PLEASE NOTE: Reviews are about food or services available in Islington, London. Any entry on this page will have been sponsored by the company. This means the company will have approached Islington Faces for a review. Any cost will have been met entirely by the company. Do let me know if this is a helpful page. You might also enjoy the suggestions on Go Out Locally (see top).
Below you will find reviews by Nicola Baird
*Jamie’s Italian Angel, *Brewhouse & Kitchen Highbury, 2015
*ASK Italian, *Zia Lucia, 2016
*Highbury Arts Club (reviewed by Isabel VanderGert – Wilson) 2015
ASK ITALIAN – pop up breakfast
Address: 52 Upper Street, N1
Open: for breakfast July-September 2016 from 8am-12 noon. Also open for lunch and dinner. Mon- and Sun until 10pm, and on Sat closing at 11pm.
Location: spacious one floor restaurant and when the weather is right, at a sunny terrace away from Upper Street’s traffic just by the Business Design Centre.
Review by Nicola Baird: visited 19 July (tuesday with 3 guests) from 10am-12 noon. Published July 2016
Read all about it: Throughout July, August and September just 10 branches of ASK Italian are serving breakfast from 8am-12 noon. Fortunately for Islington our branch is part of the pop up trial.
Breakfast with an Italian twist – eg, blueberry jam, nutella and banana pancakes and smoked prosciutto – is a lovely way to feel that you are on holiday in laid back Italy, especially with the temperature at 28 degrees in Upper Street.
I was very happy with my black coffee, sour dough toast (£2.75) and a spinach and mushroom frittata with spicy tomato dip (£5.95). I also loved the way our conversation flowed around eating, the joys of Europe and tales of the times when Islington builders used to add a mummified cat between floors rather than a bresummer beam (see why in this Islington Faces interview with Marco Wouters from Angel Flowers which is just behind the Business Design Centre). Because ASK is just off traffic-choked Upper Street and has a generous-sized terrace overlooking flowerbeds, and our table was under a huge sun/rain shade the four of us spent two hours dawdling over a tasty breakfast. And by the way my frittata looked better than the other choices – always nice to pick exactly what you want to eat…
So what did my guests think of their breakfast?
Yasmin, 18 (family friend)
“I’ve not come across restaurants doing breakfast before. I used to live in Essex Road so I’ve been here before as I prefer ASK to the other Italian chains nearby because it is good value and good food. I’m so full now, not sure when I’ll next need to eat! My breakfast – the Full Vegetarian Italian (£6.95) was really good, except my roast potatoes which were cold whereas Nell’s were hot. I liked the raspberry lemonade very much. I’ll definitely do breakfast here again with my friends, perhaps instead of dinner.”
Nell, 15 (daughter)
“It feels like the summer holidays! I thought the nutella and banana pancakes (£4.95) were delicious. If you have a sweet tooth it’s the one to go for. The raspberry lemonade was so nice and refreshing!
“I chose the full Italian breakfast (£7.95) and there was a lot of food. I liked the sausage, which had a different flavour to English sausages, and my egg was so sunny with it’s delectable runny yolk. It’s expensive for me and my friends to come here, but I liked this trip with my mum.”
Priti, 59 (book group friend)
“I really wanted to try the truffle-flavoured hollandaise with two poached eggs on sour dough toast (£5.95) and it was yummy. The blueberry jam which came with the croissant (£2.50) was delicious and runny, not hard, so you can dip in bits of croissant. The raspberry lemonade was tasty and refreshing; the service from Sebastian excellent and I was impressed that I got an Americano with the cold milk that I wanted – the staff pay attention.
“If I wanted to impress someone over breakfast I’d gladly take them here. It feels more like a treat than a café, even though it’s not more expensive.”
SHOULD YOU GO?
