Review: Shoe Shop, Fortess Road

It opened quietly a couple of weeks back on ever-changing Fortess Road. But did you know an experienced chef is at the helm? Plus three other great neighbourhood restaurants

Leg of lamb steak with roast tomatoes. Pics: Stephen Emms
Leg of lamb steak with roast tomatoes at Shoe Shop. Pics: Stephen Emms
So this is Shoe Shop. A small bare room, flooded by natural light on a long summer’s evening. Bare tables not laid for dinner, and no candles. A diminutive plastic sleeved menu with one-word dish descriptions. No wine list either, but a load of bottles on a shelf to peruse (or take home). Shoe Shop are certainly doing it their way.

The name may fox some people, too. Before its most recent incarnation, an unpretentious Fortess Road caff, it was a footwear outlet, but we’re guessing original signage wasn’t, alas, unearthed, as at nearby E.Mono or the Home & Colonial stores on Queen’s Crescent. Still, it references the current trend for restoring a building’s history, as the new owners of the Torriano hope to do by reinstating the name Rose & Crown.

The former caff now boasts a back-to-basics interior

An all-day cafe and bistro, Shoe Shop – the latest upmarket opening on the stretch following fishmonger, butcher and kid-friendly cafe – serves coffee, breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch, with a simple post-work evening menu. Even better, it’s a wine bar and off license too. And the pedigree of the Australian chef-owner is unquestionable: Paul Merrony ran the acclaimed Giaconda Dining Rooms on Denmark Street for many years, which had a similar feel, although we were never quite wowed enough by its pared-down cooking to make it our Soho regular.

But this kind of no-fuss French bistro is a rarity in NW5, which is why the place might just hit the right note. In an age of flash new openings like Q Grill or quirky sharing plate neighbourhood haunts like Mayfields (see below), it’s a relief to be presented with a plate of something so traditional. In fact, minimalist items like “globe artichoke”, “steak tartare” and “HB eggs” (“hard boiled”, explained the smiling waiter), at least provoke interaction.


Chicken liver pate and baked mushrooms

We shared two starters: chicken liver pate, as silky as a parfait, was understated yet held quiet sway over pleasantly chewy slices of lightly toasted baguette. Baked mushrooms, meanwhile, bobbed about on a sea of butter, sweet and meaty with rich garlicky blobs of sauce. After a self-imposed post-holiday week of light salads, this was all starting to feel pretty naughty, especially with a smooth chilled Beaujolais in tow.

So yes, the food is simple, rustic, hearty: a main of “leg of lamb steak” arrived capped with honey-sweet roast tomatoes and swimming in parsley butter, but the meat, though pink, was a tad tough. And the jury’s out on straw potatoes generally: what’s the point of them?

The best dish was, predictably enough, a Gallic classic. Billed merely as “rib-eye steak”, it arrived juicily medium-rare and smothered with a luxuriously creamy shallot and green peppercorn sauce. Frites? Perfect. The plate was suitably fought over; licked clean.

For the duration of our visit – a spontaneous decision, after a pint at the Junction on a dreary grey evening – a stream of couples and passers-by stopped at the menu in the window, furrowed their brows and moved on. Sure, it’s only been open a fortnight, but we were surprised to see just two other tables were occupied. Yet our experience was still more than convivial, and we lingered, enjoying the lively parade of pedestrians up and down Fortess Road.

Understated is not the word: Shoe Shop
Elegant: exterior, Shoe Shop. Pic: Stephen Emms

The subtlety of the operation extends to the website too: there’s no phone or email, just a menu and address. My only concern is that the whole thing is simply too low-key, although isn’t that a strength too? And next time, I’d try brunch or something lighter, more summery: house-smoked haddock with beetroot and creamed onion, perhaps, or a grilled lemon sole with salad, both of which were chalked up on the specials blackboard.

So let’s support them and hope the concept works; it really needs to be a word-of-mouth hit to survive. And to all those who frequent Stingray, Nuraghe and Lalibela, shake things up a bit and try this one out. It’s worth it.

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Kentishtowner Rating 7/10. Starters £6, mains £11-16.50. House wine £18. Open 9am to 9pm daily and 4pm at weekends. 122a Fortess Road NW5
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  • Show Comments

  • Jacky Kitching

    Was really interested to read about Shoe Shop – thanks for the info. As a big BIG fan of Giaconda Dining Room over the years I now can’t wait to try this place. Welcome to Kentish Town!

