STRAP IN FOR SOME BELTERS
Islington is home to plenty of restaurants – a lot of them are great, some dire, and a bunch very much in between.
We’ve listed our favourites below, based on actual visits, together with a rough costing for a 3-course meal with a glass of wine (unless stated otherwise).
We use this as our group’s personal guide, so let us know if there’s anything we need to check out.
A SMALL SPACE WITH MIGHTY FLAVOURS
One of our favourite restaurants in Islington is a wine bar – cheating? Maybe. But it isn’t leaving this list. We adore it.
The Nook isn’t your overpriced, overhyped, subpar spot that plagues Islington and wider North London. It packs a punch and can compete with any restaurant on this list.
Nook by name and nook by nature – the space is cosy and, dare we say it, intimate. White tiles adorn the wall and chalkboards are pinned to said tiles – it’s got an upmarket deli vibe about it whilst still feeling like a wine bar, and it sure as hell suits Islington.
Husband and wife team, Angus and Lale, run Nook. Angus charms as the front of house/sommelier while Lale, an acclaimed chef, works her magic in the kitchen, creating some of the most delicious small plates we’ve had in a long time.
Standout dishes from our most recent visit: burrata laden with samphire, chilli and roasted almonds – so good; cabbage dolma balls with beetroot and garlic yoghurt – a dreamy combo; and it would be remiss to ignore the lamb & spinach borek, as well as the pork schnitzel – both perfectly crispy and teeming with flavour.
It’s probably obvious, but we can’t praise The Nook enough.
OMNOM x Namaste
NON-PROFIT & EASTERN FLAVOURS
OMNOM isn’t strictly a restaurant, it’s a wellness space. The venue channels ancient Eastern philosophy across its broad offering of yoga and meditation classes, alongside transformative workshops. On the food front, they’ve partnered with Norwich favourite, Namaste, for a collab aimed at bringing wholesome food inspired by the East.
As soon as we heard Namaste was coming to London, we were champing at the bit – we have friends in the Norwich area and they always sing its praises. They were right to do so.
Namaste is a plant-based Indian restaurant that has made a name for itself as a master of flavour. The menu ranges from street-style food, chaata, dosas to traditional Indian gravies. You’ve got a lot to choose from. But far more importantly, seemingly everything is packed with vibrant flavours and cooked to utter perfection. We’ve been a few times and tried a large chunk of the menu, and we’re yet to be disappointed.
Everything is made fresh – pan to plate, as they say, with plenty of vegan, gluten-free and nut-free alternatives. They also refrain from using onion and garlic.
Our favourites (so far) have been: the ‘shrimp’ labbabdar, makhani dal, samosa chaat, and chick’n butter masala.
All in all, Omnom is a not-for-profit, grassroots movement that is so easy to get behind. Their vision is spot on, as is Namaste’s food.
YOUR NEW DATE SPOT
If you’ve not heard of Caravel, prep yourself, for it’s going to be on the tip of your tongue.
First of all, let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is boat-based eating. It’s not a shi**y pontoon serving any old grub, though. In fact, quite the opposite – Caravel is one of the most quaint restaurants in London.
The entrance is by Packington Bridge and guarded by a locked gate. Buzz yourself in and make your way to a red barge named Poppy. Poppy is Caravel. Caravel is Poppy. You get the gist.
Truth be told, I wasn’t too keen on the idea of eating on a barge. It doesn’t appeal to me as it does to others. I imagined cramped seating, having to overhear everyone’s conversations and a generally chaotic scene. I was so wrong. Caravel is charming.
As you enter, you’ll find a little seating area overlooking the restaurant. It sets the scene for what is an intimate dining experience (and I say that as someone who hates the use of ‘intimate’ to describe restaurants). The main space somehow feels spacious. Sure, it’s compact, but there’s never a need to hunch. The restaurant can seat up to 40 people across 10 tables, each with its own lamp and candle. On the point of candles, there’s a lot of them – and it’s lovely. Proper date vibes.
Food-wise, particular highlights include the potato rösti with sour cream and caviar to kick off proceedings; sesame prawn toast and chilli jam, along with devilled lamb sweetbreads on toast (seriously good); followed by onglet (perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked) with a delicious walnut dressing. If you’re up for a sweet treat, the baked chocolate cake is the one. The menu changes so some of these might not be available, but we guarantee you’ll find some delights.
If you can’t tell, we bloody love this joint. So if you’re yet to step foot aboard, go ahead and book. You’ll be name-dropping Caravel like nobody’s business.
SMALL. SPANISH. SENSATIONAL.
Delaterra proves that size doesn’t matter. With only one table and a handful of bar seats, this tapas spot feels exclusive; a place for those in the know, without the pretence. It’s super welcoming and you’ll instantly feel like your opinion matters – something quite rare for a restaurant.
We say a restaurant, Delaterra is a tapas restaurant and coffee shop – it’s a super relaxed space, with an interior that features plenty of carved wood and exposed brickwork. It feels cosy. In fact, it’s one of our favourite brunch spots in Islington. But Delaterra is perfect for any time of day.
As for the menu, you’ve got ample options (there’s little better than having plenty of small plates to get through). The charcuterie and artisan cheese board is always a good place to start. The gazpacho is super refreshing and makes for a wonderful palate cleanser. We’ve got to shout out the marinated octopus – not for everyone but a dish we devoured in seconds. The Spanish black pudding was also a highlight.
