153 Upper Street,
(020) 7226 1375
The ViewLondon Review
Grand Union puts other chain bars to shame with its consistently high standards. A small but incredibly well formed burger menu and a great selection of drinks keeps its profile glittering, despite occasional overcrowding problems at the weekend.
Grand Union Islington sticks to the same formula that works so well in the other bars of this popular chain – after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The recognisable GU black sign hangs off the side of the building, beckoning you in off busy Upper Street. It’s a bit of a walk from Angel tube, but anyone partying in this area will be used to walking (or cabbing it) to get to the decent venues.
Upon entering - past the friendly doorman who won’t take any nonsense - you’re immediately enveloped in the cosy world that Grand Union does so well. Unfortunately, the Islington venue lacks the large open spaces of Camden and Kentish Town, with a long, narrow layout that opens up towards the back, creating a bottleneck. Certainly not a small bar, it can get a little hemmed in on a busy weekend night – so be prepared to twist in and out of the crowd. That said, this is still an attractive, atmospheric venue and the huge bar that runs its length means you won’t be left waiting too long to be served. The decor is warming with dark wooden tables, an eclectic mix of lamps and light fittings and that tell tale GU wallpaper with large floral prints that’s trendy rather than granny. Well placed fairy lights only help to create an air of comfort and if you’re lucky enough to bag a booth (booking is recommended) you’ll happily be able to settle in for the night. Making excellent use of the somewhat limited space, the DJ booth is actually nestled into the bar so as not to take up precious table room. The pumping tunes fill the area perfectly, with a surprisingly good sound system for somewhere where dancing isn’t the primary concern.
Grand Union Islington benefits from its late licence at weekends – open until 3.30am Fridays and Saturdays, it’s keeping up with the big boys of this area of North London. The pumping tunes and groups of party-minded people help to keep spirits high. Considering the crush this bar inevitably experiences, punters are remarkably good-natured about constantly being bumped into and trouble is kept to a minimum. That said, this is Upper Street and it won’t be surprising to get the occasional OTT party goer getting a little too enthusiastic.
The staff are friendly and efficient and keep things ticking over nicely. You’ll be astounded at how they manage to deftly weave in and out of a pumping Saturday night crowd, plates piled high with burgers without spilling so much as a lettuce leaf. In fact, this is probably one of the best bars in the area for efficient glass collecting and cleanliness, regardless of how busy they get. Admirable.
This is where all the Grand Union bars excel, and the Islington branch is no exception. Compared to the other well known (Hamburger) Unions, it dazzles and shows not only bars, but many a restaurant how it should be done. They don’t offer a massive selection, instead choosing to do a few things really well, with a focus on burgers. Every kind of burger you can imagine is covered, with interesting twists on the classics – smoked chilli burger, anyone? Costing £5-£7 it’s not expensive for the quality, in fact it’s excellent value for money, especially when compared to many of the upmarket burger chains that pepper London. Chips are an additional £2.65 and are thick, crunchy on the outside and soft and fluffy within so you won’t begrudge having to purchase them separately – common practice at many venues now.
Highly recommended is an oldie but a goodie – the cheeseburger. You may be a little intimidated by this piled-high burger complete with a huge, fat pattie; big, fluffy bun; gooey cheese; crunchy salad; and tangy relish oozing out the sides. Taking a bite is a challenge in itself, but the explosion of flavours in the mouth makes it worth dropping sauce down your (napkin-protected) front. However, if you want something a bit different try the Greek lamb burger with hummus, cucumber raita, chilli sauce, tomato and lettuce. If you’re a steadfast beef burger fan, this may just change your allegiance. The lamb is full of rich meaty flavours with none of the grease that so often permeates lamb. The accompaniments are well thought out and combine perfectly in every bite. In fact, it’s so impressive you’ll wonder why it is other chains fail so miserably in their consistency. It looks like they’ll have to step up their game to compete with this place…
Grand Union Islington deftly walks the line between being a bar and a pub. Few bars can claim the four draught lagers of this venue, but then what pub can claim such a wide ranging, well thought out cocktail menu? At £7 a pop and covering everything from the classic mojito to their signature Grand Union cocktail (Midori, Archers, Malibu and vodka), this is a place that offers more than one specialty and does it well.
However, it doesn’t end there; they also have a brilliant wine selection, all at reasonable prices and not skimping on quality. Wine ranges from £12-£20 a bottle with a great selection of well described bottles. Highly recommended is the Pinot Noir Pionero Estate 2006 from Chile – a smoky red with strong berry flavours of strawberry and plum, the quality of which you’d expect in a more upmarket restaurant with a considerable mark-up, rather than a high street bar. Impressive.
The Last Word
Grand Union is a consistently excellent chain and the Islington venue doesn’t disappoint. It suffers slightly from its heavy party crowd and bottleneck layout, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that when you walk in you know you’re going to get top quality food and drink that won’t break the bank.
The Grand Union has been reviewed by 4 users