La Farola: Heavenly Tapas on the Devil's Mile

Written by: Sophie Taylor

I have often gazed out of the window of the number 30 bus, trundling along Upper Street, people watching like my life depends on it. I’ve seen arguments, hilarious falls, forlorn match day marches and many, many dogs. One time I even saw someone I knew waiting to cross at Highbury Corner. I watched him for a good six minutes at the lights wondering what he was doing in this neck of the woods and what he was chuckling about to himself – I even went to tap on the window but the bus pulled away and I started thinking about whether the trench coat in the window of Marie Curie would fit instead as we spun round onto St Paul’s Road.

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What I’ve seen most of though, is eateries. Upper Street, Islington is buckling under the weight of restaurants, cafes and gastro pubs all vying for attention and fighting for space along 1500 metres of foodie heaven. It’s come a long way since being named The Devil’s Mile in 1885 thanks to its prostitution, crime and levels of drunkenness. Well, perhaps the latter remains.

One such foodie dream spot is the Spanish restaurant on the corner of Theberton Street: La Farola, whose colossal windows provide perfect people watching fodder. Having often wondered what the tapas might be like here, I jumped at the chance to give it a go and dragged my illustrator friend with me for an evening of wine and calamari. I say dragged, she got there forty minutes early in anticipation.

You’ll find the usual tapas suspects lined up on the menu, alongside some curveballs for desert. There’s old reliable chorizo, tortillas and ham croquettes, as well as Iberico pork, ham and chorizo amongst two types of manchego on the charcuteria y quesos menu. 

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While deciding what to order, we shared marinated Cantabrian white anchovies in olive oil (Boquerones) and a plate of cured Serrano ham topped sourdough bread (Montaditos), thinking of our Madrid born mutual friend and the Summer he made us these on the roof of our Peckham flat. 

After this and a glass or two of cherry scented Rioja, we decided on Black Tiger Prawns (Gambas al Ajillo) to share and the highly recommended Courgette Flowers. I’m suddenly reminded of my one attempt to be healthy in Barcelona last year which resulted in ordering crispy aubergine: the thinnest slice of vegetable fried within an inch of it’s nutrient dense life in batter and glazed with honey. These sticks of cauliflower are not only deep fried, they are then stuffed with goat’s cheese and finished with a drizzle of honey. It’s beautiful. Oh dear, you gasp, I’m on a diet! Munch munch munch. The generously sized prawns are sautéed with garlic, olive oil and fresh red chili peppers making us wish we’d ordered more.

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Whilst my friend started sketching unsuspecting eaters (we love people spying in equal amounts) and various dishes, I stole the last prawn and ordered desert. I of course wanted the traditional churros dish: more fried goodliness if you please. The mini dough sticks came with chocolate sauce & nutmeg infused vanilla custard which I happily polished off in approximately twelve seconds. My other choice was the owner’s favourite. He casually confessed to eating one on the regs before cheekily sauntering out of the restaurant and in to the arms of Angel high street. The favoured dish of choice is the deep fried ice cream, which I will regret not ordering til I die. Or go back, whichever comes first. The portion is astoundingly generous and whilst it sounds unfathomable, it works a dream. La Farola’s answer to an arctic slice comes with raspberry jus which just about finished my friend off.

Quaffing back the last of the Rioja and snorting into my glass at my friend’s lurid tales, I awkwardly catch the eye of a passing bus passenger outside. We lock our gaze and I realise how far I’ve come. About 3 metres. Not two hours ago I walked from that bus in to this here restaurant and spent the evening through the looking glass at a Spanish mad hatter’s tapas party. Now I know what the prawns taste like and no longer need squint through the window to read the menu. And yes, I’ll be back for the ice cream ball if it kills me. Which it might if I keep ordering stuff deep fried.

La Farola101 Upper Street, Islington, N1 1QN

Original illustrations by Florence Shaw.

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