Exotic flavours to match delightfully mismatched surrounds

Daisy Jestico enjoys a refreshing tipple and Pan Asian cuisine at an eclectic Islington restaurant


270 Upper Street, N1

020 7226 1118

STEPPING into Zilouf’s is like walking into an eccentric gentleman’s living room.

Mismatched leather sofas, old radio equipment and rusty mirrors set the tone for an evening of inventive combinations - in everything from the Pan Asian food and experimental cocktails to the brilliantly bonkers decor.

The bustling Upper Street bar restaurant - favoured by the eclectic Islington crowds - is a joy for all the senses.

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Once you’ve stopped gazing at the array of masks hanging over the bar, or the ancient sewing machines stacked on the shelves or even the dog eared copies of retro music magazines framed on the wall - you would do well to ensure you start the evening with a cocktail at the bar, nestled among the treasure trove of vintage fare.

With more than four years of formal training and stints at renowned venues in the UK and across the pond, the head barman looks to be having plenty of fun concocting a punchy drinks list seemingly straight out of George’s Marvellous Medicine.

After all, who could resist any tipple which calls itself Jim Will Fix It or a Hot Buttered Rum? I opted for a refreshing and moreish sour lime and gin mix to start, while my husband went for Negroni - heavy on the gin with orange bitters to give it a zesty kick.

Moving to a candlelit table and after a sharing platter of warm homemade bread - something to soak up the alcohol - we started dinner with crispy prawn wontons filled with waterchestnut and lime leaf and a soy and lime ponzu (�6.50). Bursting with exotic yet subtle seasoning, it was a great introduction to the fusion flavours Zilouf’s does so well.

My main dish of swordfish steak with tempura vegetables and fennel (�13) had a perfect balance of flavours and spices. The fish was tender and juicy enough to satisfy the cravings of this reformed vegetarian and the tempura wonderfully light and crisp.

But if there was one nagging concern it was that the fennel, what could have been a welcome aromatic addition, was overpowered slightly by the soy sauce.

The menu is infused with Asian inspired dishes, but every now and then - rather like the furniture - an oddity pops up to deliberately buck the trend.

Doing just that, my husband went for lamb rump on a bed of dauphinoise potatoes and savoy cabbage (�14), a modern European plate albeit with small Asian touches. He described the dish as beautifully seasoned with a nice crisp skin, pulling off the mix of flavours well.

The restaurant’s signature sticky toffee pudding (�5) - dripping in caramel, delicately topped off with a mohican-style strawberry garnish and set off by hokey pokey ice cream (honeycomb to you and me) - was a delight. The moist dessert melts in the mouth and the small chunks of toffee buried inside leave you wanting more. No wonder regulars and staff rave about it.

Zilouf’s magic is in not taking itself too seriously. You get the impression that nothing is contrived here - every little thing is included, be it on the menu or the walls, because the owners love it.

The food is far fancier than it gives itself credit for and the cocktails worth a visit for them alone. So after a delightful but not overfilling meal, don’t forget to sample a couple more drinks before you leave.


Mains: from �10.50 to �16

Cocktails: from �7

Children welcome: Yes, but not on weekend evenings

Disabled access: Yes