Upper Street in Islington is no stranger to great food. Absolutely packed with restaurants, pubs, cafés, bars, and the like, if you can’t find something to eat here you may not actually be hungry. The street runs from Angel station up to Highbury & Islington station, with theatres, museums, galleries, butchers, stores, and cinemas dotted amidst the eateries. If you could only go to one place on that street, though, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option than 12:51 by James Cochran.
Now, 12:51 is no secret. James Cochran won BBC’s Great British Menu in 2018 when the restaurant opened, and again in 2020. The restaurant also holds two AA rosettes, and is featured as a Michelin Guide restaurant. The place even has their own Sauce Shop collab in the form of the Scotch Bonnet Chilli Jam. But it’s impossible to write enough about the impressive food, the delightful staff, and the wonderful restaurant itself.
Throughout the week 12:51 serves up an ever-changing tasting menu that rarely leaps above £40pp for a five-course meal. A James Cochran-curated drinks pairing can be added to complement the meal, usually with at least one cocktail included. And a food upgrade can bring the total number of course up to as many as eight – perfect for the special occasion splurge. The meal starts with a healthy serving of homemade focaccia and seaweed butter that you’ll find yourself wondering if it’s okay to solely eat for the whole meal. Dishes are elevated, but never unapproachable. They range from Coronation Chicken Doughnuts, to BBQ Feta and Beetroot, to Crisp Hash Brown Black Pudding. It’s all joyful and flavour-oriented, never stuffy or pretentious, but also never pulling any punches with technique and skill.
And then Sunday comes around. And the menu goes out the window for a day as they serve up the best Sunday Roast in London.
The Sunday Roast at 12:51
Now, it’s inarguable that the judge of a Sunday Roast is the accoutrements. Every pub and restaurant at this point can turn out prime ribs or lamb roasts with sufficiently rendered fat, pork bellies with crispy crackling skin, succulent chicken, or veggie wellingtons with shattering-crisp pastry. That’s why all eyes are on the sides when it comes to determining which Sunday Roasts reign supreme. And every single side dish at 12:51’s Sunday Roast is incredible.
There’s a moment after being seated, sipping at a Bloody Mary spiked with Scotch Bonnet Chilli Jam, where you try to decide which sides to order with the roast. You decide to share a portion of the fried chicken – because who can resist a starter? – and then you realize that the menu isn’t displaying a choice of sides to order. It’s listing the sides that are included in the roast – most easily summed up as all of the sides.
All of the sides?
Yes, all of the sides. Which is hard to understand until all the food lands on the table and you realize that it comes at a steal of a price: around £25 per person (£28 when I visited). Sharing portions of roast potatoes, truffle cauliflower cheese, and shredded beef (because yes, you need more meat) jostle for space on the table among the drinks and gravy and condiments. But dominating the space is each diner’s individual plate, on which enough food for a full roast is already laid. Dishes rotate depending on seasonality and availability, so you could end up with chargrilled hispi cabbage, braised and grilled onions, broccolini, or carrot puree, among others. Oh, and the yorkie – of course. But it doesn’t really matter what they have on the day, as it’s all delicious.
The truffle cauliflower cheese offers up cauliflower that still holds a bite, with a surprisingly (and pleasantly) muted truffle accent to the gooey cheese-y mass. The shredded beef is rich, lightly spiced, and packed with umami. If you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself packing the yorkie with it to make mini yorkie and beef sandwiches. The red-wine gravy strikes a balance between the gravy consistencies of the North and South – pourable but still decadent. And the roast potatoes pack a fluffy-almost-mashed but still toothsome interior into an exterior that audibly cracks through the room whenever anyone cuts into one.
And then there’s the beef. Oh, the beef. And, yes, there is only beef on the menu. Instead of spreading themselves thin, they do one protein and they do it well. The beef could take the form of a perfectly pink slice of aged prime-rib (a slice larger than the steaks you’ll get from some steakhouses) or a dry-aged sirloin cooked to perfection.
But founder James Cochran isn’t just content to serve up some of London’s most affordable high-end cuisine. During the COVID lockdowns he founded Around The Cluck, to bring London’s best fried chicken sandwiches to the masses. And then, off the back of that success, he recently opened Valderrama’s, a sports bar serving up Around The Cluck’s sandwiches and frozen margaritas while showing all the sporting action.
12:51 by James Cochran is one of those faultless restaurants. There’s personable and friendly staff, attentive service, incredible food, and wallet-friendly prices. It’s the kind of place that suits any occasion. Head there on a date night, or to celebrate your new job. Go for a lazy Sunday roast (definitely do that) before wandering through the nearby parks and river walks. Or catch an impromptu meal when you end up in the area (if they’ve got space for you!). What James Cochran has created with 12:51 is nothing short of superb.
Christmas at 12:51
For those looking ahead to the holiday season, Christmas bookings are now live for 12:51 as well. They’re offering up a festive taster menu for £50pp with a complimentary glass of Prosecco when you arrive. You can tack on an optional 8 course upgrade that includes a chef larder Xmas goodie bag. You can also grab a drinks pairing designed by James himself if you’re feeling extra festive. And to go along with it all is the all-around immaculate vibes of the place.
Head to their website to secure a booking, or to get your hands on the famous Scotch Bonnet Chilli Jam.