Away from the hustle and bustle of Upper Street, Islington offers a wealth of quirky and eclectic streets that hide away some wonderful restaurants and pubs. It may be unlucky for some, but not for those who discover these places – here’s 13 of our favourites
1 The Mucky Pup
Need the perfect laid-back pub you can slip in and out of without bumping into everyone you know? The Mucky Pup is a back-street Islington bar that boasts a rockstar feel, with some slightly strange and quirky adornments and a great selection of drinks. It’s an off the beaten path spot – you might walk right past if you weren’t looking for it. A great place for those with a furry best friend (the name says it all) and is known to regulars as a dog friendly hangout. The Mucky Pup has a free jukebox, dartboard and pool table for the traditional pub-goers, plus a friendly barman, relaxed atmosphere and great Sunday roasts. Check it out.
39 Queen’s Head Street N1 8NQ; 020 7226 2572
2 The Pig and Butcher
With a nod to its ancestry as an 1800s watering hole for locals, The Pig and Butcher specialises in top quality fresh meats, sourced straight from the farm and butchered on site. With special meats including Iron Age pigs and White Park cattle, and game from Chart Farm in Kent, the kitchen is passionate about using local and fresh ingredients, having formed a close relationship with its suppliers. Fish is brought in fresh from the south coast, and for summer you’ll find meats cooked over charcoal on a specially built grill. There’s certainly a fine dining feel here, but it’s disguised behind the mask of a rustic pub. A must if you want to get back to basics with traditionally simple, farm-style foods and craft beers, with a gastronomically classy feel.
80 Liverpool Road N1 0QD; 020 7226 8304; thepigandbutcher.co.uk
3 Brown Bear Coffee
Little is known about this coffee shop off Upper Street – unless you’re a regular of course, and then you could tell us exactly what we’re about to tell you. Brown Bear Coffee is everything you expect from a little coffee shop – a small, cosy space, with fresh juices and smoothies on offer, and a traditional lunch sandwich selection. The café uses Coleman Coffee, known in caffeine-lover circles for its small batch quality Arabica beans. So instead of grabbing a takeaway chain coffee, next time make a pit stop at Brown Bear to enjoy its local feel and lovely outdoor deck area.
43 Cross Street N1 2BB
4 69 Colebrooke Row
Want to feel like you’ve discovered the secret haunt of Islington celebrities? Welcome to the Bar With No Name, aka 69 Colebrooke Row, which is sleek, classy and very sassy. Opened in June 2009, this backstreet Islington cocktail bar is purposely difficult to find, and boasts a Film Noir theme. The bar offers live music throughout the week, with house pianist Maurice Horhut on Thursday and Friday nights, and special guests on Saturday nights packing out the intimate one-room space. The menu is simple bar food with a twist, and don’t miss is 69 Colebrooke Row’s cocktail master classes, held frequently throughout the year.
69 Colebrooke Row N1 8AA; 07540 528593; 69colebrookerow.com
5 The Island Queen
Like many on this list, The Island Queen is either a place that you know and love, or don’t even know about. This cosy, eclectic pub boasts mounted mirrors painted with tropical plants, and comfy velvet cushions to settle down on to enjoy a £9 burger and beer – available all day every Wednesday. There’s a Monday night wine club, and an upstairs lounge for group get-togethers. If you’re bored of the usual chain pubs, pop then The Island Queen is for you. The tall front windows offer great views and bathe the bar in natural light during the day, and there’s a brilliant selection of beers from small local cast brewers.
87 Noel Road N1 8HD; 020 7354 874; theislandqueenislington.co.uk
6 The Breakfast Club
Not that we’d call it a hidden gem, but The Breakfast Club makes this list due to its tucked away location, and the fact that if you weren’t aware of it yet, you’re either new to town or don’t leave your house. The Breakfast Club has become a bit of a cult in Islington and its other London locations for its all-day diner feel and menu of finger-licking delicious brunch foods. The Breakfast Club cafes are steeped in 80s memorabilia (eat your heart out Back to the Future fans), and are well-known for their friendly, attentive service. If you’re adverse to queues, try a midweek lunch, and a further tip? Have the pancakes with maple syrup and bacon.
31 Camden Passage N1 8EA; 020 7226 5454; thebreakfastclubcafes.com
7 Tinto Wine Bar
Each week the team at Tinto dedicate their time to finding five cases of the most fascinating wines they can discover to offer in limited stock to their loyal customers. Islington has no shortage of tapas eateries, especially on Upper Street, but for Spanish tapas with a Japanese influence, check out Tinto. With a modern spin, here you’ll find Spanish favourites patatas bravas and jamon iberico, but also Tinto’s famous sliders – stuffed with chorizo and quail egg – or mouth watering lobster and tarragon. Then there’s the dish you can’t not order – chorizo lollipops. The owners have a passion for bringing wines from throughout Spain to North London diners, with regular wine tastings scheduled and all welcome.
