Friday, 24 June 2011

Rock Lobsta, Shoreditch


Given the huge number of burger trucks, popup restaurants and other temporary and/or mobile outlets swamping London at the moment, it is perhaps inevitable that not all of them will be very good. And ordinarily a mediocre popup wouldn't be worth the effort of a blog post - these things are often small-scale affairs and temporary to the point of fleeting, and to bash one here, especially one that is only going to be around for a long weekend in any case, may seem at best pointless and at worst pointlessly cruel. But my experience at Rock Lobsta last night was just so irritating in almost every respect that out of a sense of duty to anyone out there who may otherwise be tempted to visit this slickly-marketed operation, and in a desperate attempt to persuade the people responsible for it to stop treating street food as a restaurant PR campaign, I thought I'd put a few words down.

Firstly, it's not just the prices that bother me about Rock Lobsta. I was being as realistic as I could about what it's possible to achieve involving fresh seafood on a budget in this country; we are never going to have access to a US$6 lobster roll or the kind of seafood outlets the lucky residents of San Diego enjoy. But I do think that for £15 I'm entitled to something a little more dramatic than a spoonful of bland lobster meat ("natives" I was told but this was hardly the best advertisement for British produce), drowned in cheap commodity mayo and laid inside a dry brioche bun. Accompanying pickles (including samphire) were nice, and there was a handful of salt and vinegar crisps to attempt to cut through all the mayonnaise, but everything had the overwhelming flavour of rip-off.

And it wasn't just the lobster roll itself that stuck in the throat. An £8 plate of crayfish, once you'd pulled them apart and extracted the teeny sliver of meat from the tails, contained just six prawn-sized edible morsels, hardly enough even to taste. They were presented with something they called "saffron mayonnaise" but which tasted remarkably like the cheap stuff that came in the lobster roll only with something that made it go yellow - possibly saffron, who knows. I also ordered a beer, which was £4, and the total should have come to a crazy £27 but for some reason they only charged me £20. Perhaps it was a mistake, perhaps it was just guilt.

Rather embarrassingly I had brought along a couple of friends to suffer the evening with me, one of whom has Coeliac's disease and therefore has to avoid gluten not through any kind of vague holistic reason but because it literally will hospitalise her. We realised the lobster bun itself was no-go but thought maybe some kind of Atkins option would work and asked what went into the rest of it. "It's just lobster" was the stunningly inaccurate response. Er, there's mayonnaise though too, isn't there? What goes into that? "I don't know, it comes in a jar". This painful exchange wasn't made any easier by one of the other chefs uttering very audible "move along now" noises, and so in the end said unfortunate friend left fuming and kept her money, possibly to spend on a three course meal somewhere that cared.

It's worth repeating that if I had paid £15 for a lobster roll and it had been juicy and tasty, with fresh mayonnaise and soft white bread, I wouldn't have been in the least bit put out. The Hawksmoor lobster roll, in fact, is £25 - admittedly it contains a whole lobster but it comes soaked in garlic and hazelnut butter and with proper bĂ©arnaise sauce on the side and is really lovely despite carving a hole in your wallet so large you could fall through it. Everything about Rock Lobsta felt shallow, a cleverly-promoted bandwagon-jumping exercise in food PR calculated to stir up interest for the inevitable bricks-and-mortar offering in the near future. And although I'm sure they're not making a fortune, at this stage at least, in the end it just feels like an advertising stunt and not an honest attempt to serve real street food, and that really grates. There may yet be a way of bringing decent lobster rolls to the UK and making the numbers work, of showing love and care to the king of crustaceans and paying more than lip service to the notion of value, but Rock Lobsta, sad to say, ain't it.

3/10

45 comments:

Food For Think said...

Oh dear - I was thinking of popping along there this evening but for that money I could stuff myself somewhere that I know is great!

eatmynels said...

I'm still going later but only out of interest to see it, probably not going to chow down for that money.

Nordic Nibbler said...

