This is no ugly sister: great cooking in humble surroundings from the couple behind the Giaconda Dining Room, who have now relocated to Tufnell Park.
Few restaurants have won such adoration as Giaconda Dining Room, the precursor of Shoe Shop, which debuted on the edge of Covent Garden in 2008 like Cinderella arriving at the ball. Everyone agreed that the pumpkin-sized place with unflashy decor, run by a couple of no-nonsense Aussies, served bloody brilliant food. Months later it received the coveted Time Out Eating & Drinking Award for Best New Restaurant of the year.
Chef Paul Merrony had worked in top-ranked French restaurants and absorbed the cooking culture of France and Italy so completely you’d think he was born and brought up in the tradition. Flavours were big and bold, and prices were pleasingly low. In 2012 the Room became Rooms, but the expansion did not bed in with complete success.
Merrony and his partner Tracey Petersen closed Giaconda early in 2014 with the intention of opening something near their home in north-west London. The couple’s new venture is called Shoe Shop, commemorating the previous occupant of this small space. In spirit it’s very like Giaconda: no ornamentation, very few tables, un-greedy pricing – mains peak at £16.50. But most of all, the food is still bloody brilliant.
As at Giaconda, Merrony remains deeply devoted to meat, especially cheaper cuts that need slow cooking and can be sold at low prices. Pig’s trotter appeared as a special, braised to tenderness, roughly chopped, and served in a generous disc with beetroot. Ox tongue with a parsley and lentil salad presented gratifying contrasts of texture from unctuous to crisp. Well-seasoned steak tartare came with fabulous chips. But the magic touch wasn’t confined to meat dishes: there was a perfectly cooked omelette, and chocolate truffle tart was airy and silken in texture but intense in flavour.
While the effect in all this cooking is fundamentally simple, achieving it requires immense technical skill. Breakfast and brunch are catered for with standard café fare, big on egg dishes (including ‘coddled eggs and UN peacekeepers’, instead of boiled egg and soldiers).
Shoe Shop has certain limitations, such as accepting bookings at dinner only, and an early closing time for dinner (9pm). Do not let this deter you. Slip on your dancing shoes and waltz up to the door.