Ottolenghi. Something cheap but cheerful (and Natalie's favorite)? Le Mercury. One of my and John's old fast-food standbys? Chilango. It's all there.
But after a disappointing flat viewing in Highbury on Friday (how an estate agent can look you in the eye and tell you with a straight face that a 2 bed flat overlooking the Overground railway and a scrapyard is going for £460 p/w and has "two offers already" is beyond me, I'm afraid), John and I wandered down Upper Street in search of something a bit more - something different from our usual extremes of eating either Toptable deals at Michelin-starred restaurants or £6.95 prawn pad thai from our local above-the-pub Thai restaurant.
"I've been in here before," John said, nodding toward Cuba Libre, a Cuban restaurant and bar that boasts both happy hours and Paella Mondays (which is something you should seriously consider if you ever have "a case of the Mondays" - sorry, I've been watching Office Space a little too much lately). By then, I was desperate for some food and felt the low blood sugar demon creeping into my system. "Let's just go," I said, and we made our way into the half-full, reggaeton-pumping restaurant where John immediately ordered a Coke for me and an Aperitivos "Cuba Libre" to share. The starter consisted of some large olives, grilled chicken (which was oh-so-delicious! It tasted like a BBQ-summer), some plantains, an empanada, chorizo and more - the perfect way to tide a growling tummy over.
For my main, I selected the El Plato Cubano (pork, chicken, chorizo and shredded beef served with black beans and rice and plantains) and John went for the Palomilla al estilo de la casa (steak served with potatoes and cassava). I have to say, both of our main courses were like, taste sensations - I especially loved how the cassava complimented John's steak (yes, I had slight food envy) and the tender shredded beef on my own plate. If anything, however, the food was quite rich and on the ever-so-slightly-salty side, so I must admit I suffered a bit 20 minutes later during the cab ride home (don't worry, no one hurled in a black cab, though it did remind me of that one time I had to ask the cabbie to stop as John proceeded to get out, walk to a corner and violently vomit after watching the Leicester Tigers thrash the London Irish during the Guinness Cup Final. He had one too many celebratory pints of Guinness, poor thing). And by the time we left around 8, the restaurant and bar were in full swing (apparently there's salsa there on certain nights as well) and if I had been in a better mood, I would have probably stayed to dance.
So if you're looking for something a little different, fun and definitely friendly (the staff is awesome), go to Cuba Libre. Just don't forget your Alka Seltzer.