There’s tough competition for gastropubs in Islington, but the tucked away Drapers Arms has rapidly established itself as one of the local highlights.
An elegant powder blue building off the beaten track in the handsome terraced streets of Barnsbury, the Drapers Arms was resurrected in its current form in 2009 by Nick Gibson and Ben Maschler (Fay Maschler’s son). Inside there’s a sparsely furnished but stylish and elegant main space around three sides of a square bar, decorated in tasteful shades of green with a scissors theme reflecting the name and shelves of Penguin paperbacks. Subtle lighting and uncluttered design give a spacious but pleasant feel. A posher pavilion-style dining room is at the back, and there’s a verdant beer garden outside.
Don’t expect raucousness – the Drapers Arms is civilised and relaxed. Inevitably the pub attracts relatively flush Islingtonians out to dine, but staff are friendly and accommodating even if you’re just popping in for a drink. It’s a good sign, too, that they’re clearly proud of their beer, and can talk informatively about it. Well behaved children are welcome too.
Yes, it’ll set you back more than the average pub grub, but the generally British-style food is good value given the quality, and prepared with immaculately fresh and often seasonal ingredients. The menu changes daily and often leads off with a big meaty item, like half a pig’s head with carrot and prunes to share (£22). On a recent visit other offerings included puy lentil roast, lemon sole and brown shrimp butter, Old Spot pork chop or pot roast rabbit leg (all £12.50-£13.50). Decent old-fashioned puddings, traditional cheese, good bar snacks and artisanal bread add the finishing touches. Booking is highly recommended for a sit-down meal.
Beer is often the poor relation in gastropubs but the small range here is well considered and properly looked after. Harvey’s Sussex Best is the regular cask beer, alongside two guests likely to come from localish suppliers like Sambrook’s, with the range augmented for a beer and cider festival in the summer. Lagers include local Camden Town Hells and there’s an imported guest keg and some interesting bottles. The 65-strong wine list is strong on European classics: around 20 are served by the glass (from £3.90). A few malt whiskies complete a classy offer.
The Last Word
In the heartland of formulaic gastropubs, the Drapers Arms gets it right – a place that does quality food in relaxed, unfussy surroundings while remaining capable of serving up flawless pints to bar proppers.