  • Steel Elephant

    Thanks a lot for the article about Shoe Shop. The “problem” which you describe as “low-key” may have its root in what the place was before Shoe Shop, a rather shabby dodgy eat in. So the customer profile has now changed entirely, i.e. it will take some time that people notice that it’s not the old place but a lovely French bistro.

    Incredible how Fortess Road has transformed within just a couple of months. Hey, we have even a fishmonger!

  • Martin

    Yes, things are looking up – another bloody cafe/bistro. A real shoe shop would be much more useful.

  • Andrew Crudgington

    Have a strong feeling this will go the same way as the Cardigan Club Cafe place across the road. It seems to be falling between 2 stools so may struggle to suck up either the evening crowd who fill out Lalibella and Spaghetti house or the coffee and cake mob who seem to ensuring that Bear and Wolf has been rammed ever since it opened. And who can say no to the Turkish Breakfast at Cinnamon Village!

  • Mad Dog

    I’m inclined to agree with Andrew Crudgington and they are doing themselves no favours with the name. Most of the restaurants in Fortess Road (including the Junction) have been closed at lunchtime since the beginning of the recession and with the demise of Cardigan Club Cafe, Shoe Shop will need a lot of luck.

  • Nick J

    Here’s a great idea. Let’s give a new local business a bit of support. Maybe even (don’t all gasp at once) give it a chance before slagging it off.

    Sometimes I think we deserve all our pound shops.

  • Rusty

    Hear hear Nick J. Lighten up people, doesn’t need luck it needs your support! Went last night and loved it

  • dee

    I was one of the couples passing by and perusing the menu last night. Just because I then didn’t go in and eat doesn’t mean I won’t be back, just means I wasn’t looking for a meal out last night. The menu did look intriguing and we will definitely go and eat when we’re up for a dinner out, it looked like a nice place.

    And agree that that strip of the road has been totally transformed, as someone who’s lived around there for a while (while it’s been a bit of a dump) it’s quite exciting.

  • Graham Porter

    Had a truly excellent meal in Shoe Shop last night. Another welcome addition to the area.
    And, on a positive note, every table was full and they were turning people away.
    Great food, very reasonably priced.
    A very good Picpoul too!
    Couldn’t recommend it more highly.

  • Neil

    I’m all for being nice, but had a look when walking past it today and I must say that it doesn’t exactly look like any kind of French bistro in France I’ve ever seen, whether “no fuss” or not (and while I’m fine with Fortress Rd it’s hardly somewhere I like to while away the day people-watching). However good the food may be, it’s not at all cheap from the figures cited above, and I know a lot of nicer looking restaurants across London where you can get a really good meal for less at a lower price. Same with the Bear & Wolf (or Wolf & Bear, I forget) – it’s all very nice, but bloody expensive – at least there they’ve gone to a bit of an effort with the place to make it kid-friendly. Sorry to be negative, but it looks like Fortress Rd is getting filled with superfluous/luxury places – I’d be amazed if they survive long. If they do, it’s gentrification, FTW!

    • Angie B

      I agree with Neil. I don’t really like what has happened to the high street over the past year. Tufnell Park seems like a less vibrant place than it was when I moved here two and a half years ago. First came Cardigan Club where you could pay around £7 for what was essentially a huge bowl of rice, and now Bear and Wolf where a loaf of bread will set you back £5.50. I haven’t been to Shoe Shop but the menu does look disappointing and the interior cold; I am capable of making my own hard boiled eggs. Don’t get me started on Bunny Little’s Bakery. That said not all new additions have been bad – Ruby Violet is brilliant. And there is a place near Archway – Trattoria Terra which has brilliant food, real person portion sizes for very reasonable prices considering the level of attention and care put into it. It’s run by the guy who used to cook at Junction Tavern. And Two Doors Down on KTR has also put a high level detail into their offerings and is excellent.

  • gingerbbm

    Looking forward to trying Shoe Shop, but let’s not diss the previous occupants so readily. Had many an affordable and tasty Full English in there, and the welcome was ALWAYS warm and friendly.

  • Rose Wild

    I dropped in for Saturday brunch after reading this review – best eggs florentine ever, fresh squeezed orange juice, flat white – all delicious and lovely friendly service. Hooray

  • Sam B

    I popped in for brunch and it was fine. While the eggs royale was better than average, something about the place lacks warmth/effort. Prices for breakfast were fine but lunch was expensive – £17.50 for one of the lunch specials – especially considering how low-effort the place looks. It was nice to try it out but I would not be in a rush to return.

