Pablo Flack and David Waddington are no strangers to high concept dining. Having established themselves as a new breed of aesthetically savvy restaurateurs – their East London dining room and performance venue Bistrotheque is still going strong after eight years – the pair were also pioneers of the temporary dining experience in the UK. From their 88* dinner in a disused Canary Wharf office building, to their summer pop-up project at a car park overlooking the Olympic Park, they have a knack for turning seemingly unfit spaces into imaginative dining venues.
When Waddington and Flack were approached to transform the King’s Cross Filling Station into a temporary restaurant, they jumped at the chance to bring a touch of kitschy glamour to the area’s new, vast development. And so several months ago Shrimpy’s was born, with attendant bronze palm trees, cacti, napkin rings, wall stencils, and stylised pineapples. Meeting with Waddington over a couple of Shrimpy’s Fizzes (Cachaça, pineapple, sugar, mint, lime juice and cava) he tells us about the woman who is the inspiration behind it all: the formidable (albeit imaginary) Shrimpy.
“Shrimpy is a woman of a certain age with an interesting past,” he explains. “She’s a little bit camp and has worked in the entertainment industry in one way or another for years. Originally from England, Shrimpy moved to the States and now lives in Palm Springs, Florida. She’s also a pineapple canning heiress. It’s a background story that’s fun and helped us plan the space.”
"Shrimpy is a woman of a certain age with an interesting past. She’s a little bit camp and has worked in the entertainment industry in one way or another for years."
Provided with an outline of Shrimpy’s character, artist Donald Urquhart was able to create imagery for the restaurant walls that were “based on Shrimpy’s totems, the people she’s known, and the things she would like. So we have Jackie O but it’s the Warholesque version because Shrimpy would quite like the ideas of commerce and power behind it. We’ve also got Maria Callas and Liz Taylor up there, Louise Brooks and Dorothy Parker.”
As well as the formidable Shrimpy, Waddington and Flack were also inspired by their own trips through America, and the cosy King’s Cross space is akin to a glammed-up gas station diner. “It’s like somewhere you could stop off on your way through the desert on a road trip,” says Waddington. “We knew we needed to shield ourselves from the road and make it a little bit secret. Also we wanted to keep the iconic roof, so we added neon to the top, referencing artists like Ed Ruscha, and also the iconic gas stations in Palm Springs and LA.”
For the menu, Waddington says they wanted to build dishes that “somebody would have as their repertoire at home; it’s a very personal cookbook.” To start we have the firm but supple veal hearts with chorizo and caper dressing, as well as the smoked trout with fried onions, avocado and chipotle. Like many of the dishes, the latter is informed by a melting pot of Americana, as is the now-famous Shrimpy’s soft shell crab burger, deep fried but still delicate, or the humita, a hearty and subtly sweet corn dish based on a traditional Native American recipe, which, like all the best comfort food, is slightly rough around the edges. Another highlight is the pork and cornmeal scrapple with chicory and coriander slaw – worthy of a mid-western Sunday supper.
Having started out as a dinner spot only, Shrimpy’s is now serving brunch daily from 11am to 4pm. Their ‘Egg Card’ menu features smoked trout with rosti, poached egg, avocado and watercress, and tortilla de patata with fried green tomatoes and salsa. And for a more casual, non-reservation option, Homeslice pizza continues to serve up delicious, thin-crust pizza and beer on draft in the Shrimpy’s forecourt on the canal. Waddington tells us that they’re likely to stay in King’s Cross for another two years or so, at which point he and Flack will no doubt be ready for their next portfolio project – if not sooner.
Text by Ananda Pellerin