Chef James Cochran’s departure from his eponymous restaurant in EC3 was a messy one, involving a legal battle with his former investors that has resulted in the site still operating under his name. However, the chef hasn’t let any of this dampen his enthusiasm, and the pay-off is 1251 – a confidently ambitious, two-floor site on Islington’s restaurant-heavy Upper Street.
Lunch brings a great-value express menu which promises three plates for under £20, while those arriving for dinner can choose between the carte or a five-course tasting menu. Begin with snacks such as a potato crisp topped with blobs of whipped oyster cream and seaweed, which eats like a pimped-up Walkers, before moving on to more substantial ideas, including strips of pork complemented by crumbly black pudding, a slick of smoked eel sauce and a shard of crackling that successfully avoids tooth-breaking territory.
We also liked dipping into a bowl of astonishingly good nugget-like bites – buttery chunks of rabbit in a coating of fried breadcrumbs, elevated by a potent smear of horseradish and pickled plum.
Cochran may have earned his stripes at the two-Michelin-starred Ledbury, but 1251 sees him successfully blending fine ingredients with his Caribbean heritage in a casual setting complete with a hip-hop soundtrack. Make no mistake, this is a thoroughly modern restaurant with the charisma and individuality to stand out from the Upper Street crowd.