Hampstead siblings land a catch with with their seafood-themed canal boat restaurant

London Shell Company

London Shell Company - Credit: Archant

Alex Bellotti talks to Harry Lobek who, alongside sister Leah, decided to rent a barge on Regent’s Canal to serve up a fish-themed supper club.

London Shell Company

London Shell Company - Credit: Archant

When it comes to Christmas Eve, many families may choose to pre-empt the stresses of December 25 with a relaxing trip to a local pub or restaurant. For siblings Harry and Leah Lobek, however, the tradition has always been somewhat different: travelling down to Borough Market to pick up 24 oysters, before returning to serve them up at their family’s Hampstead home.

This lifelong love of seafood is the driving factor behind London Shell Co., a new venture that sees the pair serving up maritime treats on a restaurant boat down on Regent’s Canal. Bringing together a small collection of diners for a supper club-style experience, Harry explains how the combination of food and a chance to meet new people is often a recipe for success.

“The two things go hand in hand,” says the 29-year-old. “Food is such a wonderful social lubricant. We’ve actually had a lot of people who’d never eaten oysters before, and we dress the oysters in a certain way that’s quite unique even for people who have had oysters before. They’re used to having them with shallots, vinegar and Tabasco, and we do diced celery, cucumber and chilli.

“We try to devise dishes which have a little surprise element to them, whether it’s a dash of chilli or just something they’ve never tried before, like razor clams, which then helps people to start talking to each other. And of course alcohol helps too!”

Having launched in September, London Shell Co. is built on the siblings’ shared professional experience, which includes working in hospitality at Pollen Street Social, Vinoteca and The Bull & Last. For their latest set of dates, which start tomorrow and run until November 20, the pair will also be joined by Oscar Humphries, who will be leading the kitchen after stints working in restaurants such as Barrafina and River Café.

The theme for November is ‘Basque’, a celebration of the seafood of San Sebastian and the wines of the Pyrenees. Four courses of seafood supplied by Wright Brothers will be served with paired regional wines aboard the My Fair Lady of Walker’s Quay, in the group’s continuing quest to show the true potential of pescatarian cuisine.

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“There are so many different things you can do with it,” Harry says. “You can have stews, you can have grilled fish – considering we’re an island, we should have loads of it!”

And what of the wine pairing? Should we still subscribe to the idea that reds and fish don’t match? “I think it’s a bit more flexible. I used to be a sommelier at Pollen Street Social which was great, and there we did a lot of wine pairing for different foods. You learn the qualities of the wine and how if it’s spicy, you can pair it to dampen that bite or highlight the quality of the wine.

“Light reds definitely work with fish, but you can always go bigger depending on the dish. Say if it’s a French seafood stew, with a bit of spice, you might want a more robust wine for that. So there’s a lot of opportunities to pair all sorts of different things, and it’s not just wine, beer is an amazing thing to have with fish as well.”

For both siblings, the decision to stay based in north London (indeed, the food is all cooked in their parent’s Hampstead kitchen) has paid off, with the first set of dates having quickly sold out. Alongside the wine, the atmosphere of the canal has also proved complementary to the experience.

“When you go out for dinner, it’s usually on a high street or in a neighbourhood, in pubs and bars where there’s a constant flow of passers by,” Harry continues.

“Down by the canal though, there aren’t many people there after dark and there’s a real tranquillity to it. We’re really keen on the area, and on staying down there as long as possible hopefully.”

The Basque evenings start tomorrow, further running on November 13, 19 and 20. Tickets are £60 per person. Visit londonshellco.com