Katsu & Buns – A Pan-Asian stronghold in the heart of 2nd Century Saxon Islington
One of my shortcomings as a South-West Londoner is that I’m sometimes a little too parochial, even for my own liking, and trekking across the capital can often prove tiresome and troublesome in equal measure.
But I must admit, when it comes to the North London gem that is Islington, I have a bit of a soft spot. Redolent of tradition and history, Islington was named in 1,000 AD, and the word itself is derived from the Saxon word Gislandune which means Gīsla’s hill, from the Old English name Gīsla and dun, which means hill or down. The name later mutated to Isledon, which remained in use well into the 17th century when the modern form arose.
More importantly, however, as the area was located outside the ancient city walls, it often escaped the watchful eye of the city’s Puritan leadership and became a hotbed of excitement and, dare we say it, debauchery. In short, a place for people to have lots of fun.
And it remains the same today.
Smack bang in the middle of the hubbub is the ancient Chapel Market which is home to the Pan-Asian street food favourite, Katsu & Buns.
But what exactly does Pan-Asian mean? Well, it means dishes from different nations and cultures throughout the entire continent of Asia. So, a melting pot, much like Islington itself.
What’s not to like about that? I told myself as we arrived at the delightfully cool air-conditioned Chapel Bar (situated below the restaurant), with a strong selection of cool beers that you can sup outside. And, after making our way upstairs, we noted there is a balcony on offer, too, if, like me, you’re an alfresco junkie.
Having lived in Asia, I was excited to take a walk down Memory Lane as I was tempted by various exotic-sounding dishes. And the more I ate, the more I realised that this was much better than merely a repetition of old favourites, as many Pan-Asian restaurants can often be. The kitchen had enhanced the food on offer and had certainly made each dish its own.
For example, we’ve all chowed down on Chinese bao before, but have we had a bao as light and fluffy as theirs? Probably not! The Chicken katsu bao with its panko-coated chicken, tonkatsu sauce, and Japanese mayo was a joy, and, importantly, really filling for £11. Bargain!
Also, we’ve all had the pleasure of sipping a Martini before, but how many of us will have imbibed a Saketini with Sake substituting the Vermouth? I haven’t, and it was a triumph!
Similarly, in a Cantonese restaurant, we all might have ordered Crispy salt and pepper squid with chili at one point in our lives. But here, chef goes two steps further with the scrummy Shichimi dust and the yuzu koshu mayo, which was just brilliant.
The charming Maître, Oli, steered us in the direction of Teriyaki sauce accompanying a Miso and truffle Angus burger. The truffle really came through, which was impressive at £14, and the chips were faultless. The Cantonese Roast Duck was lifted with its fusion duck sauce, and I just loved the Japanese steamed rice with black sesame too. And for dessert, what a treat. Think Japanese gyoza dumpling. But stuffed with apple and served with coconut ice cream. Talk about hedonism!
For larger groups, you can hire out Katsu & Buns (which comes with its own late license so you can carry on partying into the late North London night). Or you can choose to keep it intimate on the terrace on a balmy summer night and think of those long, drawn-out Asian evenings as I did.
Either way, Islington/Iseldon/Gislandune (however you want to refer to it), has another winner on its doorstep in Katsu & Buns, the Pan-Asian restaurant leader in North London.
Charles Pelham, FoodNoise