1251, Upper St, Islington, London

What’s the vibe?

In the words of co-owner Dan Henry, 1251 wants to offer punters fine dining with a casual dining price tag. Dan and his chef partner, the acclaimed James Cochran who worked at Michelin-starred The Ledbury, took over what was Chinese Laundry on Upper Street late last year. 1251 now seats 48 diners across two floors. There’s also an outdoor terrace that seats eight, too, that is sure to be mighty popular when the weather warms up.

The exterior of 1251 on Upper St
1251 on Upper Street in Islington

What’s the cuisine?

Fusion-ish: Modern British but with the odd Asian influence thrown in for good measure. There are small plates aplenty (because obviously) but also five- and eight-course menus, both veggie and meaty. The five-courser we tried was an absolute bargain at £35 and if you visit on a Monday or Tuesday it’s BYO, making that fine dining even more affordable. And if you’re wondering about the name, it comes from the Strokes song, which was the first track on the first playlist Dan and James made for their first pop up.

BBQ leeks, feta, truffle, shiitake mushrooms and hazelnut
The star of the show was BBQ leeks, feta, truffle, shiitake mushrooms and hazelnut

What are the veggie options?

My menu started with malt cracker, carrot, sesame seeds and blue cheese. The cracker was a good mix of sweet and savoury and topped with tasty whipped carrot and cheese. Crispy curried cauliflower with lime pickle, orange, smoked yoghurt and grains was delicious – good, al-dente chunks with an ‘oh, what’s that spice?’ coating. Small segments of orange worked suprisingly well with the superfood cabbage. Star of the show, both in looks and taste, was BBQ leeks, feta, truffle, shiitake mushrooms, hazelnut, cured egg yolk and sorrel. James really knows what to do to a vegetable to bring out the flavour: the chewy, slightly sweet leeks were really well matched to the salty feta and mushrooms.

Crispy curried cauliflower with lime pickle
Crispy curried cauliflower with lime pickle

And for meat eaters?

The five-courses for omnivores began with buttermilk jerk chicken, corn nuts, scotch bonnet jam (made by the 1251 team and soon available to buy), and coriander. This dish was, in the words of my dining companion: ‘the best fried chicken you’re likely to taste outside of the American South.’ There was cured mackerel, pickled cucumber, n’duja and pork crackling too followed by unctuous melt-in-the-mouth, slow-braised short rib of Dexter beef, wild garlic, miso, oyster, salsify, oyster leaf and bone marrow.

Cured mackerel, pickled cucumber and n'juda
Cured mackerel, pickled cucumber and n’juda

Best table?

If you’re with friends or the other half, upstairs banquets are comfy and intimate. First date? Try and get a seat upstairs overlooking the window so you can people watch while you flirt.

The famous custard tart
The restaurants’ famous custard tart – this version with quince and clotted cream

And to finish?

I woke up the day after our visit thinking about 1251’s custard tart, which was a wobbly slice of deliciousness and served with a great hibiscus and honey ice cream. It was definitely the best dessert I’ve eaten for a long while. My dining companion had happy memories of the version she ate soon after the restaurant opened with quince and clotted cream (pictured above.)

The verdict?

I really liked the place. Dan, who greeted us like old friends when we arrived, was right in describing what they do as fine dining but without the hefty price tag. The food looked as great as it tasted. Fingers crossed 1251 is here to stay.

Read more reviews of veggie and vegan tasting menus here

Words by: Steven Short