Sweet tooth? The pistachio cheesecake is so. damn. good. I’m going back just for that.
Everything is made to order by Ovidi, the owner, and you’re never rushed. It’s on its way to becoming one of our favourite spots for food in the city. It’s totally different from other places on this list.
Quite simply, we adore it.
PLANT-BASED CHINESE POWERHOUSE
This whole website is based on the opinions of a small friendship group consisting of some veggies, one vegan, and three carnivores. So when one of the Butlers suggested Tofu Vegan for our next meetup, as a member of the meat-eating brigade, I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea.
Though I’m big enough to admit when I’m wrong – and I was so, utterly, devastatingly wrong about this place.
Located on Upper Street and just a two-minute walk from Omnom, the space is very unassuming. It could quite easily belong on any high street in the country – and that’s meant as a compliment. It’s why Tofu Vegan appeals to all. It isn’t ‘fancy’ and it doesn’t do extravagant. It welcomes all and focuses on substance rather than style. A rare feat these days.
Tofu Vegan’s food isn’t short of admirers. It seems to be included in every TikTok recommendation and all over London-based Instagram stories; Jay Rayner loved it, as does any food influencer who’s ever been there. When somewhere gets this sort of attention, it’s typically a result of either people getting blindsided by early hype or being a genuinely incredible place. This Islington restaurant is the latter, with a caveat.
Dishes tantalise tastebuds with spicy, sweet, sour and savoury notes – a proper blend of flavour profiles. They also mix textures, so you’re constantly hit with something new to think about. Our favourites were the twice-cooked ‘fisc’ with sizzling oil; cloud ear mushroom salad; chongqin chick’n (spicy and wonderfully crunchy), and the deep-fried tofu. I’m not usually a fan but this is the nicest tofu I’ve had in a long time. Golden, chewy and flavourful, thanks to Sichuan salt and pepper. Oh, and the wontons in the house sauce. Defo get wontons.
We’re going back in a month for more action.
I mentioned a caveat – and that’s to say whilst I loved going here, influencer overhype can do just that – overhype. It is a brilliant restaurant, probably the best vegan restaurant in Islington and beyond, but don’t expect it to be the best spot on earth, for hype wounds reality.
HOME TO SOME INSANE KATSU & TERIYAKI
It’s in the name, but Tanakatsu prides itself on the quality and authenticity of its katsu dishes, and too bloody right. It’s home to some of the best.
The restaurant is sleek and subtle, featuring concrete walls, dark wood and a Japanese aesthetic. Tables are tightly packed together which, despite not filling me with joy, really doesn’t matter once the food arrives.
Onto the important stuff: choose from katsu, teriyaki and sushi. We’ve been a few times and tend to alternate katsu and teriyaki variations. You’re able to combine any version of each onto one plate. My personal favourite is the pork katsu and chicken teriyaki combo, but it really doesn’t matter what you plump with, as we’re yet to have a bad experience here.
What makes it so good? I wish I had the secrets. Everything is made fresh, the protein is crispy, and the teriyaki is a mix of sweet, savoury, tangy and salty at once. The sauce, for me at least, is close to perfection – sweet and salty whilst still packing heaps of flavour. Oh, and you get unlimited cabbage salad to add some crunch to the proceedings.
They’ve got a wicked sake collection and Japanese whiskey to match.
A neighbourhood restaurant that puts many others to shame, Tanakatsu deserves a lot more attention than it gets.
OUR LITTLE SECRET
What was Highbury Arts Club has since become Canto 73, a small restaurant that has quickly become one of my go-to recommendations. I love suggesting it because not only can I guarantee you’ll have a wicked time, but because it makes me look like I’m seriously in the know. Truth is, Canto73 should be known to everyone living in North London – heck, maybe it is, but it feels like we’ve caught this one early.
Canto73 has a pretty chilled vibe about it: the interior is relaxed and rustic; there are communal tables that offer a shared dining experience. All in all, it’s a place that generates conversation. Worries are left at the door; it feels natural to sit back and catch up with friends as all your culinary needs are taken care of.
On the topic of food, you can grab brunch on weekends, but it’s on this Islington restaurant list for its Friday and Saturday Supper Club.
The Supper Club is a seven-course set menu put together by Michelin Star-trained chef, João Ferreira Pinto, that focuses on seasonal ingredients from independent producers. The premise is to take any decision-making away from you, allowing you to spend quality time with those around you. This includes Head Chef Pinto guiding you through each dish and explaining the reasoning behind certain ingredient combinations. It’s a personal touch that goes a long way.
The food itself is bloody spectacular. Our recent visit included an ajo blanco with tomato ice cream (a Spanish soup served cold – subtle flavours and super refreshing – paired with an ice cream that acted as the perfect accompaniment, despite my severe reservations); a spring shallot tart which was utterly delightful – I was craving it for about a month afterwards; and a guineafowl breast cooked to perfection (I hate the term mouthwatering, but… mouthwatering). The menu changes monthly giving you at least 12 reasons to return each year.
All in all, Canto73 is a seriously special place. So much so that you’ll want to keep it a secret, but there’s zero chance of that happening.
Seven courses at £50 p/p (wine pairing +£22 p/p).