Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Food Lab review Islington Essex Road - rustic Italian restaurant with a homely feel


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Address: 56 Essex Road
London N1 8LR
Tel: 020 7226 1001
Nearest Tube station: Angel

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: Below £15 pp
Service charge: N/A
Taste: ****
Service: ***
Ambience: ****
Having grown a bit tired of pub brunches in Islington, we were out and about looking for something different when we thought of the Food Lab along Islington Essex Road. “Strange name,” I muttered under my breath as we pushed through the door. Can’t really blame me, can you? It’s hard to be credible with a name like that especially for an Italian café and restaurant.

It marveled me how Food Lab managed to squeeze in that much seating within such a confined space. The ground floor would bound to be filled to the brim with baby buggies during weekend mornings and some desperate parents even carried theirs down the flight of stairs to the basement seating area, which wasn’t much larger. There was a motley collection of toys for toddlers tucked in a corner at the basement. Worn out by bites from salivating mouths, constant poking and yanking, these toys (or the remnants of it) weren’t exactly in the best of condition. Then again, where else in Angel Islington can you find a restaurant that provide a play area for kids?

Bach was playing softly in the background that morning. There was this rustic feel to the entire place; jams lined shelves were stacked up on one wall while wines and pasta on another. Jugs filled with carrot shavings and mint leave scented drinking water were placed strategically against the wall. Furniture included rickety wooden tables and straw chairs. It could very well be the family run village cafeteria.

I fell in love with the place almost immediately.

The service, while all smiles, had all the characteristics of a small setup. Some orders were missed and waiting time was a tad long. The Today’s Special board scribbled “Every dishes!” and the menu were filled with names like Super Lasagna, Vegetarian Lasagna, Full English - Italian style.

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I was naturally curious about the Full English – Italian style (£8). To be honest, I wasn’t sure what was so Italian about the full English breakfast. Well, the beans were a bit mushy, probably homemade, and instead of plain toast, there was some crinkled bread. Maybe that was it. I was given a bottle of Tesco brown sauce for the dish, which went against the image that Food Lab portrayed.

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Wife ordered tagliatelle con zucchine e basilica fresco (£8). Competently done, the tangy sauce that tagliatelle was tossed in gave the dish a welcome twist.

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We were clueless about Italian pasties and we weren’t quite sure what pastry and cake (£2) we ordered as we basically pointed to some on the counter. The harried staff didn’t seem to be in a position to tell us what they were. The pastry and cake came nicely presented laid on a square slate. An apt round up to a relatively satisfying meal.

We were so taken by the Food Lab that we went back for a couple of dinners and brunches quite soon after. It didn’t disappoint at all. In the evening, the restaurant with its candlelit tables took on a wholly different ambience – almost romantic. Just one thing though, Food Lab had this thing about displaying pasta dishes in plastic takeaway containers lined up in the glass display counter, only to be heated up when ordered. It would be great if they could just display them in proper plates instead.

The last time I was there, an Italian family totting a London guidebook was dining in its basement. From the looks of it, they were enjoying their meal quite a bit. If it is good enough for people in the know, it is good enough for me. An asset to the high street chain stores ridden Angel Islington, Food Lab is definitely a keeper.

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3 comments:

JSheekey said...

IT sounds like a very different place to the one my husband and I went to!

We went for an early dinner on a Staurday night. There were two other customers in the restaurant/cafe when we arrived. When we walked in the door we were completely ignored by the man behind the counter, so after standing in front of him for a minute whilst he re-arranged the pastry on the counter, we sat ourselves down at a table.

We waited for 15 minutes whilst the man behind the counter re-arranged his food display on his counter top and went into the kitchen (we watched him chatting to the chef).

After that we left and went to another Italian resturant. I would suggest the owner hires some secret diners for their restaurant as it seems that the quality of service is dependent of whether they are on site. Shame as it might actually be a star of a place if not for the awful service.

C K said...

@JSheekey,
Sorry to hear that you didn't enjoy yourself at Food Lab. I must admit that Food Lab's service was a bit lacklustre. I could understand why it could be slow in the mornings due to the crowds. But we had to wait for quite some time before our orders were taken when we returned for dinner (twice!) even though there was hardly anyone else...

That said, once you got their attention, the staff can be rather pleasant.

Anonymous said...

Staff look really under pressure. There were a woman who looked like the boss (high and mighty).
Not a friendly place.
Food was good though.