There are no menus or reservations at Burger and Lobster. Well, you might ask, are there at least tables? Are there plates? Are there waiters and chefs, or is it just a free-for-all, grab-what-you-can, London-riots-style set-up in the kitchen?
While culinary anarchism may well turn out to be the next new “trendy” thing in the gastronomic world, the Farringdon branch of the hugely popular surf ‘n’ turf eatery does, indeed, possess everything else that defines a restaurant. Instead of menus, waiters verbally list the items for you as you settle into booths or single-file bar stools that look onto the open-plan kitchen. There are just four items on the (intangible) “menu” here: burger, California burger (where the meat patty is, in true West Coast fashion, wrapped in lettuce rather than compressed into a bun like the shameful rest of the world still stubbornly continues to do), lobster, and lobster roll. Which begs the obvious question: why is the restaurant, then, not called “Burger and Lobster and Lobster Roll and California Burger Which Is a Patty Wrapped in Lettuce Rather Than Placed in a Bun”?
All items are served with French fries and a salad, and all cost £20. A whole lobster with sides for £20 is an extremely reasonable price; a 10oz burger and fries for £20 is outrageous. Buy two McDoubles from the Dollar Menu and you’re already winning with 12 ounces of the finest* ground chuck for $2. Come to think of it, the last time I was in New England, one of the regional items on the McDonald’s menu was the McLobster Roll, for a mere $1.98. Though, despite my genuine and somewhat irrational love for Mickey D’s, I cringe to think what part of the lobster is ground up, smothered in American cheese and served in a roll. The brains? Ground-up shell?
So the choice was clear: it would either be the lobster or the lobster roll. The latter sounded tempting: lobster meat served chilled in a brioche bun with Japanese mayo. But there’s just something special about ordering an entire animal and having it sit in front of you, losing any ounce of dignity still left as you scrape every last morsel of meat out of its body. (Just to clarify: the burger is not served with cow on plate.) Besides, this is not one of those places where you can walk in and view the lobsters in tanks, as if they’re on death row for shellfish. I don’t blame them: the lobsters hail all the way from Canadian waters, and what with the jetlag and all, they’re probably not looking their best, and the last thing they want is to be paraded on display as if they’re in a lobster-themed Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. So I figured if I couldn’t see a live one in a tank, I had no other choice but to see a cooked one on my plate. (Though it’s regrettable that they travelled all the way from Canada to be steamed alive – without, I should add, having seen the London sights pre-murder. It’s kind of like a seafood version of Hostel.)
We’re not done ordering yet. The lobster can be served steamed or part-steamed then part-grilled for a smokier flavour; I picked the latter because it sounded more intense. There’s then a choice of clarified butter or lemon garlic butter for dipping; again, I selected the latter, since going for option (b) was becoming the theme of the night. Root for the underdog, I always say.
Lobster cracking is messy business, but it’s fun. We all get cracking and scooping as soon as the meals arrive, and when the meat is finally detached from its red home, we dunk it in the butter and help it reach its new home. After one butter-dip, though, I decided – chiefly since I’m still on the P90X workout program and loosely following the nutritional guide – to cast the gravy boat of grease away and create my own dipping sauce: the classic blend of ketchup and mayonnaise. Yes, I realize there’s fat in mayo, too, but there has to be a balance when you’re living your life by two polar opposite philosophies – P90X and YOLO.
Things can get a tad cramped with the large platters of food, and given the arm space necessary for the physical activity of tearing out the meat before being able to eat it. And I think I found it harder since my lobster had been served on a small plate, the reason being that I was sat on the end of the table. Havoc almost ensued as my ketchup/mayonnaise-drenched knife slipped off my kids’-meal-sized plate and landed on my friend’s work pants, but thankfully, the sauce didn’t stain. Crisis averted. Crisis reappeared when said friend got home that night and vomited after indulging in too much of the butter dip. When hearing about this, I sympathized, but secretly felt smug about my alternative Heinz/Hellman’s concoction.
Lobster meat tastes good, there’s no doubt about it. It’s like a giant shrimp with attitude and a hot wife. The lobster knows he’s a boss in the deep-sea world. He knows he’s the tits. I’m surprised he doesn’t come dressed on my plate in a mink coat and gold chain. But you pay the price of the lobster’s popularity, literally: it’s expensive, and what’s more, there’s not much meat on it, even after paying it the respect its due and scraping every last piece from its shell. The restaurant offers larger lobsters – including a seven-pound guy for £105 – but the bigger the creature, the emptier your wallet. So I actually ended my meal feeling a little hungry, even with the fries and (notably tasty) salad on the side.
A couple of the members of my party dug into dessert, which was a pre-packaged but nevertheless delicious-looking white chocolate ice-cream sandwich, and there was also an option (b): a vanilla cheesecake-mousse topped with a mixed berry compote, which I heard was berry good and compote-ntly tasty. Dessert-less and disgusted by that last line of appalling punning, I returned home and gobbled up some leftover chicken and rice to fill me up, and as I lazed in bed that night with a stomach crammed with lobster, fries, chicken, ketchup, mayonnaise and a two-thirds pint of Sam Adams, I wondered why the hell they hadn’t give me a toy with my small-plate lobster Happy Meal.