Yes! Breakfast is my favourite meal so no surprise that I thought this offer from ASK Italian was great. The prices would fit my budget (in this case the restaurant kindly paid); the food was really tasty with a nice Italian twist and there was a good selection of dishes – I still haven’t seen the ASK Italian granola but I bet that was lovely. However it’s the location that is so good at ASK Italian, as it is just off busy Upper Street between the Business Design Centre and the side entrance of Angel Central so handy if you are on a shopping mission, but also neatly tucked away from the traffic.
address: 157 Holloway Road, N7
open: Tues-Sun 11.30am-11.30pm.
location: opposite Ronald’s Road
review by Nicola Baird: visited 30 June, 8-10.15pm (thursday). Published July 2016
Read all about it: The striped awning outside Zia Lucia on Holloway Road are yet another signal that this bit of Islington (sometimes known as LoHo is gentrifying fast). This pizza place opened in June – a decent space of polished old bricks and a wooden floor. A nice local touch is that the wooden tables are made by Gathering Moss, which is based on Blackstock Road.
Zia Lucia is a pizza place and being a serious lover of all things bread (and especially pizza) I of course loved it.
The pizzas are delicious – and inspired by the real life Italian Lucia, who seems to be the three business partners’ honorary aunt (at least that’s how one of the trio, Claudio explained it to me). Lovely Lucia has even got a starring role on their website, which adds a homely touch, see http://zialucia.com/. It’s also nice that the pizzas are cooked in a vast red and white tiled pizza oven, nicknamed Dante, which dominates the theatre kitchen. Zia Lucia specialises in offering a choice of 48-hour slow fermented doughs, so you can have traditional, wholemeal, or gluten-free or even charcoal.
My meal was for review purposes. I arrived by bike hungry after a day of commuting and work (which involved two hours of cycling, one hour of walking and another of riding a horse – yes, this is work!) and so it was easy to eat three pizza based courses.
A dish of roast vegetables and a generous amount of achingly fresh mozzarella was served with toasted pizza (forgive my lack of Italian food knowledge). You’ll find it listed as burrata. A lovely dish to get the conversation flowing.
The vegetable charcoal pizza base is very black but it tastes just like any pizza base and it’s allegedly a superfood. I didn’t feel that it was the most instagrammable item on the table, but I enjoyed it with both a vegetable topping and an original vegan topping which used a pumpkin sauce instead of cheese. It was lovely! There were meat eaters with me who seemed in 7th heaven trying a wholemeal base topped with truffle oil and nduja (spicy pork sausage).
This was the star for me and I never really eat puddings. I will now, as at Zia Lucia I was offered a nutella-stuffed pizza crust with a topping of custard, strawberries and grapes drizzled with honey and served on a wooden board. To accompany this I had a tiny (that was my choice) glass of cold red (!) fizzy (!) wine that I completely adored. Almost from the first sip of the wine and taste of this fabulous dessert I was thinking I have to come back…
I really liked the simplicity of choice at Zia Luccia. The wines I tried are from a single Italian estate known to the owners. There is a lot of prosecco (which I didn’t try), but also a white, a red and that magic sparkling red served cold.
SHOULD YOU GO?
The Italians not only invented slow food, they also helped bring much more delicious food choices to Islington. See this interview with Nina Marcangelo about Alfredo’s Café on Essex Road. The new generation of Italian food takes this a step further by offering a choice of bases (at last your gluten free friends can join you for pizza) prepared in a non-rushed way. Very good luck to this new venture, which opened in mid June 2016 – do go and try it!
JAMIE’S ITALIAN ANGEL
address: 409-411 St John Street, North Retail, Angel Building, EC1V 4AB. 020 3435 9915
open: Every day from 12 noon. Shuts 11pm Mon-Sat and at 10.30pm on Sun.
location: 5 mins from Angel tube (depends on the lights at the Co-operative Bank – be careful, this is still a hideously unsafe pedestrian crossing). It’s right by the 19 and 4 bus stop as they come into Angel. It’s almost opposite the Red Lion pub theatre.
review by Nicola Baird: visited 1 June, 12.30pm (monday). Published June 2015
summary: My lunch companion was the talented singer Hanisha Solomon. She’s a long-time friend of Islington Faces (she’s been interviewed here, and at our 2014 celebration of the 100th interview she performed at the King’s Head). Hanisha and I spent two hours eating lunch (eating, talking and taking selfies) and paid £42 for our meal.
