A month later and Shrimpy’s still feels like a dream. Everything about my visit to the summer’s most hyped restaurant seems a fictional memory or an elaborate trick from some nefarious third party, as if the whole place was a set piece from some 2012 sequel to The Game. In retrospect it just doesn’t seem like it really happened.
It’s just such a surreal place. It’s conjured in old petrol station in that infamous clubbers memory-vacuum behind Kings Cross; cacti sprout by stencil-specked walls and lamps are made of pineapples; sea kelp moisturiser is dispensed in temporary toilets seemingly transported last minute from backstage at V Festival. Our waiter sported a pencil tache, a white lab coat and a French accent and took our orders on an iPad. I thought at one point I might slip into a daze and wake the following morning in the harsh morning sun in an abandoned forecourt wondering what happened. I didn’t though; it’s just a restaurant.
The food, focussing on improbably upscale dishes of rural Americana with nods to Mexico and Peru, was equally dreamy. Their signature soft-shell crab burger was a bundle of benign claws smashed into avocado, creamy and gooey and best shared with someone else. I split crabby with scrapple and a sharp chicory and coriander slaw. Scrapple is a rural American breakfast staple of Dutch origins featuring porcine scraps and trimmings mushed up with flour and then pan-fried. It’s popular with the Amish community and as healthy as it sounds, but of course this was the polite, polished version and a long way from its roots.
Both monkfish and octopus drew appreciative gasps from the other side of the table while the tuna tostada was near perfect. The dish has been decreed “as chewy as an old toenail” by one reviewer who clearly needs to start eating theirs straight from the foot. Sides were simple; a green salad and fries lived up to their billing while both the sweet caramelized onion and creole salsas lasted about two minutes tabletop.
Shrimpy’s is undoubtedly a zeitgeisty place. It serves buzzy food in an up-and-coming area and its architects Carmody Groarke are fresh from the Frieze and a Barbican Bauhaus show. So inevitably its clientele is chic and even more predictably this is deemed a bad thing. The Evening Standard branded its customers “fashiontossers” while someone on the Metro’s site offered “strang-esters”, which means apparently “strange scenesters”. It seems a bit unnecessary.
Sure, Lily Cole was there on our visit, only separated from us by a person with seashells for rings and a guy who had seemingly ironed his cap peak, but so what? In fact, as people who care deeply about the aesthetics of facial hair or fixed wheel bikes or whatever cliché you’d care to insert they’re probably quite good arbiters of taste, and a sign of a good restaurant. Much more so than their stereotypical dining cousins the bankers.
Shrimpy’s is cute, inventive, and well aware of its own absurdity. It serves impeccable dishes for a relatively reasonable price and its carafes are shaped like penguins. It’s my favourite restaurant of the year and – as a two year pop-up in a building earmarked for demolition – it’s running on borrowed time. Go now, before it turns into dreams in London’s regenerative dust.
Price per head: You could probably swing in just under £31.75 if you steer clear of the wine.
Clientele: I think we covered that.