh salads, haddock and chips, through to small plates like burrata, posh poutine and pâté de Campagne.
Welcoming staff, family-friendly, as well as being a relaxing space, The Alpaca is always on the tip of our group’s collective tongue when we’re in the Angel and Islington area.
The Foxglove Free House
A CRAFT-BEER LOVING LOCAL
Some pubs don’t need to pull out the frills, they’re just great locals. The Foxglove Free House is one of these. It’s located on the road parallel to Alpaca and The Old Queen’s Head and offers a community-like vibe. A community obsessed with craft beer, mind you.
They’ve got 10 taps that include lagers, IPAs, sours, porters, cider, and a wonderful Guinness, not to mention an additional selection of proper cask ales. There’s also a fridge packed with craft brews from a range of breweries.
We’d recommend coming for drinks only, and what a place for a drink it is. Calming and welcoming – you’ll feel like a local despite it being your first visit. We can’t give a bigger compliment than that.