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.
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.
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.
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.
The Toby Carvery, South Croydon
9 hours ago