These days Well Street is a tale of two halves: the essence of what this busy, chaotic trading destination once was is still detectable, with its bustling fruit and vegetable market and rows of small businesses that are now in a state of slight disrepair. Since Well Street is a true ‘east end’ relic, the new kids on the block certainly seem a little incongruous with its veteran shops and caffs. I suppose this lends the street some unique charm, even if residents begrudge the new trendy outposts. Over the past few years, small businesses from Jolene to Well Street Kitchen have turned this street into a foodie mecca for the trendy east London mob. One of the latest such openings is Shankeys, an Indian-Irish fusion restaurant which opened in April 2022.
Nestling into Shankeys for an evening, we are invited to enjoy life in the slow lane
From the outside, Shankeys looks like hardly more than a hole-in-the-wall bottle or coffee shop, which is exactly what it is by day. In the evening, however, this is a restaurant to be taken seriously. As you walk through the door, there is an instant warmth to this place: the sort that makes you want to put the kettle on and snuggle into the corner with a blanket. A small, dimly lit room consisting of six or seven tables, with a tiny bar at the front and an even smaller open kitchen at the back, it is a quaint and cosy space that oozes charm and romance. Dramatic candles covered in coats of their own wax drippings line the walls, along with antique crockery and cook books centred around Irish or Indian cuisine. The front of house staff is fronted by co-owner and head mixologist Eoghan, whose overwhelming friendliness makes you forget you are in London for the evening.
Shankeys’ menu is miniscule. Before tucking into the main menu, an optional course of oysters is available. Next, there are three ‘small’ dishes (£6.50 each), two ‘sharing’ options, and one dessert on the menu. The cocktails – the Irish element of the Irish-Indian fusion – are exciting, quirky Irish twists on classics, and each for a very reasonable £9.50. My favourite example, the Dublin Sour, is a dangerously tasty whiskey and Guinness sour served on ice. We start with the Achill Rock Oysters, which are bathed in a spicy ‘disco mignonette’ and topped with crispy anchovies, and so manage to provide all of the sharp, sweet and sour notes that make for a perfectly well-rounded mouthful. For £4.50 per oyster, these are a little indulgent, but they are undoubtedly an explosion of flavour and texture.
To follow, we choose the chaat potatoes and the cauliflower cheese, as well as the XO sea bream sharing plate. The crispy potatoes, covered in a sticky, sweet and spicy honey and naga curry sauce, are as tasty as they sound, but it is the cauliflower that I will be returning for. A half oven-roasted cauliflower, charred on the outside, is coated in spicy, curried melted cheese. The spaces between the individual fronds are stuffed with a cheese-stuffed paratha, which not only melts seamlessly into the dish but also provides little pockets of crunch and texture. On the bottom of the cauliflower, pastry-style paratha creates a caramelised, crispy base that recalls those delicious blobs of cheese that ooze out of your toastie and stick to the bottom of the pan. The sea bream (£28) comes out in its entirety, sitting in a light, spicy XO broth. The fish is light and incredibly moist, pairing beautifully with the bold and rich side dishes.
The dessert, a rum donut, pales in comparison to the savoury dishes, and can easily be subbed out for the Crème de menthe and Baileys cocktail which, topped with grated chocolate, is a total delight.
On recollection, drinks did take around fifteen minutes to arrive, and the dishes came in leisurely dribs and drabs, but it is exactly this sentiment of homeliness and informality that gives Shankeys its unique charm. Service is not in a rush, and neither are the diners. Nestling into Shankeys for an evening, we are invited to enjoy life in the slow lane, to sip thoughtfully executed cocktails, to become engrossed in candle-lit conversation, and to relish in its deep, intense and utterly delicious tapestry of flavour.
221 Well Street