Make no mistake, the Islington area has become the epicentre of London’s foodie scene. Mark Kebble picks out five of the best and chats to the people in the know
Before the start of the 21st century, there was already one restaurant in Islington that was ahead of the game. Yet for husband and wife team Sam and Sam Clark, their initial ambitions were a little more modest. ‘We just wanted to pay the bills and be able to cook the food we loved for others,’ recalls Samantha Clark. A menu that is Modern European in essence, it changes completely every three weeks. ‘We hope the menu is full of seasonal, vibrant and original ideas that keep us and our staff stimulated,’ Samantha says. ‘If we are stimulated, so too will our customers be.’ With a successful cookbook on the CV and Morito opening next door in 2010, the Clarks have done and seen plenty in nigh on two decades. ‘Pretty much the whole street has changed since we have been on the scene,’ Samantha reflects. Their longevity speaks volumes.
34-36 Exmouth Market EC1R 4QE; 020 7833 8336; moro.co.uk
Considering how successful Fifteen has been since it opened its doors in 2002, Jamie Oliver’s view on the early days is rather surprising. ‘If I was asked to open Fifteen now, I’d have to think twice about it,’ he admits. ‘That’s not to say it was a bad decision – of course it wasn’t – it’s just that I know a lot more now about setting up and running a business than I did then, so it was a big risk. To be honest, I was pretty out of my depth.’ He hid that well. Jamie’s initial vision was to create a professionally run kitchen, serving beautiful Italian food, alongside a pioneering Apprentice Programme. ‘Some 80% of the kids that come through our doors stay in the food industry after they’ve graduated, which I think is fantastic,’ Jamie reflects. All of this could have been a gimmick if the food wasn’t up to scratch, but for over a decade they have been keeping legions of foodie fans happy with their exemplary take on Italian food. ‘We keep the food simple and delicious,’ Jamie says, ‘and the customers seem to really like it.’ Indeed we do. So despite the travails of starting a business and what could have gone wrong, how satisfied is the man who seems to have it all? ‘I couldn’t be more proud,’ he answers. ‘It’s been tough, but we definitely did the right thing.’
15 Westland Place N1 7LP; 020 3375 1515; fifteen.net
West London may be home to three Ottolenghi branches, but the original – and dare we say it – the best is slap-bang in the middle of Angel. The popular Upper Street branch is the closest they have to a flagship and is a ‘proper restaurant’. What’s more, the man behind the name, Yotam Ottolenghi, believes this is just the right spot to be seen in. ‘The Angel area has turned into one of London’s great culinary centres,’ he says warmly, ‘and it is exhilarating to see this happen and be part of it. From the Duke of Cambridge to Morgan M, and all the excitement on Exmouth Market, it is constantly getting better.’
287 Upper Street N1 2TZ; 020 7288 1454; ottolenghi.co.uk
You don’t get a more loyal following than those who venture to the Almeida restaurant on a regular basis. Producing stunning French food, but without a hint of pretension, it’s been a winner for a number of years. As the theatre has flourished opposite, so too has the five-star menu produced here. But they are not resting on their laurels as, at the time of writing, they have just welcomed a new Head Chef in the form of Tommy Boland. Previously at The Square, Le Cinq in Paris, and most recently Head Chef at Tom Aikens, Tommy brings a wealth of experience to Almeida, having trained under some of the UK’s most talented chefs including Phil Howard and Eric Chavot – and his arrival marks the beginning of a new era for this popular Islington restaurant.
30 Almeida Street N1 1AD; 020 7354 4777; almeida-restaurant.co.uk
‘If it wasn’t for Fifteen I don’t know if I’d be doing this.’ One of Jamie Oliver’s success stories, Tim Siadatan took what he learnt and joined up with Jordan Frieda to open Trullo on St Paul’s Road. ‘I never thought – and sometimes still find it hard to believe – that people come and dine in our restaurant.’ Modesty personified as Trullo’s Italian-inspired menu features winning dish after winning dish. ‘The menu has evolved, and I have grown with it,’ Tim says on their offering. ‘At first it was safe, and as our confidence has grown we definitely cemented our unique identity. We realised people were enjoying what we produced, and we therefore become more ambitious and creative.’
300-302 St Paul’s Road N1 2LH; 020 7226 2733; trullorestaurant.com