Tel: +44 (0)20 7359 1932
Address: The Mall, 359 Upper Street, Islington N1 0PD
Cuisine Type: modern European
nearest tube station Angel (NORTHERN)

I can’t quite express how much I like this place. It strikes just the right balance – elegant yet unpretentious; cooking that is original without being outlandish; service that is friendly, but not over-familiar to the point of being irritating (ie asking how your food is every few minutes).

The restaurant occupies the top floor of a converted tram shed, retaining the high ceilings and glass panels in the roof that give the space an open feel, and where the original features, such as the metal girder supports, blend seamlessly with the modern furnishings.

The menu is relatively short and in a perverse kind of way, nothing sounded fantastic. Maybe the pairing of ingredients are not immediately obvious combinations, of the foie gras / sauternes or pork / apple variety; maybe descriptions are kept to a minimum, disguising the true complexity of the dishes; or maybe the food sits a little outside the comfort zone, challenging you to try something different rather than opting for a safe classic. My advice is to do exactly that – chances are, another restaurant won’t pull off the same feat.

We had to try hard not to fill up on the bread alone and feather-light cheese and anchovy straws. Next, an amuse bouche of cold tomato consommé. It was hard to believe a liquid as translucent could have such a concentrated flavour. All this before our starters, mine of rabbit ravioli in a carrot and tarragon consommé (£7.75) and my mum’s duck ‘three ways’ (£10.75), which materialised as a mosaic of duck meat, confit and foie gras with chorizo. Both were stylishly presented, with a whole host of accompanying flavours – mine with a baby onion and St George’s mushroom “pickle” and two rolls of rabbit meat wrapped in Parma ham; the duck with an aubergine caviar, turnip remoulade and walnut melba toast. We were blown away.

Main courses continued the gastronomic exploration. My dover sole (£18.50) with brown shrimps and warm cucumber (which I was dubious about when ordering but, when devouring, wondered why anyone hadn’t done this before) was beautifully cooked, and came with unadvertised bok choi and the silkiest, eggiest tagliatelle I have ever eaten. I would go back for that pasta alone. My mum’s best end of lamb (£18) was complemented with an intense rosemary jus, crushed peas and piquillo pepper stuffed with aubergine purée.

We’ll be back to try the likes of ricotta gnocchi, stuffed courgette flower and baby leeks (£14.50), line caught seabass with salmon tortellini and barigoule artichoke (£18.75) and fillet of beef, baby vegetables and cepe consommé (£19.50).

Another amuse bouche of basil cream with raspberries preceded desserts (all £6.75), the most visually arresting course. Pineapple croustillant (warm fruit baked in puff pastry) with pina colada sorbet and wafer-thin disks of crunchy pineapple, was served with rum and raisin ice cream. My assiette of bananas lined up four dinky portions of banana confections: sorbet with buttery tuile biscuit; parfait with passionfruit “jelly”; caramelised with raisins and peppercorns; and mille feuille with rum and raisin cream.

The wine list is encyclopaedic, so ask the sommelier to help you navigate, and though you won’t find many bargains, you most certainly will find something to go with the food. There is a particularly nice selection of digestifs: dessert wines, port, calvados, armagac, cognac, eaux de vie, liqueurs and even a “post prandial cocktail” of amaretto, cherry brandy, crème de cacao and grated chocolate.

Lola’s has the makings of a Michelin starred restaurant, hardly putting a foot wrong. Service, while charming and knowledgeable, could be a tad sharper, slipping slightly when the restaurant got busier. Otherwise, my only complaint? Prices are such that I can’t afford to eat here more often.

– Tracy Yam, 8/2003