The Barnsbury

Tel: +44 (0)20 7607 5519
Address: 209 – 211 Liverpool Road, Islington, N1 1LX
Cuisine Type: Modern European
nearest tube station Angel

While throngs of tourists are making Upper Street almost a no-go area, Liverpool Road – just one street away – is getting more attractive by the month. At The Barnsbury, a gastropub stripped back to its original features, you can even park outside – a rare treat. The huge windows providing masses of light, and the addition of quirky details such as the chandeliers made out of wine glasses over the bar, definitely make this an attractive place.

The Barnsbury, which styles itself a “free house and dining room”, is much more civilised than many gastropubs. The bare wood floors and basic wooden furniture fit the bill, but the menu is much more refined and the service definitely a cut above other such establishments. Proprietor (and until recently, chef) Jeremy Cough is a genial and efficient host and he has the assistance of some very pleasant waitresses – attentive but not pushy. Add lots of space, interesting artwork on the walls and good music played loud enough to hear but low enough for easy conversation, and it makes the atmosphere very conducive to a pleasant evening.

The new chef is John O’Riordan, ex-Head Chef of Samphire, and he’s got some interesting ideas. My eye was caught by chilli-picked oranges, feta and baby spinach on the starter menu (£3.50 – £6). This was really delicious: the oranges were fresh but marinated with a healthy dose of chilli, and the combination worked perfectly with the cubes of feta. Carrot and roast fennel seed soup was also excellent, the only complaint being that there was so much of it that it made tackling a main course difficult, let alone a pudding – so if you want a real bargain meal, try the soup! Other tempting options included sautéed scallops with a Thai fragrant salad and chicken liver and foie gras parfait with mango chutney.

Main courses (£9.50 – £14.50) are also substantial. Veal chop with mustard mash was very good, the mash particularly tasty. Roast chicken breast with braised Puy lentils, chorizo and spinach was also good – the chicken very moist and tender – but somehow the flavours didn’t quite meld. Goat’s cheese and ricotta ravioli come with artichokes, roasted tomatoes and pine nuts and there are also good fish options – sea bream with orange-glazed fennel or swordfish with tomato salad, pesto and caperberries. Top of the range price-wise is char-grilled steak with herb butter, chips and salad.

The puddings (£4.50) sound wonderful but are going to have to wait for another visit, alas. They vary from the classic English rhubarb and ginger crumble with clotted cream, to French apple tart with calvados crème fraiche and butterscotch sauce.

The wine list is varied and very reasonably priced, from £12 to around £30 and including a delicious, crisp New Zealand Holmes Sauvignon Blanc at £21.50. Coffee is also delicious.

The Barnsbury is a great place to meet friends for a drink, a chat, or for a relaxed and classy meal that won’t break the bank, without having to fight the crowds.