On the top floor, somewhere in an impressive glass tower a few select grey men and women debate around a round table. While breathing the finest rarified air they juggle big topics such as the oil price, sub-prime mortgages and most importantly where to invest with their new supplier of Maine Lobster. This, or something similar, must have happened recently, because London is dealing with an epidemic of new Lobster Joints. To most of us this sounds like good news, but unfortunately it isn’t always that simple.
Lobster Kitchen is a genuinely delightful, chaotic and overcrowded shack adjacent to a rather ugly Hotel/Casino off Tottenham Court Road. I went with a few work colleagues during their opening weeks and 50% off period. We found ourselves in a 30minute queue mainly consisting of Chinese people in their mid 20s – I can claim this to be true as my workmate is half Chinese and explained the “Shrimp of the Dragon” craze to me. Apparently this is also why Burger & Lobster is so overrun.
Lobster Kitchen is the opposite of pretentious with staff during opening weeks really putting on a sweat to deal with the crowds. They ran out of several types of items on the menu, including some drinks and even glasses. Service was not very efficient, but it somehow added to the charm. It is amazing how little we all were bothered by the waiting times and lack of seating, I guess it just shows how people trying and failing is much more forgivable and enjoyable than people not being bothered or trying to make a quick buck.
The Lobster Roll was nice and at £12 exceptionally well priced. I loved the hot-doggy look and I think the sweetness really worked, however not unlike many other rolls it suffered from a lack of additional butter on the Brioche – I hope this is something that get’s resolved – the dryness really spoils the experience and is so very unnecessary.
The fries (no photo) were perfect and we also had some battered clams in an intriguing paper-cone. Photo is not very appetizing, but they were quite nice – apparently they shrink so much during deep frying that you end up with mini crisps, nice!
I’d like to revisit Lobster Kitchen in the near future to see how they have developed. My feeling is that their attempt in genuinely doing the right thing will serve them well. Make sure you check them out!
Big Easy in Covent Garden is an abomination. It is Nickelback instead of Blues. It is TGI Fridays instead of Meat Liquor. It is expensive, lazy, unfriendly and staffed by disconnected, vain and soulless robots. It is a simulacra – a derivative of an imitation lost amidst the buzzing neon lights and phony wooden decor.
I am noticing a dangerous trend in London’s “American Food” movement where style really goes over substance and arrays of innocent migrant staff are thrown into servicing customers completely out of any context. I don’t care if you are born in Hackney, Bucharest or Sydney – but I do care if you have no meaningful connection to what you serve. Somewhere, somebody had the idea that copying a trend is the same as being part of it and that really anybody with enough funds can do it. The results are dreadful and feel like Starbucks, where it appears as though none of the staff ever tasted a good version of the product they are selling. Big Easy in Covent Garden is far from the only offender on this – a visit to Kua’aina, GBK or Pizza Express will suffice to find more evidence of the same – but Big Easy is suffering from this disease in the most annoying way yet, and it does so despite its decades of established roots on Kings Road. There is no vaccination against bad taste. Or laziness.
All this brings us to an ironic juncture – based on a misunderstanding of what brought the renaissance of American Style Food to London in the first place. It was an emancipation against the franchised, mass-produced, corporate sludge. It was an authentic grassroots rebellion, covered in grease, batter and attitude. And that rebellion is getting lost. For romantics like myself, this is very sad.
At £20 the roll was dry, half empty and the other half was mostly lettuce. The Lobster coating was overpowered by Cayenne and what seemed like smoked Paprika. It needed salt. There was no butter. The chips were dry. So sad. What a rip-off.
Back in May mighty Jay Raynor saw it differently. Others did, too. It makes me wonder if eating the ribs and being a celebrity at Big Easy is a completely different experience? Either that or Jay Raynor is wrong.
Fraq’s Lobster just opened up around the corner from work so we had to give it a go! The place was sort of the opposite of Lobster Kitchen – completely empty, relaxed and overstaffed. Prices are higher than Lobster Kitchen but at £15 for a Lobster Roll certainly justified and still way below Big Easy or Burger & Lobster.
We all went with the Maine Lobster Roll and fries. Unfortunately I had to order a side of melted butter as the bun was simply too dry. What is it with this reluctance to butter the buns enough? This is not bloody Weight Watchers!
Anyways, the roll was successful. Good amount of lettuce, good amount of meat, nothing stingy about it. Personally I am not 100% down with this lettuce idea, I think some finely chopped chives and potentially tiny chunks of celery work better. But this worked. The fries came in a likable frying tray and I even ended up ordering seconds. I am a big greedo!
In hindsight none of what I ate here blew me away but it was a welcome addition to the Lobster craze and probably the most successful of the three joints I visited recently. It has nothing on Burger & Lobster, but I look forward to trying Fraq’s again soon!