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The Barnsbury, Islington N1

Louise Elgin discovers another North London Gastropub that delivers good imaginative cooking at reasonable prices

Reviewing restaurants for Dine Online certainly has improved my knowledge of North London. The Barnsbury is a recently opened gastropub in Islington, but not in the posh bit - and quite a schlep from Angel tube. However, it was definitely worth the walk, and obviously already popular - on a Tuesday night it was almost full.

This venture is the culmination of two hot properties in the world of dining. Former Conran senior manager Jeremy Gough, (ex Butler’s Wharf and Sartoria), and his partner in the kitchen Kat Lynch, (former head chef at Sonny’s in Barnes), have together cooked up a simple but impressive menu at affordable prices.

The dining room had a rustic feel with a twist. Wood panelling and mismatched wooden tables and chairs mingled with the highly unusual chandeliers, (made up of wine goblets), whilst colourful modern art adorned the walls. Overall it had what can only be described as a ‘clean feel’, including the loos, which were impressively spic and span. The ambience was very relaxing, ‘Lounge’ music played at just the right level, without encumbering conversations whilst the waiting staff were warm, friendly and helpful.

The menu had eight starters, ranging in price from £3.50 - £6.00. These included roast butternut squash risotto, £4.80; and a slow roasted plum tomato tart with cumin jam, £4.80, both good choices for vegetarians. I chose the baby squid salad, pak choi, coriander lime & soy dressing, £4.50. This came served warm, the pak choi interlinked with the squid, which was served on a pool of dark sauce. The squid was perfectly cooked whilst the pak choi was crispy and crunchy, the flavours mingling well with the Asian undertones of the sauce, which was spicy with a hit of lemon, coriander and chilli. My guest had the potted shrimps and sour dough toast, £6.00. She deemed it very good, a large helping that was rich and buttery, the crustaceans having a firm texture with excellent toast. Her verdict? ‘Perfect English comfort food’.

I was drinking the house white wine, Chateau Petit Roc (2001), £2.90 for a large glass and a very reasonable £11.50 for a bottle. It was the sort of wine one could have drunk all evening, a Sauvignon Blanc that was fresh and crisp on the palate and yet had depth, was well rounded with a long finish. Altogether there were four white wines by the glass ranging in price up to £3.70 a glass. These included an Argentine Chardonnay and a white Genoli Rioja. White wine by the bottle was keenly priced between £16.50 - £28.50 and included a Menetou Salon Henry Pelle, (2001), £24.00. Again, there were four red wines available by the glass, ranging in price from £2.90 for the Saint Cirice, Vins de Pays (2001) to the Navajas Rioja Tinto (2001) £3.70. My guest had a glass of Beaujolais Domaine de Buis-Rond (2001), £3.50 per glass, £14.00 a bottle. This had been a gold medal winner at the International Wine Challenge and met thoroughly with her approval. She said it had ripe cherry fruit overtones with a soft mellow acidity.

Moving on to the main courses there was a choice of eight ranging in prices from £8.50 for the only vegetarian choice of baked peppers, fennel, mushrooms & sage with rosemary bread to £12.50 for grilled spiced fillet of seabass with a citrus butter sauce. I chose the marinated corn fed chicken breast with harissa, £9.50. It arrived smelling wonderfully of coriander, and was a hearty peasant style dish, the moist chicken covered in beans and tomatoes with an almost soupy feel to it. A large helping it was perfect food for a cold winter’s evening. My guest really enjoyed her seabass. It was attractively presented and it had a wonderfully inviting smell of butter and lime. We had ordered some French beans and ratatouille, £2.50 each, both were excellent choices, the beans al dente, the ratatouille authentic and hearty.

The puds looked too good to resist. Ranging from £4.00-£5.50, there was a choice of seven. These included homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate brownie, £4.00, and three-cheese terrine with apricot chutney, £5.50. We shared the lemon cheesecake with mixed berries, £4.00 and a plum cobbler with clotted cream, £4.00, both of which were big portions.   Our only disappointment of the evening was the plum cobbler. This was served with too large slices of plum for easy eating whist the cobbler topping was tasteless and didn’t mix well with the fruit. The cheesecake could have held its own quite well without the berries as it was very lemony and more-ish with a good texture and a delicious biscuity base.

The Barnsbury is open for lunch daily, offering a prix fixe menu, (£6.50/£9.00 for 2/3 courses). Brunch is served between 12pm-4pm at the weekends, and with the cold winter months approaching I can just imagine the cosy atmosphere here of lit log fires, the Sunday papers and the relaxed atmosphere making this an irresistible combination to come and meet friends, drink good wine, eat delicious food and while away the day.

Louise Elgin. October 2003.

The Barnsbury, 209-211 Liverpool Road London N1 Tel: 020 7607 5519

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2007

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