Standing elegantly on the corner of one of the many stunning backstreets of this part of Islington, the Hanbury Arms is an excellent pub for the well-to-do locals but unfortunately its remoteness makes it unlikely to draw people from further afield.
The pub is housed within a grand old art deco red-brick building every bit the match of the huge surrounding townhouses set back from roads so wide that you really do know you’ve arrived. Having scrubbed off The Social signage and reverted to the pub’s original name, the Hanbury has gone back to its roots and seems all the better for it, with the authentic ‘30s font spelling out its name on a tiled, splayed corner that hints at the authenticity inside.
It feels exactly that too, with tall wood panelling, wrought iron radiators and Chesterfield sofas making it all feel every bit the traditional local boozer. There are plenty of contemporary elements to make sure it doesn’t feel dated though, with a huge jukebox looking distinctly nouveau-retro, cocktail spirits and modern lighting behind the bar and an open kitchen where stone-baked pizzas are regularly fished out just as they are at the Lauriston and the Regent – the Hanbury’s similarly impressive sister venues.
With a locale like this, the Hanbury Arms is likely to be filled with those who live nearby, primarily because there really aren’t many other pubs nearby and the slop to either Upper Street or Hoxton is just that little bit too far. It’s got a great catchment area though, one that – even with the slightly less salubrious estates that are smattered about – any landlord would be more than happy with, so expect to settle down next to the odd wealthy one.
However, most seem to be youngish professional types that are doing well for themselves, suggesting firstly that many of the impressive houses are flats and secondly that the Hanbury Arms has managed to keep many of the late twenties/early thirties crowd that its previous incarnation attracted, which is obviously no bad thing for a pub that’s trendy and definitely worthy of a bustling, friendly crowd. Obviously there’s the odd old man and his dog too but then they’re everywhere, aren’t they?
It’s pretty simple fare at the Hanbury, taking advantage of the excellent stone-bake oven that cooks up some really rather excellent pizzas. You can pick up what look to be really good salads too, with the avocado version (£8.95) being particularly good, with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, olives, mixed leaves, rocket, green beans and funnily enough, avocado, making up a big, tasty dish.
The pizzas are the kitchen’s real selling point though so ignore the rabbit food and tuck into something a little more indulgent instead. Even the margarita (£6.25) – always a good indicator – is excellent in its simplicity, with a rich tomato sauce, a good amount of cheese, chopped herbs and fresh basil leaves combining well on the kind of exquisitely cooked base that only stone-bake ovens can muster. The goat’s cheese option (£8.95) is equally delicious, with generous amounts of good quality just-melting goats cheese, crisp red onions, plump green olives, herbs, pine nuts, basil and the same fantastic base.
There’s a good selection of beers on tap as well as a more than ample selection of spirits behind the bar that look like they could make even the most exotic of cocktails. But it’s the wine list that’s the most impressive. There’s a good range of good value bins, including a really very tasty house Nero d’Avola at just £12.95 with sweet tannins and a very quaffable plum fruitiness. Other options worth trying are a decently priced, crisp and citrussy Gavi la Battistina at £19.95, a good pinot grigio blush rose at £16.50 and a hardly cheap - but well worth it - Sancerre at £25.95.
The Last Word
It’s a shame that such a good pub is so far off the beaten track that more people won’t get to enjoy it. But if you’re in the area - or perhaps even lucky enough to live nearby - then make sure you give it a go.