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What's on the menu? Shrimpy's may not serve amazing food but it's still a hit with the critics

16 July 2012 by
What's on the menu? Shrimpy's may not serve amazing food but it's still a hit with the critics

11 July
The food may not be its strong point but Marina O'Loughlin loves Shrimpy's, London N1, nonetheless because its sense of fun is a ray of sunshine
The crowd is edgy scenesters d'un certain age: think Brix Smith Start, Princess Julia and Jefferson Hack. I'm convinced that's Jodie Harsh on one of the banquettes. Owner Waddington, dashing in a boiler suit, table hops among his chums. But it's not sniffy or elitist: staff - whose white-jacketed look suggests the waiters in LA's Musso & Franks have mated with Kid Creole and his Coconuts - are friendly, clued-up and cute. 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. Styling itself "Calexican" - the kind of Mexican flavours, Cali health freak ingredients mash-up you find in sun-drenched places such as Solana Beach or Pacific Palisades - it hasn't quite got the courage of its convictions. Chicharrón are less the puffy, Quaver-like pork rinds of Latin America and more good old, tooth-challenging Brit crackling. Nice guacamole dip, though. There's ceviche with more avocado (there's a lot of avo) and somewhat cardboardy fried plantains. Nobody seems to know what the fish is; I'm guessing sea bass but it's hard to tell through its over-limed leche de tigre dressing.
Rating: 3/5
Price: A meal for two with cocktails, water and service costs about £110

The Times
14 July
Giles Coren has a nightmare getting to Shrimpy's, London N1, the new restaurant from the people behind Bistrotheque in a former petrol station, and finds the food little more than tolerable
The style was New Age tapas-y Californian Tuscan British Mexican, obviously, and most of the mouthfuls I had were tolerable. Roasted calamari with a powerful tapenade was ballsy and exciting; veal heart sliced thin and dressed with chorizo and capers was unusual, light, well-balanced, fun; ceviche was a feeble muesli of white fish; tuna tostada was clean and well-constructed and colourful, like a Leon wrap unpackaged and put on a plate; salt cod croquettes were small, dense, crunchy approachable little snacks. As for the mains, I had most of an octopus, decapitated and draped over potatoes, seasoned with paprika - tasty, but very rich, quite slimy, and possibly in need of a little daintification. Florence had the softshell crab burger, which she adored and said was "exactly what I came for", but which I thought was terrifying: 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.
Score: 5.67
Price: Expensive. £50 per head even without booze or £9 non-alcoholic cocktails

The Sunday Times
15 July
AA Gill says Shrimpy's, London N1, is the place to be, even though you might not be able to get a table
I started with corn chowder - it was as sweet as tinned, and coarse. Michael liked his veal heart and said it was just like his mother used to make (which was a lie). Ceviche was rough, as if it had been chewed into bits rather than cut, but there was great pleasure in the humita, a dish of boiled corn that is surprisingly rare in King's Cross, but particularly touched the pangs of the Blonde. 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. A chocolate sundae rinsed the tastes from our mouths, and hibiscus lemonade was almost worth coming for all on its own. The real dude moment was the soft shell crab burger. Burgers are so very, very now. They are deeply Kardashian: you can stuff anything between those warm buns, so why not a naked crab, fried deep, dressed with mayo and hotness? The first mouthful was unctuously plosive, and before you could say, "Ay, caramba!", the second was down your shirt and into your lap. This dish was let down by its engineering, and might have been more fun if either I or the crab still took drugs.
Rating: 4/5

The Guardian
14 July
Bob Granleese says Steve Smith at the Freemasons at Wiswell near Clitheroe, Lancashire, is a talented chef who knows when to rein himself in to avoid scaring off the locals
It's one thing to write a menu that pulls you in; it's another to pull it off. And, by and large, Smith passes the test. That sweetbread dish, say, had the tongue-fizzing, metallic tang you get from only the freshest offal, plus a bosky ragout offset by the crunch of a panko'd egg that oozed daringly soft-cooked white and golden yolk; the vaguely mushroomy foam that topped the lot, though, was a fussy touch too far. It would have been nice to have been warned that my mushroom starter off the set was the exact same dish minus the lambs' glands, but it's not as if I left any. Mains weren't helped by turning up on those daft rectangular plates that cooks use to showcase their "serious chef" credentials, but are an annoying affectation to the rest of us, especially in a bloody pub. Roast English rose veal was three thick slices of gratifyingly chewy (non-sous-vide?), well-flavoured meat with what came billed as "French-style peas" but were more wipe-the-plate-with-your-finger-good posh mushy peas.
Price: A la carte, about £40 a head

