Friday, 17 August 2012

Burger madness at Shrimpy's

The Shrimpy's soft shell crab burger
You gotta get a gimmick, Gypsy Rose was told all those years ago.  London's restaurants are still heeding this advice too in an effort to stand out and attract the punters. It seems to be working if the queues at places like Burger & Lobster, Flat Iron or Tramshed are anything to go by where the gimmick, obviously, is the one or two trick menu. I'm not saying that gimmicks are bad, it's just that some do it better than others. B&L, which I really like, was so successful it has spawned a Soho sibling and another is on the way in Farringdon. So, what's a new restaurant to do to get on our radar but jump on the gimmick train. This brings us to Shrimpy's and its soft shell crab burger. I mean, London is awash with burgers at the moment with new places opening up quicker than you can yell "order up". But so far there's been a relative dearth of seafood burgers (fish fingers excepted), so if there's an unexploited niche then you might as well fill it, right? So how does Shrimpy's fare with its foodie gimmick?

Sadly the burger sounds better than it tastes and looks, which is like a heart attack on a plate. The overwhelming odour of stale chip fat wafting from the plate when this monstrosity was placed in front of me instantly reminded of drunken pit-stops at Mr Fish opposite Queen's Park tube station where I generally stop for a late night fix of fat-soaked fish and chips to mop up excess alcohol in a vain attempt to ward off an impending hangover. That smell was the primary flavour here too. I think it is actually an ingredient - when I pressed down on a spidery crab leg, a slick of oil emerged which was not an entirely pleasant sight.

To make this a 16 quid (!) burger, Shrimpy's smear some guacamole over the fried crustacean and drizzle over a spicy tomato relish before topping with little gem lettuce leaves and wedging it all between a pretty tasty bun. I usually love a good soft shell crab, especially in a Vietnamese style, so I was disheartened by this take and I suggest you avoid tasting it. If you're curious, you'll still be able to smell it from the other tables.
Roasted calamari, black olive tapenade
But put the gimmick to one side, and you will be rewarded with some, but only some, quite excellent dishes. We started with "roasted calamari, black olive tapenade" and "sweetcorn chowder, salsa, sour cream". Although obviously fried rather than roasted (pan roasted is the euphemism isn't it?) the calamari were beautifully textured with a light but crispy batter studded with fennel seeds to accompany the shavings of fennel which made up part of a small salad. The drizzle of tapenade gave a lovely salty tang to the dish. I could have happily ordered another plate of this.
Sweetcorn chowder, salsa, sour cream
The chowder on the other hand was a watery under-seasoned mess. No stock had come near this thin soup and it was all the worse for it. There was a hint of chilli from the salsa, but the chowder needed salt to bring out the rather subtle corn flavour.

Apart from the nightmare of the soft shell crab burger, we ordered the "Scrapple, chicory and coriander 'slaw" which was the cheapest main on the menu at 10.50. I'm glad we asked what scrapple is because it was delicious. It's basically a hash made with meat trimmings, and Shrimpy's uses pork belly in its version. It's fried to give a crispy exterior with a still slightly mushy centre. The crunchy slaw had a great smoky chipotle dressing.  We went with a side of humita, which is a creamed sweet corn and was a perfect match. The humita bowl was basically licked clean.
Scrapple, chicory and coriander slaw
For dessert, I thought I'd try the fresh sounding "Pineapple crisps, mascarpone cream, raspberries and mint". After a mouthful or two into this and I flagged down a staff member to ask where the mint was. I couldn't see any (have a look at the picture below and tell me if you see any green flecks) and I couldn't taste any either. The helpful staff went to the chef who assured them there was mint with the macerated raspberries. Not being in the mood to argue over a few chopped leaves of mint, the dessert was OK. But it could have been so much better with just a hint of the stuff!
Pineapple crisps, mascarpone cream, raspberries, mint
Mr B went with the "Chocolate brownie and pistachio sundae" which pretty much tasted as good as it sounds if you like chocolate desserts. This concoction consisted of chocolate ice cream, vanilla bean ice cream and crushed pistachios topped with chocolate brownies and a drizzle of chocolate sauce. In other words, it was a calorie bomb. I guess you have to be a lover of chocolate to fully appreciate these flavours.
Chocolate brownie and pistachio sundae
We spent a leisurely lunch at Shrimpy's on a fairly grey Saturday. It's a smaller venue than I thought it would be and it has a temporary air about it even though it's meant to be a two year pop up. Maybe it's the sparsely decorated thin-looking walls with kitsch stencilled references to the likes of Jackie O and Liberace.  Service was efficient and friendly although it wasn't particularly busy when we were there, but that was before the reviews of Giles and Gill emerged, so it may have changed now. The seats at the bar are kept for walk-ins if you're in the mood for some scrapple.

Shrimpy's is an odd place to categorise. Urbanspoon file it under American and Mexican, although there are nods to South America in there too with dishes like humita and others on the menu. I guess given the location, it had to have a "signature dish" and the soft shell crab burger was enough to entice me out to the back of Kings Cross station where the footfall from hungry diners is probably not the heaviest, especially on weekends. If you do go, and I'm on the fence as to whether I would recommend it given the few hits and many misses, avoid the expensive gimmick and stick with some simple homestyle dishes and you'll be rewarded well enough for your intrepid orienteering.

Shrimpy's on Urbanspoon Square Meal

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