North London Food & Culture

London Shell Co

London Shell Co, Swain’s Lane: “sensational fish dishes” – review

The first bricks-and-mortar affair from Paddington's floating restaurant ticks every box, says Stephen Emms

Seven long years ago, we wrote a paean to the watery arrival of London Shell Co, a floating seafood restaurant at Paddington Basin helmed by a brother-sister duo, Harry and Leah Lobek (read the original review here).

Now the North London siblings not only run two dining barges, but earlier this year they launched a land-lubbed fish-shop-cum-restaurant in the new parade on Swain’s Lane near Hampstead Heath.

London Shell Co
Chalkboard menu. London Shell Co. Photos: SE

To be honest it had been on our hitlist for months, and on a chilly midweek evening we finally swung by. First impressions? Cute lights illuminating the pavement tables, and a calm space within, its clean-slab functionality as fishmonger by day visible, with both sharing and smaller tables in the vogueish candlelit space.

There’s an open kitchen, a couple of chalkboards – one for food, one with wines by the glass and cocktails – plus a fridge heaving with bottles to drink in or take out. Jazz tinkles away, as if you’re in a Hollywood movie on that anticipatory first date (as it so happens, I was dining with the ex).


London Shell Co
Salmon crudo and potted cod’s head. London Shell Co. Photo: SE

Its duality as both seafood bar and fishmonger is at the heart of its simplicity. The daily changing menu comprises just a few cold and hot plates, as well as a couple of sides, headed up by Grace Bryson, former sous chef on The Grand Duchess (LSC’s static barge).

From the outset the hits popped: a couple of Irish oysters from Carlingford in Ireland were plump and creamy, while salmon crudo was deceptively flavoursome, its slices of ruby fish paired with orange segments, fiery blobs of date sauce adding hits of heat. Better still was the spicy potted cod’s head, the meat simmered for 25 minutes, mixed with capers, red onion and plenty of chilli, as well as notes of milder, peppery mace.

London Shell Co
Wow: ray wing sobrasada. London Shell Co. Photo: SE

Without turning this into a full-blown rave, mains scored even higher. Ray wing with sobrasada (raw, cured sausage) was “like a kebab”, explained our affable server Eliza, on a home-made flatbread that made you want to scoop it up in one (dutifully we shared it). Umami heaven.

But the outright winner? A slab of pearly white cod fillet lounging on sprout tops on a whorl of silken jerusalem artichoke puree (pictured below), with sides of fashionable crispy confit potatoes and a hunk of charred king cabbage. A nibble of post-prandial Santa Gadea cheese finished things off perfectly (the sweet-of-tooth can also opt for a fresh apple slice).

London Shell Co
Mains at London Shell Co. Photo: SE

A note on the wine: this feels refreshingly well-priced for the area, with this season’s Beaujolais Nouveau – gamay being a perfect companion to the light seafood dishes – just £6.50 a glass (as is, incredibly, a gin and tonic).

Even a negroni comes in at £9, almost unheard-of these days with the £12+ cocktail standard at most local restaurants and cocktail bars, especially in this affluent part of North London.

London Shell Co
London Shell Co: seductive exterior. Photo: SE

“Even though we have strong sea legs, we’ve wanted to open a bricks and mortar site for many years,” says Harry by email. “We love this area and we felt it could use a little restaurant like ours, so to be able to combine the two concepts is a dream come true. If you know us, you know that our dishes are beautiful and that we’re bon vivants who love our wine and socialising. This is exactly the vibe we are going for with Swain’s Lane.”

He’s not wrong: in short, these are simple – and sensational – fish dishes presented beautifully. In fact, this was, rather effortlessly, one of my favourite meals in the neighbourhood this year.

London Shell Co is open Tuesday – Sundays for lunch and Wednesday to Saturdays for supper, find out more here. Unit 4, Sonny Heights, Swain’s Ln, London N6 6AG @londonshellco

Kentishtowner were guests of London Shell Co. Stephen Emms writes about food & travel for The Guardian, Sunday Times, Time Out, Rough Guides and more.

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