Editor's note: sadly, Shoe Shop closed in February 2016.
Shoe Shop opened at the end of June 2014, in a parade of shops in Tufnell Park; the name comes from a previous incarnation of the premises. What makes it more interesting than a run of the mill local restaurant is the chef/owner, Paul Merrony. Paul was previously head chef of the excellent Giaconda Dining Rooms, well regarded for its hearty cooking and modest prices. You can make reservations here, but only by walking by in person: the restaurant has no phone number and no email address. This rather eccentric approach is seemingly due to the owner’s previous experience at Giaconda Dining Rooms, which was plagued by no-shows who had booked over the phone. Apparently the local-only in-person approach has resulted in far less no-shows than the usual 10-20% rate that the restaurant trade has to contend with, and which are a particularly thorny problem for small restaurants.
The dining room is basic, with tiled floor, plain wood tables, not particularly comfortable chairs and plain walls adorned only by a shelf with a few pots filled with trailing plants. At a pinch you could squeeze a couple of dozen diners into the place, its gloomy lighting reflected in the murky photos. The food choices are printed on almost comically amateurish menus, printed on what looked like the the sort of brown paper you might wrap a parcel in, with a few daily extras on a blackboard. Starters were priced from £5 to £8.50, main courses £11.50 to £16.50 and desserts £6 to £6.50. There is a short wine list with fewer than two dozen options, ranging in price from £18 to £30. Chateau Ollieux Romanis Corbieres Cuvee Alice was 2013 was £25 for a wine that you can find in the high street for £10, and Gerard Fiou Sancerre 2013 was £30 for a wine that retails at £14. Corkage was just £6.
Baked mushrooms were cooked in butter, served in an iron dish, garnished with herbs. This was a very simple dish indeed, but the mushrooms were carefully cooked and the herbs added some much-needed flavour to the fairly basic quality mushrooms (12/20). Penne carbonara had good pasta, egg sauce, Parmesan and guanciale (cured Italian pork cheek) rather than bacon, giving plenty of flavour, the dish nicely seasoned (13/20).
Steak tartare was very enjoyable, boldly seasoned with a kick of spice served with slices of white bread, with very good chips on the side (13/20). Lemon sole is not an exciting fish, but here was precisely cooked and enlivened with a herb and butter sauce, served with a few slices of potatoes (13/20).
Poached peach with meringue was simple but carefully prepared (13/20) but the star dish was a superb tiramisu with deep coffee flavour, based on a precisely made sabayon; a superb rendition of the classic dessert (15/20). Coffee was of surprisingly high quality.
Service was perfunctory but efficient enough, and the bill came to just £35 a head including £6 corkage, a bargain in my view. A typical bill per person for three courses and coffee if you shared a bottle of modest wine would be about £40. Even on a Tuesday night a few weeks after opening, and despite the difficulty in making a reservation, the place was packed, with tables being turned all around us. This is not somewhere to come for a business meeting or lingering romantic night, but that is not the point. It is a firmly local restaurant serving simple, rustic, yet carefully made and very enjoyable food. If only all neighbourhood restaurants were as good as this.