The North London Guide
Many would describe London as a series of villages, each with its own architecture, mom and pop shops, and quirky characters, and nowhere is that more true than in North London. The villagers of Hampstead and Primrose Hill are lucky to live near two of the most gorgeous parks with beautiful views of the city below, while Islington’s charm lies in its quiet, tree-lined streets, which house many of London’s politicians—Brexit Boris included—and classic, old-school gastropubs. Meanwhile, King’s Cross and punk-ish Camden are both undergoing a major revamp, leaving their village roots behind with glitzy restaurants, shops, and theaters moving in and luring the tourists along with them.
The Albion10 Thornhill Rd., Islington | +44.20.7607.7450
Tucked away on an idyllic street in Islington, this pretty Georgian pub boasts a lot of outdoor space—a rarity in London. On summer evenings and weekends, the best spots in the house are in the front courtyard for beers and cocktails, and out back for classic pub fare in the wisteria covered courtyard. This being one of the most popular gastropubs in the area, dinner and Sunday roast reservations come in handy.
The Bull & Last168 Highgate Rd., Hampstead Heath | +44.20.7267.3641
This is the kind of Hampstead Heath go-to where everyone, even the family dog, is welcome. The atmosphere is cozy and traditional with maroon leather seats, chalkboard menus, and lots of distressed wood. Don’t miss the bread basket, homemade ice cream, and ale (for grownups only).
The Draper’s Arms44 Barnsbury St., Islington | +44.20.7619.0348
Hidden away on a quiet street in Islington, the Draper’s Arms attracts a faithful following who come for casual tipples and full meals. The British gastro-pub fare is wonderful as is the small selection of wines; and, this being England and all, the beer and ales selection is definitely on point. Old wooden tables, checkerboard floors, board games, and a wall full of classic orange-spined Penguin paperbacks drives the cozy vibe home.
The Horseshoe28 Heath St., Hampstead | +44.20.7431.7206
The white walls and vintage wooden tables with schoolhouse chairs create the perfect setting for those looking for a gastropub with a little something different.
The Lansdowne90 Gloucester Ave., Primrose Hill | +44.20.7483.0409
This is pretty much the perfect pub. And in a city famous for its wateringholes, that’s some truly high praise. Long, wooden tables fill a huge, bright dining room, which is packed with locals (and their dogs) on evenings and weekends. The impeccable thin-crust pizza, made with quality ingredients like Parma ham and taleggio, is another huge draw.
The Wells30 Well Walk, Hampstead Heath | +44.20.7794.3785
Head downstairs here and you'll find a more casual sitting room and bar serving cocktails in addition to the usual food and drink pub offerings. You can eat over a game of chess or Scrabble, too, which is a nice touch. Meanwhile, there's a more formal dining room upstairs.
German Gymnasium1 King's Blvd, King's Cross | +44.20.7287.8000
The D&D group (of Terence Conran & company fame) has gone and created another classic a la Skylon, Bluebird, etc. This time it's in King's Cross which is going through a major regeneration with Google among its new tenants-to-be. In what used to be the German Gymnasium—the first purpose-built gym in the UK from way back in the 1860's—they've set up an eponymous all-day restaurant that's perfectly placed to serve all the EuroStar travelers heading to Paris from St. Pancras across the street. Fittingly, it feels like a gateway to old Europe, where the Sekt and Champagne flow and Schnitzel and Sauerkraut is served in what feels like an elegant Viennese café (with a modern twist). The hulking space has been beautifully reinterpreted.
Dirty Burger128 Allitsen Rd., St. John's Wood | +44.20.3757.4849
Unlike most of Soho House’s buttoned-up and exclusive restaurants, the Dirty Burger brand is a series of down-and-out tin-clad locales churning out ridiculously tasty and super-cheap cheeseburgers. (Vegetarians can order the "Cop Out," which is just as satisfyingly dirty.) It’s very purposefully a no-frills situation that’s totally worth the wait. There are more locations in Whitechapel, Shoreditch, and Vauxville.
Dishoom5 Stable St., King's Cross | +44.20.7420.9321
This relatively new and growing chain of modern Indian restaurants reveals a new dimension to a city already well-versed in the cuisine. Expertly decorated to resemble an old Iranian Bombay cafe, the vibe is casual and, as tradition dictates, ideal for both large groups and singles reading the paper and having a chai. The long menu of rotis, naans, grilled meats, and stews is spice-inflected but not necessarily curry heavy. There are three more locations in Shoreditch, Carnaby, and Covent Garden.