Read all about it…
Jamie’s Italian in Angel is a vast two-floored eating emporium. It’s been open since 2000 so I’ve been to it before with my husband and daughter, Nell. It was Nell who raved about it that time – so she was put out when I told her that I’d been invited to review lunch at the restaurant, but I was going on a school day, and not with her. Jamie’s Italian is brilliant to take children – especially for weekend lunches – but it’s also a nice place to go when you’re not with kids.
My Monday lunch guest was the talented singer Hanisha Solomon. She’s a long-time friend of Islington Faces (she’s been interviewed see here, and at our 2014 celebration of the 100th interview she performed at the King’s Head). Hanisha and I spent two hours eating lunch (eating, talking and taking selfies) and paid £42 for our meal. So what did we eat?
Course #1 – antipasti
I wanted to try the sharing plank. It seems so crazy putting food on a bit of wood, rather than a plate, but as we walked into the restaurant we passed a variety of planks on sale in the “shop”. You could have meat or vegetarian, so I ordered the veggie option for both of us. This meant Hanisha didn’t have to worry if pork had been served (which she doesn’t eat), and as I’m a vegetarian it was nice to be able to discuss what we were both eating.
Hanisha and I have quite different food backgrounds: she grew up in Ethiopia with the famous injera bread – which you tear off with your right hand and then mop up the tasty stew (wot) on your plate. I grew up in the 1970s when spaghetti came out of yellow Heinz tins and the tomato sauce was a distinctive orange hue (sort of Lib Dem). So we were both a bit puzzled when the waitress took our order and then came back with two unopened cans of tinned tomatoes. I got quite excited thinking they might be a gift, as it was just what I planned to buy at the corner shop on the way home in order to make my teenagers’ dinner when they got back from school.
Turns out the tins are for balancing the plank on.
I kept worrying I’d knock it over upturning everything: the cheese on a snappy homemade cracker, a dish of mozzarella, a medlee of aubergine, olives, capers in the centre of the board, an elegant dish of cabbage coleslaw. There was also another cracker with something super tasty on that I gobbled up without managing to photograph, or note down (oops).
We accompanied our plank with artisan bread (£3.95). There were breadsticks, focaccia and at least three other breads, which Hanisha and I tore up and dipped into lovely olive oil with a swirl of balsamic in its centre.
It was living in Islington that taught me how to dip my bread. But it was Jamie’s cooking shows (eg, the Naked Chef) that showed me all I needed to make my kitchen miracles was a nice bottle of olive oil. Lovely Jubbly…
Overall verdict for the sharing plank (£6.95 per person) was it was great… except the sour style selection. I took the bits we hadn’t eaten home (the rule is always carry a Tupperware container), but my kids weren’t that impressed either. I think it might be a taste you need to develop. I could imagine practicing eating the sharing plank choices and starting to get more and more into slightly sour aubergine, capers etc. Perhaps this bit of the plank is for a sophisticated palate?
Course #2 – main course
I never order off-menu, and rarely even look at the specials, but when our waitress explained in her lovely Italian accent that Norma – the special aubergine spaghetti – was her favourite, and probably named after the woman who first made this dish, I picked it. It was delicious, and definitely tasted like something I would have struggled to make as well at home: my pasta dishes are fuel picked because of the speed I can get them from pot to teenager.
Hanisha opted for the pan-fried coley with agroddie peppers and focaccia crostini (£13.50).
Having the menu half-written in Italian really slows down the choosing process. I didn’t really want to ask what all the Italian meant, so had guessed that focaccia crostini was just a posh way of saying breaded fish. It was in fact a very sophisticated, generous coley portion served with a massive slice of bread (as if you’d cut your baguette long-ways).
