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Louise Elgin knows her own mind, when it comes to

The Independence, 235 Upper Street London N1 

I discovered a new part of Islington last night. I'd always thought that Upper Street was, you know, that little stretch with The Screen On The Green. But no, the road goes on for miles! I travelled to its most northerly end last night. Passing all the Gunners' banners as the BIG match for the double was on, (yawn). My quest? To eat at the latest offering from Billy Drew who brought us the excellent Holborn pub/restaurant, 'The Perseverance'. I was on a mission to see if they had worked the same miracle with their latest offering, 'The Independence'. 

Yet another run down pub (formally the hysterically named 'Tut & Shive'), has been given the make over and turned into a fine dining establishment. Downstairs, the atmosphere is that of a convivial and relaxed pub cum wine bar, offering a distinguished wine list sourced from the cellars of Bibendum, together with the usual range of beers and spirits. Upstairs there is a restaurant that comfortably seats about forty, serving dinner and, my favourite - Sunday lunch. If the current vogue is the gastro pub then long may it last! I've always hated traditional boozers with their smoky atmospheres and aroma of stale beer. Now with the likes of The Independence springing up, Londoners have the chance to experience how civilised an evening down the pub can be. With decent wine, good bar snacks and comfortable surroundings, it's a blessed relief from what we had to endure in the past. 

The Independence has only been open for four weeks and its restaurant for just two, although I am happy to say there were no signs of any teething troubles when I visited. The restaurant had a very light and airy feel with striking fleur-de-lis bright blue wallpaper. The (world?) music was perhaps a little loud for my liking, though not too intrusive. Bare wooden floorboards, tables and chairs added a rustic charm. The menu, like that of its sister restaurant, is fairly concise with five starters: ranging between £5.50 & £6.75 and six mains between £ 9 & £13 to choose between. 

I kicked off with some crisp Pinot Grigio, a huge glass for £3.50, (it's one of the four whites and four reds that are offered by the glass), whilst we nibbled on an excellent selection of nutty breads, served with a generous dollop of olive oil and balsamic. To start, I decided straight away on the rice wine marinated scallops, spiced avocado and gazpacho, £6.75. It was a marriage made in heaven as far as my tastebuds were concerned. A huge helping of ultra tender scallops that melted in the mouth that blended superbly with the thick layer of spicy avocado and gazpacho sauce. I could have kissed the chef, Darren Roberts, who has cooked in some of London's finest kitchens. Most recently he's worked at Pont De La Tour and The Atlantic Bar and Grill. They must be mourning his loss. My guest kicked off (sorry, the footy fever!) with the Foie gras & duck confit terrine, with date and lime chutney served with a small green salad, £6.50. He said the spiciness of the chutney complemented the terrine, whilst the element of tannin in the Fleurie added a wonderful kickback (!) to the mingling flavours on the palate. (We had now moved onto a bottle of Fleurie, Domaine de la Preisle 2000, Beaujolais, £26.00.) Other starters included a salad of wild mushrooms, poached egg, lemon thyme and toasted brioche, £6.00, and a white bean, chorizo and coriander soup, £4.75. 

To follow, I ordered the char-grilled calve's liver, wilted spinach and Alsace and sage croquettes £10.50. The liver was very tender with a good flavour that came from the char grilling and was served with an intense jus. The spinach was fresh and simple, not mucked about with - however I wouldn't rave about the croquettes. Although with an interesting smoky flavour, they did not make a particularly interesting accompaniment. My guest followed with grilled sea-bass with crab butter, saffron picked fennel, crab fritter and coriander oil, £13.00. He said it was light in texture with flavours that kept every bite interesting, again the Fleurie working very well with the flavours on the plate. For veggies, (and I'm sure super trendy Islington must be full of them), the only main course choice was pasta. Gnocchi to be precise. Although it sounded very good, made with red pepper and parsley, and served with oak-smoked peppers, rocket, parmesan and olive oil, £9.00, I can't help thinking that veggies are too often palmed off with a pasta type dish. 

By now my stomach had waved the white flag, and I knew sadly that none of the puddings could tempt me. There were four to choose between, including a selection of British cheese, £5.50 and a pan-fried brioche with caramelised strawberries & mascarpone cheese. My guest, always blessed with a good appetite, chose the chocolate & hazelnut praline mousse with orange confit and white chocolate ice cream, £4.95. He said it resembled a toy boat that one plays with in the bath during formative years! Sadly, he said it was just too stodgy and heavy and most of it was left to sail off into his childhood memories. However, he was keen to add that in no way had it dented his sheer enjoyment of the meal as a whole, adding that his double espresso scored a very favourable seven out of ten. Very high marks indeed for a coffee addict of Italian extraction! 

Our overall verdict? An agreeable and relaxed local offering decent food at reasonable prices, with a good wine list, and reliable service. An important addition to the area. 

Louise Elgin May 2002

The Independence,  235 Upper Street London N1 Reservations: 020 7704-6977

UK Restaurant Reviews – The Best Of The Dine Online Restaurant Reviews 2001 - 2010

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