The British national trait of self-deprecation is way over the top. The weather isn't always terrible (despite current appearances), not all trains are delayed and the food is pretty good. We like to think we're particularly bad at big infrastructure projects, 'oh the tubes, where's the air conditioning?', 'ach the M25 is a nightmare'.
Au contraire, recently as a nation we've pulled our finger out and delivered some pretty special things. Exhibit A is the redevelopment of Kings Cross. I'm not commenting on the social impact of the redevelopment (for more on this it is worth watching BBC1's brilliant The Secret History of our Streets episode on the Caledonian Road) rather, the impressive use of land. First there was the new St Pancras terminal and the redevelopment of Gilbert Scott's stunning St Pancras Chambers, with the soaring train shed behind it. Now the redeveloped Kings Cross station has been opened, with its stunning lattice roof and cavernous ticket hall. Behind it is the redevelopment of land going almost the entire length of York Way and straddling the Regents Canal. As part of that renovation they've ensured a healthy injection of cool with the relocation of Central St Martin’s School of Design from its original home on Charing Cross Road. Also there, on an otherwise unremarkable path is Eat.St - a collective of food trucks.
Back to the Regents Canal and York Way. Let’s not beat around the bush, for most of the time London has been a major city, it has been a bit of a shit hole. I always got a thrill driving down York Way wondering if I was about to be ambushed by some modern day highwayman. It never happened, but the soulless, vast wasteland made it a distinct possibility.
The canal is nice in places, but is also rather stinky and fetid in others. As I learned while attending a couple of conferences recently at Kings Place. It is opposite Kings Place, in what was a BP petrol station, and is now called the Filling Station, that Shrimpy’s currently exists. I say currently because it is one of these longish-term pop-ups like Roganics, just popping up for a couple of years.
Perhaps it is because of this impermanence that they try to make the whole experience last longer by making accessing the place so difficult. Constructed from what looks like corrugated plastic, the entrance is cunningly located around the back, overlooking the canal, not by the road. Unhelpfully there are no signs, smoke signals or even smells (beyond the canal) to guide you along.
The restaurant itself is tiny. I would guess that at the tables they cannot sit many more than 35 people in any given sitting, with about another 8 or so at the bar. Not having booked I perched at the bar.
Being owned and run by the team behind Bistrotheque - who let's not forget also ran one of the first pop-ups in this current wave, The Reindeer - it is very cool. It's all creams, soft lighting and colourful doodles on the wall. It feels like you're walking into your idealised New York restaurant for brunch. Staff are dressed in chef's jackets that makes them look like a throw-back to Oslo Court.
Their natty attire does not seem to equate to attentive service. I was one of only three people at the bar and it was about ten minutes before anyone spotted I was there. And I’m not of the size where it is easy to miss me. Waiting did give me the opportunity to watch what was going on and it was clear that this was a very trendy crowd, or at least a crowd who remembered being trendy at some point in the late 90s. Service seemed friendly (especially if your hair was sufficiently distressed and your lip-stick a livid hue) but was also rather hectic and disorganised.
There was an air of fun to the room however and I hoped I was about to be let in on it. Unfortunately the lurching start set the tone and lunch consistently felt like it was slipping a gear.
When I eventually got a menu, water was poured into my glass (good), the water was tepid (not good). The Virgin Mary I ordered however was spicy as requested and well chilled. So they can't add ice to water, but can add horseradish to tomato juice.
A cheese and pimento toasty, from the snack menu is a delicious gooey, lightly spiced delight. Perfect ballast. If I have any complaint it's that it's not big enough - or perhaps I just wolfed it down far too quickly. And then it came stuttering to a halt again with the smoked trout salad. It was so utterly bland not much more can be said about it than it comprised of pale fish and green salad. The trout lacked flavour and it was hard to see what the point of the dish is.
There was a tuna tostada. I felt a twinge of guilt ordering this, given the problems with tuna and felt even more guilt when I ate it as the fish, like the trout, died in vain. There was none of the freshness and lightness that can make good Mexican food such a pleasure. This was just some chopped up protein on a crunchy corn crisp.
I finished with the salt cod croquettes. They were delicious - nice and crispy, not greasy, with a good flavour of the preserved fish. The croquettes were ably assisted by a delicious, but suspiciously white aioli. At the least, it ensured the meal ended on a high - relative to the lows.
There is a lot of buzz around Shrimpy's and as far as can tell, that is because the reviewers forgive the crap food for the buzz. None of the problems I had are catastrophic and perhaps once the restaurant settles down things will improve. But this restaurant is not setup by newbies. There must have been extensive menu testing before opening. I can only surmise this is more about the cool than the food. I’m all for a dose of cool, but in the end for me, it's always about the food.
Shrimpy’s, King's Cross Filling Station, Good's Way, London, N1C 4UR N1C 4UR
Tel: +44 (0)20 8880 6111
What others think
Marina O'Loughlin - "Yes, yes, I know I haven’t got to the food yet. That’s because, despite loving the restaurant, it’s the least successful element.”
AA Gill - "A hot salsa was hot and the tuna tostada was as forgettable as the Christmas sales. The octopus was like chewing condoms out of the canal."