And it was good. After the meal had settled Hanisha sent me a note to say: “The food is truly fresh & absolutely tasty, the staff were so friendly & we had a great day.”
Course #3 – pudding, cheese, coffee, petits fours etc
Seriously do you think we could eat anything more after a plank, artisan bread and a main courses at Jamie’s? Hanisha may be able to belt out huge songs, but she is tiny-framed. Even my hearty appetite, boosted by cycling to the restaurant, was maxed out. So we looked at the dessert menu and both reckoned it could be the Epic Brownie, but we didn’t order. Instead we said our goodbyes and left. This meant meeting the manager – another friendly Italian, this time an AC Milan-fan (whose name I didn’t get).
The staff, loos & lifts
I like the way Jamie’s Italian Angel has recruited so many Italian staff. As our waitress Alice (you need to call her Al-e-cha) said: “I’ve worked in Turkish restaurants and I liked the food. But here I love the food, it is my home food and I can sell it. I know it.”
With about half the staff (this was Alice’s estimate) being Italian then it seems that if you want to learn Italian, or get that Tuscany feel Islington used to be so famous for promoting, then the waiters and waitresses are another reason – besides the menu – to go to Jamie’s.
Although the restaurant looks difficult to negotiate there are lifts for anyone who can’t use stairs. Contact the restaurant if you need to ask about what’s available. As for the toilets – they’re plenty of them so a whole gaggle can wee together. Another way of thinking about this is that there is plenty of space in the loos if you need to escort your children to them.
Rationale: what’s so great about Jamie’s Italian
In general I try to support the independents. Many of the interviews on Islington Faces are with business people going it alone with a real eye on the profit and loss sheet. Sometimes they can employ people, sometimes they have to work on their own and seem in danger of burning themselves out. But for me Jamie’s Italian triggers a different response. Yes, it’s a chain: the first one opened in Oxford in 2008, and there are now 30+. But:
- It’s run by St Jamie (well his empire) – the man who learnt his skills at his family’s Essex pub, The Cricketers in Clavering. Been there for a drink thanks to my husband Pete May’s obsession with real ale and Essex, see his book The Joy of Essex.
- He set up the amazing Fifteen at Old Street (15 Westland Place, N1, ie, in Islington) which still gives young chefs experience in the kitchen. Many go on to run their own catering outfits. Been there for a memorable lunch years ago, thanks to author/writer Bee Rowlatt (now living in New Delhi, India but with her next book In Search of Mary due out in October 2015).
- And he’s done so much to get our kids’ school dinners up to standard. See the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, begun in 2002 with focus on growing and cooking food in primary school; teaching people to cook via the Ministry of Food, plus the apprentice programme at Fifteen.
- He deserves thanks for turning all these dreams into reality. Thank you Jamie!
Back to lunch, or dinner…
Back in food blogging mode I reckon Jamie’s Italian Angel is a great choice if you’re going out in Islington for a meal. Go with family and friends. Book ahead (on line) if you need to guarantee a big table. There are so many restaurants on Supper Upper Street, but nowhere with as much space as Jamie’s Italian Angel. That may not swing it for you, the food’s the thing after all. But in Islington we are often all so crowded that being able to eat out with a load of mates – or your extended family – is a proper treat.
Admittedly Hanisha and I both thought £42 was a vast amount to spend on lunch, but the lovely food and relaxed atmosphere made it very special. Even on a Monday when we went half the first floor tables were busy. I know I’d like to take my mum there for a treat one day soon. And perhaps if my daughter Nell saves up her babysitting money she might take me?
- This is a sponsored review of Jamie’s Italian Angel
- Listen to Hanisha Solomon performing at Westfield (Hammersmith), see here. Or follow her on Facebook (nearly 7,000 people do!).
