By Stevie Parle | Published on 15 February 2019
Many a Great Northern train journey starts or ends at Highbury and Islington. Yet, up until about ten years ago, the area around the station was the last place I’d expect to eat anything except fast food. And then Trullo happened. Trullo was a beacon of civility and one of the front runners in what turned out to be not just a transformation in the area around Highbury and Islington, but the London food scene. Trullo advanced everything.
I opened my first restaurant around the same time, and back then the decent dining options were slim at best. In fact, I started my pop-up project because I’d run out of interesting restaurants that I actually wanted to work in (having ticked off River Café, Moro, Petersham Nurseries, and not really fancying St John or the macho kitchens of the Michelin boys). Luckily, Trullo came along to help fill that void and transform the London food scene.
Trullo is a beauty of a local restaurant and holds many of the same qualities I aspire to achieve in my own places. It’s reasonably priced (yes main courses for £15-£25 is what’s reasonable in London these days for carefully cooked produce in comfortable surrounds), fun and super friendly. And the food is exactly the kind of Anglo-Italian cooking we could all eat every day. The cooking is both interesting and comforting - burrata comes simply doused in salmoriglio, monkfish carpaccio topped with shaved bottarga, a quail roasted simply served alongside some fresh, quivering, homemade aioli. What could be better?
Trullo was an outlier for a while, as Shoreditch and Islington on either side grew up and garnered more and more excellent restaurants. It felt as if the area around Highbury and Islington may be left behind, but then Trullo was followed by Black Axe Mangal, a rocking (literally) kebab shop from the ex-head chef of British institution St John Bread and Wine, another spot that continued the area’s transformation. Black Axe Mangal is a restaurant industry favourite, and for good reason. The menu is as delicious as it is idiosyncratic. Pillowy, often black flatbreads topped with cod roe, grilled meats or offal, wonderful charred salads and cocktails – all accompanied by the dulcet tones of death metal served with smiles and tattoos.
My most recent meal in the area was at Westerns Laundry, just a few minutes’ walk from the station, and a hymn to the ideal meal. A glass of the ‘so hot right’ now Pet Nat (Pétillant Naturel - a sort of pre dating champagne sparkling wine) a plate of oysters, seasoned with raw apple, shallot and grated horseradish, a plate of funky delicious cured meat. The chorus continues with hand rolled cavatelli pasta with squash chestnuts and sage, a plate of cod with creamy bacon cabbage, and a glass of an organic chardonnay that talked to the cod in the most eloquent poetry followed by a rum baba of such deliciousness, it should almost be restricted.
Highbury and Islington’s transformation from a dust bowl roundabout and culinary desert to one of the great culinary destinations of London (and, as London is one of the great culinary destinations in the world that puts us in the world’s best neighbourhood territory, maybe) was perhaps fully realised when the incredible duo, Corbin and King, opened their wonderful Bellanger.
Corbin and King are the owner-operators of some of the best and most beautiful restaurants in London, including the Delauney, the Wolseley and now, the incredible Bellanger. The concept is a traditional French brasserie with food inspired from the classics of Alsace. Live music in the evening, delicious cakes and coffee, racks of brandy, classics like choucroute garnis, and tarte flambé. It really is a wonderful, classic grande café in the heart of Islington open all day, every day. It’s easy to forget where you are, so thorough is the conceit of the genius restaurateur duo.
Creating the ideal local restaurant isn’t easy. They need to feel special but also every-day. To be approachable but also a treat. But the benefit of starting or ending your Great Northern journey with a meal in one of the fabulous restaurants close to Highbury and Islington is clear. Great restaurants like these are life-affirming, reassuring, comforting and fun. Do the right thing and check them out.