I’ve got to admit: I’ve never understood high society’s obsession with lobster. Rare is the menu that tempts me with its lobster dish: an invariably expensive status symbol of success, for which it has become an edible simile.
Lobster is a meal that has transcended its humdrum role as a foodstuff to become an unambiguous transmission of one’s own wealth. You don’t order the lobster lightly.
Why do we prize it so highly? Even on the eastern seaboard of the United States, the lobster dish’s spiritual home, it wasn’t always so. Lobster was for a long time deemed fit only for the consumption of those poor enough not to be able to afford anything better. Although not unheard of in gastronomy, this transformation is remarkable. It’s almost as though by placing the alien form of the lobster on a silver platter, society transforms the animalistic brutality of consuming a lobster – which arrives whole on your plate, after being boiled alive, ready to be physically dismantled from its exoskeleton – into the highest form of culinary sophistication. The message is, if we can make this civilized, we can make anything civilized.
Still, lobster is as popular as it ever has been. As if to prove it, The Lobster House has recently opened at Point Pleasant’s Prospect Quay in Wandsworth, a Little Dubai of newly-built glass-and-steel housing developments and carefully manicured green spaces, right on the banks of the Thames. It’s an unusual location for a diner. Not a single person crosses our path on the way to the two-storey, circular restaurant. The lack of footfall outside translates to a kind of eeriness within the dining room: for a Thursday evening, The Lobster House is quiet. Two other parties amidst a swathe of unoccupied tables make the place feel empty.
Our starters are much more reassuring. My partner’s clam chowder is buttery, deep and rich, a warm and satisfying broth representing excellent value at £5.50. Meanwhile the rectangular slab of my crab cake manages to achieve that desired contrast between crunchy, flaky exterior and soft, pulverised middle. It’s hindered by its unworthy partner, a thin and sickly ‘sweet chilli’ dip, the kind you might be palmed off with at a defeated Thai take-away. It’s like arming a soldier with a feather duster. The crab cake deserves better. Ignore the pool of orange gloop and enjoy the crab cake with a squeeze of lemon.
Thankfully, The Lobster House begins to fill up somewhat as we’re served our mains, helping to drown out the noise of chart hits courtesy of Capital FM (why do restaurants do this?). My lobster is served with a pot of butter, a sarcastic metal bucket of American fries and a passable mixed salad. We’re also given a side dish of tools to help dismantle and devour the lobster: a metal cracker to break apart its limbs, a wet-wipe for the post-dinner clean up, and, inexplicably, a disposable nylon napkin with a picture of a lobster on it. My partner insists that we wear our bibs. There’s something unsettling about decorating yourself with a picture of your prey. Imagine if sharks ate human beings while wearing aprons featuring people on them.
The food is fine. The lobster is tender and moist, although there isn’t as much meat inside that big red husk as you might think. Still, with the help of the butter, it’s a sweet and delicate taste, not unlike crab but with a less immediate, more subtle impact. It’s the tenderness of the texture which is prized, and my specimen is no exception. The lobster is purchased by weight, with a 1.25 pounder coming in at a very reasonable £20, including sides. The fries are underdone. Serving fries in a bucket might satisfy the restaurant’s internal logic of whimsical tabletop innovations, but only ensures that the ones at the bottom become wilted and soggy by the time you dig through to them. Meanwhile the lobster carcass sits there, its lifeless antennae occasionally brushing my arm as I reach out for my drink, with black eyes like the heads of nails pointing at me as I guiltily chew my chips.
One of the benefits of the dining room at The Lobster House is the arresting view of the Thames provided by the procession of floor-to-ceiling windows which surround the dining tables. Gazing at the shimmering surface, its location begins to make sense: with the floodlights illuminating the water, it offers an excellent view of the river at night. No doubt The Lobster House will reap the benefits of a riverside location in the summer. Either way, there’s something reassuring about consuming seafood near the water, even if these lobsters aren’t local – this is a New England joint.
Given that no one will elect to visit a seafood restaurant on the strength of its puddings, dessert is surprisingly good. My chocolate fondant puts up just the right amount of resistance to the prod of my spoon, before eventually relinquishing its melted chocolate yolk, like some decadent cocoa egg. My partner makes no complaint regarding the Sticky Toffee Pudding, lobster bib very much still in place long after I’ve discarded my own.
If you want to experience lobster without overpaying for the privilege, The Lobster House is a good choice. There’s an incoherency which runs through the restaurant, possibly as a consequence of having only just opened, from the residential location to the indecisive oscillation between fine-dining (riverside view, prim tabletops, luxurious lobster and steak) and no-frills straightforwardness (the blare of the radio, the haphazard and rushed format of the menu, the weird lobster bib). Yet the consumption of lobster as an act of heightened gastronomic sensibility is in itself incoherent, with the ideals and the action standing in stark contrast to one another. And in that sense The Lobster House is a fine home for its namesake.
The Lobster House Wandsworth review by Chris Zacharia