11-13 Theberton Street N1 0QY; 020 7354 2341; tintolondon.co.uk
8 Saponara Pizzeria
Voted the best pizza in London by Time Out, this unassuming shop tucked away on Prebend Street certainly looks the part. It may seem like just another Italian deli, but brothers Marco and Vincenzo have created a secret – or not so secret – Italian food haven. Italian ingredients; friendly, informal service; small, cosy tables; casual local feel… It’s literally like you’ve stepped into a local spot in Italy, where you’ll mix with passers-by picking up their favourites to take home, and sit close enough to other tables to make new local friends. Even if you don’t stop for the pizza, there’s an amazing selection of Italian produce – from pasta to meat to lots cheese. Buon appetito!
23 Prebend Street N1 8PF; 020 7226 2771; saponarapizzeria.co.uk
9 The Little Viet Kitchen
Thuy Pham’s passion for Vietnamese cooking has seen the birth of The Little Viet Kitchen on Chapel Market. The restaurant was first opened in the form of a supper club, giving locals the opportunity to try fresh, healthy and fragrant dishes of Thuy’s own creation. This little café has quickly become a local haunt for those in the area, or passers-by on a trip to the market. The restaurant has hints of fine dining, but with the purely traditional and exciting elements and flavours you’d find in the heart of Vietnam. The space is fresh with an industrial feel, allowing a sense of calm, casual friendliness. The supper club still exists once a month for those of you who’d like to take the opportunity to try out new dishes by Thuy. Gather some close friends and make it your next dinner out.
2 Chapel Market N1; 020 7837 9779; thelittlevietkitchen.com
10 The Duke of Cambridge
If you’re looking for a good pub that’s ethically and environmentally aware, look no further than The Duke of Cambridge. Well known to be Britain’s first 100% organic pub, there’s only organic fruit, veg, and drinks on offer. Since marrying last year, The Duke’s founder, Geetie Singh, has teamed up with husband Guy Watson’s extraordinary food business, Riverford. The menu at The Duke now has a keener focus on a variety of fruit and vegetables, and you can attend regular cooking classes to learn about using similar sustainable techniques at home.
30 Saint Peter’s Street N1 8JT; dukeorganic.co.uk
11 Candid Café
Just around the corner from Angel Tube station, as part of the Candid Arts building, Candid Café may seem like a small eatery provided just for gallery-goers, but is in fact a lovely little spot for dining of its own accord. The café has a gorgeous setting inside the Victorian warehouse building with sun-bathed tables, where you can enjoy a menu of Mediterranean inspired food, and then perhaps pop in to see the latest in new exhibitions. The perfect spot to unwind, indulge in a piece of cake with tea, or enjoy a lunch of Greek temptations with a glass of wine for less than £15.
3 Torrens Street EC1V 1NQ; 020 7278 9368; candidarts.com
12 Public House
In-the-know locals have more than likely frequented Public House on more than a few occasions, which is why it’s worth a mention for those who’ve yet to find the time. Another spot tucked just off Upper Street, we reviewed Public House earlier this year for good reason. In March, the bar at Public House launched one of London’s most extensive and exciting Cognac lists, with over 50 boutique and grower Cognacs on offer, highlighting lesser known producers. They’ve even created a selection of Cognac cocktails, owing to the fact that this is of course a cocktail bar. Since the arrival of chef Tim Parsons last year, the regular dining menu has taken a step up, so it’s worth coming back to eat if you’ve not taken the time previously.
54 Islington Park Street N1 1PX; 020 7359 6070; boutiquepubs.com
13 The Charles Lamb
With a regularly changing blackboard menu of both traditional British and French dishes, a top quality selection of beer and spirits, and an ever-growing wine list, The Charles Lamb is a gem of a local pub. It’s always brimming with people – our tip, get in early if you’re planning on getting a table for a meal. The Charles Lamb has gotten a name for itself for being a cut above the rest in terms of providing an unpretentious bar experience, with affordable prices and excellent comfort food, nestled in amongst some of the nicest Islington dwellings. This is our pick for a country-feel hostelry with Head Chef Camille’s delectable cooking.
16 Elia Street N1 8DE; 020 7837 5040; thecharleslambpub.com
Words: Phillipa Rust