The Independent on Sunday
15 July
Amol Rajan finds fine food, good wine and a dazzling interior at 28°-50° Marylebone, London W1, the latest venture from chef sommelier duo Agnar Sverrisson and Xavier Rousset
Naturally, there are some thumpingly good wines, the sort that transport you to nurtured soils in hot foreign climes, and don't give you a hangover the next day. Some of it you might even consider affordable on a very special occasion. Peter, who I've come with, knows more than most sommeliers, and he says the 2010 Saint-Joseph (£45) is surprisingly good value for the centre of town. The menu is short and Sverrissonism is more obvious in some places (Icelandic fish stew with béarnaise and rye bread, £14.50) than others. Each course - salads and soup, starters, mains, the grill, and desserts - boasts five options, and there are four sharing plates and cheeses, too. The best of the first bunch is a delightful gazpacho (£5.95) with roast tomato, cucumber, sherry vinegar and cumin, poured over a smart little group of roast tomatoes, olives, and iceberg lettuce. The gazpacho is rich and acidic, and its accompaniment is good enough to suggest that there is a point to lettuce after all.
Rating: 8/10
Price: About £110 for two, including wine

The Sunday Telegraph
8 July
Justine Picardie says Darroch Learg, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, is discreet, comfortable and warmly inviting
I lucked out with the best of our selection: pan-fried Loch Fyne scallops with a curried cauliflower purée, apple shallot vinaigrette and a delicate pakora. It might sound a palaver, but the chef's ambition was justified: the combination of spicy flavours with a tart dressing somehow complementing the fresh scallops, rather than overwhelming them. My main course of fillet of Scotch beef was slightly less inspired, although enjoyable enough to ensure that I ate all of it, along with the wild-mushroom tortellini, beetroot and horseradish relish, and a rich red-wine and oxtail sauce (in fact, it was probably too much of a good thing: all very dark and woodsy and intensely flavoured, when I could have done with a smidgen of green). P felt the same about his loin of Deeside venison with goats' cheese gnocchi, port-wine red cabbage and an additional piece of pastry-wrapped haunch that almost defeated him. T's breast of duck was less monumental, with clean-tasting celeriac purée, pak-choi and puy lentils, and he seemed not to mind the reappearance of celeriac as an ingredient.
Rating: 4/5
Price: Three courses, £42.50

The Daily Telegraph
10 July
Matthew Norman finds the chef's clever cooking is marred by the confused delivery and surroundings at Tom Aikens Restaurant, London SW3
If the ensuing meal hinted at the confusion of mind apparent from the walls, with the paring down of the faine daining experience (no silly amuse-bouche) undermined by lurches into wild pretension (see the sea trout, below), there was no doubting the sublime talent of the chef. "A wonderfully fresh taste, and incredibly clever," said my friend of his jasmine-cured salmon with pickled apple, jasmine flowers and jasmine oil, which arrived under a dome. "Just when you think you've defined it as sweet, it becomes tart. Elusive, sophisticated one of the nicest things I've ever eaten." This friend is not the most reliable of arbiters, in truth, his uncanny record of lavishly praising places which close within a week having earned him the nickname "The Angel of Death". But he was right about the salmon, and again in greeting a taste of my pig's trotter - served in a crispy, crunchy rectangle with a colourful medley of morels, crayfish and a pheasant's egg, and exploding with intense, enveloping porcine flavour - with "fantastic, fantastic".
Rating: 3.5/5
Price: Three course à la carte, with wine and coffee, £80 to £90 per head

The London Evening Standard
12 July
Modern Greek restaurant Mazi in Notting Hill has some standout dishes but the native wine list is more illuminating, finds Fay Maschler
The standout dish at dinner, feta tempura with lemon marmalade and caper meringue from the section Hot Plates, read absurdly but was beautifully crafted and deep-fried by a master. Prawn "saganaki", not presented in the eponymous ceramic casserole, did celebrate the unlikely success of pairing shellfish and smoked cheese (Metsovone). Signature dishes were less alluring. Ingredients presented as trios joined up with smears of purée seem even more old hat than jars and slates. A small chunk of saddle of lamb accompanied by braised shoulder in flaky pastry - resembling, said my wee Glaswegian pal, a Scotch pie - served on a slate was, however, better than the truncated slice of lacklustre pork fillet and two cubes of pork belly with cep purée chosen at lunch. Its £19 charge for basically low-protein costs was an additional irritant. Fish soup (kakavia) with cubes of root vegetables so uniform they spoke of frozen or tinned and tasteless strands of white fish in a bland stock was a travesty of what should be the culmination of the catch. It was ordered at lunch, which seems a pale imitation of dinner in cooking skills as well as efficient service.
Rating: 3/5
Price: A la carte, a meal for two with water and wine, about £125

By Kerstin Kühn

E-mail your comments to Kerstin Kühn](mailto:kerstin.kuhn@rbi.co.uk) here.

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