Oliver’s Fish & Chips95 Haverstock Hill, Hampstead | +44.20.7586.9945
Only in London would you have your fish and chips delivered. This clean, friendly and upscale locale makes an excellent fish & chips combo that proves you don't have to look and feel like you just came out of a nightclub to indulge in the national dish. There's a second location in Whetstone.
Caravan11-13 Exmouth Mkt., Clerkenwell | +44.20.7833.8115
The scrumptious, simple, yet interesting food (squid pancakes, for example) and hip yet relaxed Exmouth Market vibe make this one of our favorite places for brunch. It's also a great place to go for a coffee (which is roasted on-site) to linger over and enjoy with a book. This spot became so popular that they opened up a much bigger, industrial-inflected space at Kings Cross that serves the same great mix of small plates.
Duke of Cambridge30 St. Peter's St., Islington | +44.20.7359.3066
From yummy mummies and their banker husbands to twenty-somethings who've wandered a bit too far from Essex Road, everyone seems to enjoy this up market gastropub with great organic fare and drinks. It's a perfect location for a post-meal walk to Broadway Market via Regent's Canal.
Vintage Salt189 Upper St., Islington | +44.20.3227.0979
Considering the preponderance of eateries on Islington High Street, it's surprising how few actually stand out. This nautically-themed spot is one of those few. The offering is way more complex than the name suggests (though their Fish & Chips are reportedly great): We’re fans of the fish curry and the shrimp burger.
Trullo300-302 St. Paul's Rd., Islington | +44.20.7226.2733
This Italian spot is great with a few friends because it means you get to share a bunch of the delicious, seasonal offerings. Their menu is constantly changing, so you can always expect to be pleasantly surprised. Downstairs, you'll find a slightly glitzier (though still very tasteful and understated) vibe and small plates that are a little fancier.
Primeur116 Petherton Rd., Hackney | +44.20.7226.5271
Hidden on a residential street in Canonbury, in an old garage with a beautiful old sign to prove it, Primeur feels eons away from London's bustle. On a warm day, the garage doors open and diners get to watch the evening light filter in while snacking on a fantastic Spanish cheese and sipping on one of the natural, mineral wines on their expertly chosen list. And then dive into the short but perfect menu, which changes daily, so much so that it arrives hastily handwritten. Share a few small plates of their ultra-seasonal fare and watch the world quietly go by outside the garage doors. For large groups, there's a private dining room downstairs in the wine cave.
Sunday169 Hemingford Rd., Islington | +44.20.7607.3868
Islington is a sort of de facto testing ground for restaurant concepts and only the best stand the test of time—the legendary Ottolenghi and Trullo, for example. And teensy Sunday, hidden away on a residential street with a beige, unassuming awning and low key decor, may just be the next big hit. Walk by any weekend morning only to find a line around the block, waiting patiently for some of the best breakfast London has to offer. Same goes for weekdays, when virtually every local freelancer in the know rocks up for breakfast, coffee, and lunch. The lure: a perfect breakfast, great coffee, and healthy, hearty lunch. Our picks: Buttermilk pancakes and their as of yet undefeated zucchini fritter, halloumi, and avocado pile served on yogurt spiced with dukkah. Enough said.
The Engineer65 Gloucester Ave, Primrose Hill | +44.207.483.1890
In a city heaving with pubs, The Engineer—in pastel-pretty Primrose Hill—is top of the list. Open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, their traditional Sunday roast is a force to be reckoned with—perfect plates stacked high with roasted meat, buttery vegetables, towering Yorkshire puds, and port reduction jus. The space itself—named for famed English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, builder of the Great Western Railway—is more stylish gastro-pub than dark watering-hole, with wood-paneled walls, mahogany tables, and cozy leather booths to sink into. Through the long London winter, the roaring fire, well-curated wine list, and comfy seating make lingering into the evening over drinks with friends all too easy. In the summer months, the outdoor patio is the spot to snag a table for an al-fresco afternoon of elevated British grub, booze, and pudding, walked off with a post-lunch amble through nearby, leafy Regent's Park.
Slaw149 Upper St., Islington | 0203 774 3624
Three friends with careers in law and finance have come together to open their passion project: Slaw. The menu is rooted in the kind of plant-based, root-to-stem cooking that they love to eat, eliminating as much waste as possible. The interior feels straight out of Copenhagen, with chevron wood flooring, white-painted brick walls, and stacks of firewood heaped in the corners. You immediately want to settle into one of the wicker chairs and start eating. Bowls of squash and barley risotto topped with hazelnut crumb, a plate of garlicky chickpeas, and spicy, slow-roasted tomatoes are so nourishing and satisfying, you’ll hardly miss the meat—and that’s exactly the point.