Saturday 24th June, 2017 – The London Shell Company, Regent’s Canal, London
There’s been quite a bit of buzz around the London Shell Company of late, with reviewers including Jay Rayner (whose opinion I value) loving it, and Michel Roux Jr featuring it in his Hidden Restaurants programme. For Saturday evenings the barge heads off along the Regents Park canal, so you have to be there in time, you have to book (and pay for your dinner) in advance, and you have to accept that the earliest you will be back is around 10:30. This is proper slow food in every sense of the term. Oh and you’ll be having the set menu and it will be fish.
A trip to London to see Macbeth provided a good excuse to book a table, and we duly turned up for journey on the Prince Regent barge (with a sign outside saying “In Cod We Trust”) at our the appointed departure time of 19:30. The space inside is bigger than you might expect, with some pretty basic chairs and tables, including some on the front end of the boat under a canopy.
We were given a safety briefing by the lovely Leah (basically if the boat sinks the canal is only around waist deep so you just walk to the side!) and then aperitifs of Kingston Black, a fortified cider made in deepest Somerset by certifiable – and certifiably wonderful – cider and cider brandy maker Julian Temperley, were distributed.
We had contacted the establishment in advance because they tend to produce oysters as a starter and none of our party like oysters so instead we were given deep-fried cheese balls, which were properly crunchy and properly cheesy. My only complaint was I would have liked the whole serving to myself! It would have also been nice to have the angel hair fries that were served to those who were having the Carlingford oysters. Still, you can’t win them all, and they were very efficient and easy about getting the change made.
The next course was also something of a starter rather than a main, with skate knobs, served with home-made salad cream. It was good, the skate taking the crumb coating well and retaining its essential fishy nature. I hate Heinz salad cream with a passion; it’s vile stuff and probably best used to lubricate bicycle parts rather than to eat. This was lovely, with a hint of vinegar but smooth as silk and tasty.
As we cruised through Little Venice, and past Camden Lock and on towards Primrose Hill we continued to eat and drink well. The next course was a delicately cured salmon and trout, the flesh pale pink, served up with pickled cucumber slices. It was a seasonal delight to eat on a sunny summer evening, so it was a bit of a shame that it was dark, gloomy and on the edge of torrential downpour. There were added pickled radishes as well, and a bowl of unadvertised but not unappreciated fresh peas with a scattering of pinenuts. Lynne picked out the pinenuts and ignored the peas!
The main course was next up, by which time we were heading back towards the Maida Hill tunnel, past some seriously expensive real estate. We were momentarily distracted from the cod fillet, which came with an accompanying courgette, herbs and white beans. The bean haters (not me) picked the herbs and courgette bits out and I happily ate the beans along with the lovely translucent flakes of cod.
It was good and it got even better when dessert arrived. It was a summer fruit bonanza of a syllabub, with gooseberry compote and pistachios.
It was a very good end to a meal and despite the offered cheese course (Somerset Ragstone with apricots and crackers at a £5 supplement) we decided we would just finish off the wine and then leave.
With the fish we drank a bottle of Perles de Folie sparkling wine from the Loire Valley. And very pleasing it was too.
We followed it with a bottle of Flor de Maio from Alentejano in Portugal. It went very well with the cod and the beans and wasn’t too bad with the sharpness of the gooseberry compote either.
It was thoroughly enjoyable voyage of discovery and I would certainly do it again. The staff are delightful, the kitchen is in full view at one end of the boat, and they can’t do enough to make sure you are happy and comfortable.