  • PrinceofWalesDaniel

    Looks like Fortess Road is set to become even more of a foodie destination:

  • caro

    1-I dont mind paying for good food, but this is full of mayonnaise and nowhere near genuine French classics 2 Decor is so poor that atmosphere is just freezng. Great idea all around- badly interpreted. Such a disapointment.

  • SK

    We have eaten here now on a number of occasions. The food is excellent, great quality and really fresh and well conceived. I did n’t think of it as a french bistro but more Italian in most of its dishes.The wine list is good and the coffee is the best we have had in the local area. The service has always been warm and welcoming and I like the simplicity of its decor . This is a great addition to the area and we will be supporting it.

  • Andy Andy

    The food at Shoe Shop is fine but for really excellent food and reasonable prices try Trattoria Terra, run by the guy who used to chef at the Junction Tavern and his wife. Additionally they serve a proper dinner (portion sizes are what a normal, healthy person would eat.) The atmosphere is very warm, the decor is well thought out (shows effort) and the service is friendly. It’s not one of these failed Soho places but I’d say a truly outstanding effort at a local restaurant.

  • Al

    We did give this a chance, but won’t be going back. Nothing particularly bad about it, just less than the sum of its parts if that makes sense.

    My wife, son and I went there for a lunch on our way to a day out. The service was awkward – all our questions were greeted with a baffled expression – as if we’re ignorant or stupid. Our question about the pasta – whether we can have a small child portion was greeted with a passive aggressive “I am sorry, I can’t do it” until we worked out that it was actually a kids portion (not explained on the menu, not explained by the water).

    I was after something light, so I ordered the herb omelette which was £7.50 for a two egg omelette which was too runny. My partner’s eggs royale were pretty good, but on the expensive side. My sons pasta was overcooked and the tomato sauce was pretty spicy for a child.

    Maybe we ordered badly, but the staff’s attitude didn’t makes us feel particularly welcome, and that sort of clinched it. Sure the menu looks interesting and there are things I’d like to try, but if I wanted to spend £80 on a dinner out, I think I’d rather go somewhere warmer/friendlier – many places with similar menus around.

    Sadly, it seems a lot of the new places in the area have a similar attitude – we make wonderful food, come and admire us, and if you don’t like it or ask questions, you just don’t get it!

  • T.Owen

    I have eaten at Shoe Shop several times now. What a beautiful paradox: a local, neighbourhood restaurant with truly world class dining. They don’t tend to offer special treatment for regulars but if you’re familiar with the staff, which I am, and frequent the restaurant enough, which I do, they can put you on a VIP list, which I am on. I’ve introduced a lot of my friends to Shoe Shop, including Lord Macdonald and Philipe Sands QC, and they now swear by it. However, I’m reluctant to gush too much over it, since it would be a shame if the restaurant became overcrowded or necessitated queuing (however as I mentioned I’m on the VIP list, so the latter shouldn’t be a problem)

    To summarise: elegant cooking with a twist of class. Vive la naissance de la cuisine de Tufnell Park.

    • Florence

      T.Owen, are you for real?!

    • Ash

      What a brilliant review. Lets not take things too seriously and have a good time.

  • Hugonius

    Cheap chairs which look like they’re from ikea. Feels sterile and cold

  • Steve

    Great brunch, poor service.

  • masteroftheceremonies

    Why isn’t it open on Sundays? Seems a missed oportunity as Fortess road is so busy on sundays.

  • lmjakob

    It’s called Shoe Shop. Seriously. This isn’t Dalston.

  • tn

    Wow – what a load of old moaning minnies on this thread!! I can’t take the criticisms here seriously – are you interested in eating good food and encouraging a dynamic neighbourhood? Or wishing everything was BLTs and junkies?

    This is an incredible restaurant and we are blessed to have it on our doorstep. I’ve eaten breakfast here and it was incredible, and we ate an astounding meal last night which really truly gives the neighbourhood a kick up the butt in the quality-stakes. And they barely even put a mark-up on their wines, which means you can drink (as we did) truly amazing wines (which you’ll never find at Majestic) at nearly retail prices.

    This place is God-Sent! Looking forward to Lunch.

  • RF&BR

    First the food – Saturday lunch interesting menu (not your usual belly of pork etc) did not disappoint, superbly cooked and delicious sauces. Desserts a perfect ending, excellent tea and coffee.
    Service – informative speedy and friendly. Exceptionally helpful to a wheelchair user and with an internal disabled access ramp. Will be back soon!