BREWHOUSE & KITCHEN HIGHBURY
address: 2a Calabria Road, N5
open: please check website
location: 2 mins from Highbury & Islington station/tube. Opposite the Hen & Chickens, just off Highbury Corner roundabout.
review by Nicola Baird: visited 6 June, 6.30-8.30 (sat). Published June 2015
summary: this was a pre-launch of the craft beer chain B&K (which stands for brewhouse and kitchen). I went with my husband Pete May (who loves real ale) and climate change communications expert George Marshall who was stopping off in Islington after addressing the UN in Bonn (read his great book Don’t Even Think About It: why our brains are wired to ignore climate change). Author Pete May is a long-time friend of Islington Faces (he was interviewed on stage abut his Dr Who obsession at our 2014 celebration of the 100th interview at the King’s Head).
Read all about it…
The three of us spent two hours at this craft beer specialist on one of its pre-opening evenings. We tried all sorts of craft beers brewed on site including 19 (after the bus); Romford Pele (ironic nickname of ex Arsenal player Ray Parlour), Tramshed (because this is the site which used to house Islington’s trams) and Goalscorer (that’s for our Arsenal FA cup winning side for two years in a row). The paddle of three beers allows you to try different craft beers and quaff a bit less than pints/half pints if there are three of you.
This is all about craft beer: you can’t miss the huge vats where the beer is brewed. Kegs for around £30 are on sale, so you can carry your favourite local tipple home. Brewhouse & Kitchen Highbury is a chain – and the decor has a very chain look – but it is a cavernous place which now has a lovely garden.
You can take children there judging by the availability of highchairs, note that the women’s loos are downstairs but the men’s are up two flights of stairs.
I liked Brewhouse & Kitchen and I’m looking forward to interviewing the brewer and to finding out what the brewhouse experience (where you brew your own beer) is like. It serves food – think burgers and ribs. The choice for vegetarians was limited to olives and pickles, hopefully this will change else. Good luck to this new venture.
- This is a sponsored review of Brewhouse & Kitchen Highbury
HIGHBURY ARTS CLUB
website: highbury arts club.com facebook @highburyartsclb
address: 73 Highbury Park, N5
open: see website
location: Highbury Barn opposite St Joan of Arc church
review by Isabel VanderGert – Wilson: visited 9 June, 11:30am (Tuesday)
summary: Isabel VanderGert – Wilson was interning at Islington Faces when she wrote this review of the Highbury Arts Club. This is her first food review.
Read all about it…
The ambience of a place is always a clincher and the Highbury Arts Club has it down to a T – moody yet inviting. You can tell owner Simon Moore places great importance on having artistic influences as there is weekly live music, regular art exhibitions, and a creative atmosphere. The vibe gives the small café depth. The music playing a notch louder than most cafés would dare, wouldn’t have been so good if it hadn’t been for the perfectly chosen songs selected by Moore’s 22-year-old son. The use of space is innovative too, a large central table saves space but also enables one to easily strike up a conversation with a fellow customer.
The menu focuses more on quality than having a wide selection – often a sign that dishes are of a higher standard. This is especially the case at the Highbury Arts Club given that most of the choices on the menu were Moore’s own creation. I had the Sydney breakfast which, if I had ever been to Australia I am sure would take me straight down memory lane.
As it was the elegant twist on a fry up has ensured I’ll be straight back to the Highbury Arts Club.
Fresh sour dough bread topped with perfectly cooked and full-flavoured bacon with steamed spinach, grated parmesan and, to top it all off an Egg Benedict that was, expertly cooked. The egg was cooked just right so that yolk oozed out and on to the sandwich below adding flavour to the bacon and parmesan, eventually getting soaked up by the generous slice of bread – an incredible take on an open-topped sandwich. All this was prepared swiftly by the cook, and garnished with rocket with a lovely chilli dressing. I ate it with a green tea to cut the overall denseness of the breakfast.
If you’re looking for a snack over a coffee or some tapas and wine you could also pop into the Highbury Arts Club. I am sure they will not disappoint if the looks of the freshly home made blueberry cakes and the European wine that comes from sustainable viniculture, are anything to go by.
- This is a sponsored review of Highbury Arts Club