Our visit to Shrimpy’s is pleasantly unplanned. It’s a Sunday morning, we’ve just seen the bus doing its press-ups, been blown out by friends with a poorly child – and are left wondering where we should try and eat.
Shrimpy’s is the Bistrotheque-owned ‘Calexican’ ‘pop-up’ (it runs till 2014) that’s been on our hit list for ages, despite reading some criticism about food and prices. And it’s also housed in the famous petrol station that once sold us old 90s ravers fizzy drinks and a packet of 20 B&H (sigh).
‘From Paris, Shrimpy’s is a doddle,’ wrote a certain Mr Coren recently. ‘But from Kentish Town, forget it.’ It seems NW5′s premier restaurant critic had attempted to drive. Drive! When he could’ve hopped on the 214. Or enjoyed a leafy stroll along the canal from Royal College St.
And we were also surprised that Giles raged against the location. We love King’s Cross, very much historically part of our manor (you can still see St Pancras on several NW5 streetsigns). With its continual air of transience and improvement, it epitomizes the idea of urban progress, doesn’t it?
Pushing open the door, the first surprise is the silver service and white tablecloths, a winning juxtaposition with the caravan-like 1960s prefab. A mirrored ceiling lends a feeling of space, and there is a line of stools at the bar ‘reserved for walk-ins.’
We’re eye-poppingly early for Sunday lunch and so get great service – plus a perfectly unraised eyebrow from the waitress when we ask for a Negroni (hell, it is Sunday). We nurse them over the menu, enjoying the anticipatory buzz emanating from the semi-open kitchen – for a rush that surprisingly fails to materialize.
The starters look pretty, but tuna tostada (above, main pic) is instantly disappointing: over-limed and bland at the same time. Yet we stay positive, realizing that this will Officially Be A Blowout: the sashimi is room temperature, there’s a nice ripe piece of avocado, it breaks down satisfyingly with a fork. Things improve with the seabass ceviche – nice clean chunks of fish, good coriander flavour, crisp plantain.
We’re aware of the hype around the soft shell crab burger, but it looks like too much bread and batter for our, ahem, petite stomachs. Or maybe Coren’s description just scared us off: ‘a vast sea monster suspended in batter and hot oil and trapped in a bap, its arms and legs protruding like a tarantula splatted under a Bible.’ Yikes! We giggle when we see one fly out onto a nearby table.
Instead, trying to be on trend, we choose fried chicken with red peppers, which simply doesn’t have much flavour. We enjoyed a far juicier chargrilled breast earlier in the week at Greek grill Retsina in Belsize Village.
The best dish? Octopus with potatoes (above), tenderly spiced with paprika. A salad of avocado with heritage tomatoes is deliciously dressed too, and our wine a creamy Spanish pink with the cheeky grin of a Cote De Provence.
So despite the inconsistencies, we have a ball. Sort of. It’s a fun place. We want to like it.
Afterwards, we drink prosecco (£4) in the sunny courtyard (for half an hour, until the rain starts) and promise to hang out there in future, where the booze is cheap (aimed at Central St Martin’s students) and Homeslice pizza - yes, another graduate from Streetfeast – just £3 a portion.
But we’re not sure about returning to Shrimpy’s itself. Especially as the bill’s a whopping £118. Ouch.
Words & Pics: Stephen Emms