I don’t know about you but there’s something inherently romantic and relaxing about dining on (calm) water. But making this a successful experience is risky: can you really serve very good freshly cooked fish on a barge on the Regent’s Canal? I had my concerns about dining on a narrowboat with the potential for forced fun, drunken rowdiness, screaming kids or cabin fever: I had visions that this would end up like Mark’s stag do in Peep Show, or, perhaps at the other end of the spectrum, an episode of Rosie and Jim. But there was nothing to fear. London Shell Co is only about a year old but they have already nailed the floating restaurant experience.
Getting there is a doddle. The London Shell Co’s vessel, The Prince Regent, is moored just outside the Hammersmith & City exit of Paddington station, and it’s clearly visible in its bright blue livery with fuchsia doors. During the week it’s mostly a static affair at lunchtime, but for a real adventure you have to go on one of their sailings, usually on a weekend and weekday evenings.
On such sailings (pre-bookable online, normally around £45 per person), it’s a set fish/seafood meal – you’re served what the chef decides to cook that day with aucun choix. However, if fish isn’t your thing, I’ve just heard that they are upping their game to include, er, ‘Game Tuesdays’ for the autumn, which is very exciting.
I’m glad to report the fish isn’t locally caught… The canal has a wonderful community of its own and it’s fascinating to see this part of London
As for the fish, I’m glad to report it isn’t locally caught (not that any decent edible fish could live in the canal with its trolleys, beer cans and needles bobbing up and down on the algae bloom). As the boat chugged along through Little Venice we waved to passers-by, cyclists and buskers, whilst sipping our Chassagne-Montrachet, feeling a little decadent but essentially just glad to be alive and to enjoy this moment. The canal has a wonderful community of its own and it’s fascinating to see this part of London, including such lesser-known features as the Maida Vale Tunnel or seeing Camden Lock from a duck’s perspective, in the middle of the water and away from the crowds.
I went with a couple of fish fanatic friends of mine (they go to Billingsgate every weekend) and we were all impressed. Proceedings began with oysters and Champagne (because Sunday). We were then presented with salt cod beignets and squid ink aioli – the beignets were a little overseasoned but the Riesling paired with them cut through them nicely. Next up was a delightful, simply prepared plate of cured salmon with fennel, orange and black sesame seeds – colourful and light, the sharpness of the citrus and the aniseedy crunchiness of the fennel counteracting the fish nicely. Then came skate wing which was prepared and cooked very well indeed considering the miniscule kitchen on board, and came with a bold, emerald-green salsa verde. Each course may appear small but by the end of the cruise we felt very well fed and watered. For an additional £35 you can have matching wines with each course, which is recommended. The meal was rounded off with a good espresso, the power of several jump leads.
The service is friendly and relaxed in that jovial, ironic British way: a nonchalant safety announcement at the outset highlighted the vanishingly small risk of falling into the (3 foot deep) water, with one hand on a demonstration lifejacket, the other hand on the Coravin device (my lifejacket). It’s clear where their priorities lie: serving customers, sloshing out the wine and with a side order of good humour. Seriously though, if you fell in the water that would be funny. There’s a higher chance of the Tories “making a success of Brexit” than this boat capsizing.
It’s clear where their priorities lie: serving customers, sloshing out the wine and with a side order of good humour
The downsides? Not many. The table spacing is a bit cramped, the hard seats cushionless, but you can get up and walk off any numbness “on deck” and the whole cruise is only a couple of hours anyway. On the food front, the only disappointment was the dessert, which was a tad basic: just strawberries, raspberries and hazelnut ice cream. It felt like mass catering you would get at a wedding. As I’ve harped on about so many times this year, a lot of places just give up at the dessert stage but it’s not a course that should be overlooked: as the course that is the freshest on your mind when you leave, don’t leave your customers hanging on an anti-climax.
Despite the let-down of the dessert, a dining cruise with London Shell Co is something I want to do again and again. It’s just simply a delightful way to spend time and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
The Prince Regent
by J A Smith