It’s perhaps unsurprising that London is now filled with so many neighbourhood restaurants. Extortionate rates and continuous gentrification are, of course, a contributing factor, plus after a long day at work; it’s difficult to blame those hoping to avoid trudging back into central London for dinner. Of all the brilliant neighbourhood restaurants, Islington and neighbouring Farringdon are home to an outstanding number, including Galley, Oldroyd, Black Axe Mangal, Morito and many more. Opened earlier in the summer, Humble Grape – a wine bar, shop and restaurant – is the latest to join Islington’s cornucopia of such establishments, just off Upper Street.
Following the success of Humble Grape sites in both Battersea and Fleet Street, the new Islington space flows from the ‘wine library’, shop and bar, through to the dining room. Here, a collection of over 400 wines are available, with prominent focus on providing quality wines that are largely organic, biodynamic and sustainably sourced, from small, family-owned vineyards. Furthermore, each wine available at Humble Grape is selected due to the story behind it, in addition to taste. The Bartinney Sauvignon Blanc, for instance, is from ex-geologist and environmentalist Rose Jordaan. Produced up a mountain on her family farm in South Africa, Rose has also planted over 7000 trees and invites wildlife to roam free on her farm. In addition to the vast selection, the good value of the wine served at Humble Grape is also deserving of a mention.
Decorated with plenty of indoor foliage, reclaimed natural materials and a colour palette of green and clay, the dining room at Humble Grape Islington is bright and spacious. Continuing the ethos of championing independent suppliers, Executive Head Chef Kishen Raheja’s menu is a dramatic departure from emblematic wine bar fare. To start, two diver-caught scallops are served atop a bed of samphire, paper thin slices of radish and fennel fronds. The scallops are plump and juicy, heavily caramelised but not overcooked. Also, the golden char of the flat exterior never overwhelms the mollusc’s prized, subtle sweetness, while the steamed samphire and radish add further depth of both flavour and texture. The fact that the bulbous orange roe is left in tact, makes the dish all the better – further displaying the chef’s respect for ingredients.
Also from the ‘small plates’ section, the mussels are the simplest and most enjoyable dish sampled. Served with an abundance of fragrant ginger and spring onions, the mussels are properly cleaned and enjoyably meaty. The broth left at the bottom of the bowl, on the other hand, is bizarrely reminiscent of Wotsits crisps, which is peculiarly gratifying. Next, a tranche of hake is thick and served with crispy skin. The fish itself is properly cooked and served on a mattress of refreshing cucumber, samphire that bolsters the taste of the sea – complementing the fish – and a smattering of chilli that’s not particularly fiery but cuts through the potency of cucumber.
To finish, baked camembert embodies Humble Grape’s concept, obviously pairing spectacularly with the wines (a glass of Loire Valley Chenin blanc, in this instance). Oozing out of its wooden box like Salvador Dali’s fluxing clocks, the cheese is ripe and insalubrious, if lacking some flavour that could be reinforced with the addition of some rosemary, garlic or honey, accompanied by an injurious stack of seeded, toasted bread.
Unlike so many wine bars, Humble Grape is an approachable new addition to Islington’s already booming collection of neighbourhood eating and drinking destinations. Moreover, the fittingly humble food here is considerably better than the majority of London’s stuffy wine bars – which, alone, makes Humble Grape Islington a wholly commendable dinner destination.
Humble Grape Islington can be found at 11-13 Theberton Street, London, N1 0QY.