The relentless pace of London life often leaves me in need of an escape from the clamour of the streets, shadows of skyscrapers and people rushing by. Every now and again, I seek haven at my friend’s house in Highbury, a corner of London that resembles a traditional English village more so than part of the Capital. Our weekend ‘staycations’ feature nights in gathered around a board game or watching a classic film, great wine and a lot of food.
Highbury Park – a small stretch of road just past Highbury Fields – is a foodie’s dream. The street is lined with a traditional butcher, fishmonger, grocer, cobbler, pharmacy, wine shop, deli, pizzeria, pub and several local cafés; everything needed for a quiet few days of relaxation.
After a long week at work, I waved the City goodbye and took the tube towards Highbury & Islington. My friend joined me for dinner at Le Mercury – a lovely French eatery that she first introduced me to a couple of months ago and where I have since been longing to return. Le Mercury is a completely different restaurant after dark. During the day, we had been one of only a handful of diners, in a bright and colourful room. When evening falls, diners descend in their masses, and fill the restaurant’s three floors. Lights are turned down low and instead, it’s the glow of candles which illuminates the rooms.
Parched, I ordered a glass of ruby red Cabernet Sauvignon, and mulled over the starter and main options. I knew I’d be ordering fish, but fancied red, so decided to break the food-pairing rules (shock horror!) It didn’t take me long to decide what to eat. The crayfish and lobster filled raviolo (£4.45) served in a creamy shellfish sauce with sautéed spinach, immediately caught my eye, to be followed by the pan-fried sea bass fillet (£10.95), with glistening crispy skin, drizzled in a spiced pepper sauce. Not overly hungry, I swapped out the crushed potatoes with a green salad. A lovely light dish.
My friend went for the baked goat’s cheese starter (£4.45), and of course she allowed me a taste. The herb-oil and flaked almond dressing was beautiful. Her rib eye steak main (£12.95) was an enormous portion for the price. The meat was tender and easy to slice, coated with a glossy shallot and brandy sauce. We slept very well that night!
Breakfast at La Fromagerie
La Fromagerie is a cheese shop-cum-bakery-cum-café selling products fresh from France. The shop in Highbury is tiny, but manages to seat six comfortably (plus two outside when the weather is nice), at solid wooden tables by the windows. Freshly baked loaves of all shapes and sizes, a selection of pastries and cakes, from giant dusted almond croissants to dainty madeleines, and jars and bottles of olives, pâtés, oils and wines, line the wooden shelves and counter tops; a treat for the eyes (and inevitably for the stomach, as it’s impossible to resist temptation).
Being so small, you’re in close quarters with everyone working here and the service is very relaxed. Call across the room to place your drinks order and feel free to play around with the menu, combining dishes, swapping ham for salmon, or adding a side of cheese to your toast and jams. La Fromagerie will accommodate your foodie desires.
The coffee at La Fromagerie is very easy to drink. Their double shot lattes and cappuccinos are smooth, creamy and sweet, topped with an airy foam.
Bread is the star of most breakfast dishes on the menu and there is a wide range of types available, whether you like waxy sourdough for dipping into soft-boiled eggs, a hearty rye, packed with grains and topped with thick slices of salmon and avocado, or toasted wholemeal spread with avocado purée and served with a side of smokey roast Italian ham.
Don’t forget to browse the savoury pastries and pies for lunch. And grab a cake for dessert – the financiers are light, almonds and delicious serves with a long, black coffee.
Mrs Lovell’s Greengrocers
On the way back to my friends house, we stopped by Mrs Lovell’s Greengrocers. This little farm shop is brimming with colourful fruits, vegetables and salad, arranged is quaint wicker baskets and wooden boxes, as well as homemade juices, jams and compotes (perfect toppers for porridge and yoghurt), and organic olive oil.
Da Mario Delicatessen
While La Fromagerie is there for all your French foods, Da Mario brings the best of Italian produce to Highbury. Not to be missed are the homemade raviolis. The black truffle and mushroom ravioli are a triumph, stuffed with a dark, meaty and slightly sweet mushroom filling, fragrances with just the right amount of black truffle. The wild boar ravioli are juicy and flavoursome, and beg for a light coating of fruity tomato sauce and a dusting of Parmesan. And the creamy artichoke and ricotta version is a filled with a smooth paste, perfectly seasoned. There are just a few of the many flavours on offer – I’m working my way through them all! Be sure not to overcook the beautifully thin fresh pasta – these must be eaten al dente. Overcook and you also risk the ravioli splitting and taking in water, or loosing their filling in the water.
Prawn on the Lawn
A short walk from Highbury Park, back towards Highbury and Islington station, you’ll find the humorously named Prawn on the Lawn fishmongers. First impressions were strong, with an excellent window display, brimming with all kinds of seafood, and no stench of seafood; testament to the freshness of the produce.
They really know their stuff at Prawn on the Lawn; able to advise on the kind of fish you might like to eat, as well as preparation and wine pairings, so you can create your perfect meal at home. We chose a piece on monkfish tail, which they rolled up with fresh thyme, garlic cloves and lemon slices and wrapped in tin foil, ready for the oven. All we had to do was avoid messing up the cooking (we took this very seriously, terrified to ruin a beautiful piece of fish), prepare the salad and pour a glass of wine. We were extremely proud of the final product, even if we couldn’t really take credit for the star of the plate. Why dine out when you can eat restaurant quality at home!?
Prawn on the Lawn is also open for lunch and dinner. They serve small tapas-style plates of seafood at either the bar area, or downstairs in the restaurant – no doubt I’ll be heading back soon.
And with this, my Highbury staycation draws to a close. Back to work tomorrow. Until the next time Highbury.
140A Upper Street
T: 020 7354 4088
Open 12:00-13:00 (Mon-Sat) & 12:00-23:00 (Sun)
30 Highbury Park
T: 020 7359 7440
Open 10:30am-19:00pm (Mon); 9:00am-19:00pm (Tues-Sat); 10:00am-17:00pm (Sun)
Mrs Lovell’s Greengrocers
28 Highbury Park
T: 020 7354 7354
Open 9:00am-17:00pm daily
34 Highbury Park
T: 020 7226 2317
Open 8:00am-20:00pm (Mon-Fri); 8:00am-19:00pm (Sat); 9:00am-18:00pm (Sun)
Prawn on the Lawn
220 St Paul’s Road
t: 020 3302 8668
Open 10:00am-00:00pm (Tues-Sat); closed Sun & Mon