Fifteen British pounds for that! And I thought Norway was expensive. At least you got some Punk IPA to console yourself with.

Kavey said...

Gosh, from the photo, I may need a magnifying glass just to find the lobster!

I agree that we can't compare prices with the US, especially along the East Coast, where lobster is so prevalent and cheap.

But here, you're paying UK prices for a toddler portion.

Gah!

Helen said...

I did wonder how this was going to work. I mean lobsters are way cheaper in the US aren't they? Isn't that why they are piled high with meat? I mean the Hawksmoor one has a whole lobster so obvs you have to pay for it but at least you know what you're getting. Why don't they do a crayfish roll instead? If there's so many of those bad American crayfish flooding our waters then why not use em all up?

The Shed said...

Blimey. Public service indeed! Sorry you had to so we won't.

The Shed said...
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Jim said...

I swear mine was triple the size of that! Still, £15 was pretty steep - I think they should halve the bread roll, pile it high and sell them for half the price. They'd get a lot more business - 15 quid is steep. Props to the shop next door who were giving away free chocolate fish n chips!

Gail said...

So is this just a stunt before they open a bricks and mortar place? Sadly haven't heard anything good about this yet. Hope nobody new to street food thinks it's typical.

debbie said...

I think your making alot of assumptions re the mayo and the bricks and mortar comments
i though the food was fine, london prices accepted
maybe you should have spoken to one of the lobsters
its worth a visit

Chris said...

debbie: The "it's from a jar" comment was from one of the chefs. They also told me something about trying to open a restaurant soon based on this concept. No assumptions here, except perhaps that you only skim-read the post.

debbie said...

Visitor to london, paid what i would have expected and food was fine
If you speak to the lobsters you would know the mayo was home made
Dont be put off by a self confessed free loader

Graphic Foodie said...

THAT was £15?

Martin said...

Even in the larger version of your picture it's clear the proportions of meat:mayo are way off, and for £15 you would've thought they could've sprung for some egg yolks and oil.

As for "debbie"s comments, I'm no aquatic Dr Doolittle, but talking to lobsters is outside even my bounds of animal welfare, and as for impugning Chris' integrity, pah, wrong tree, barking, etc.

Charlie said...

Was thinking about going along to this, as I heard about them on Twitter, and I work just round the corner. Thanks for saving me the trip, Chris!

Katy Salter said...

Gawd - I was going to head down for a lobster roll tomorrow. Don't think I'll bother, for their treatment of your friend let alone the extortionate prices. We all know lobster doesn't come cheap but that doesn't mean Londoners can't spot when someone is taking the p*ss.

Pinball Karma said...

Just had one for lunch and I'd say that your review was a bit unfair. Cleverly promoted with the inevitable pop-culture postcarding 'Never Mind the Scallops ... here's the Rock Lobsta" I was pretty unaware that it was open for only a weekend and popped along as I rarely get decent lobster or crab as an option for lunch.

Yes my jaw did hit the floor when I realised I was gonna be paying £12.50 for a 'Splitter' of lobster and crab w/ mayo. yes they certainly could have done with making fresh mayo (instead of out of catering tubs) and a slice of lemon/lime wouldn't have gone amiss. but the pickles were a nice touch ... and since there was a huge queue where we waited 20 mins (not helped by one guy ordering TEN bloody lobster rolls). But I think you're wrong about a few things:

1. The roll was jam-packed with lobster and crab and the crab mayo/100 island sauce wasn't overdone or over-powering. i thought it was extremely tasty and the samphire and brioche roll were good ideas that set it off proper nice

2. I'm still a bit stung by £12.50 for a lunchtime sarnie ... but then it was a good wedge of lobster.

3. The woman in front of me asked for crayfish and I think he added at least 2or 3 extra ones and crammed the bamboo plate. Certainly weren't too bothered about quantities and generally as a few were smaller than others they seemed to add a few extra

4. I think they do care a bit more what people think and have some idea of customer care - because people were queuing for a silly amount of time a lady came out first with some white choc retro 'fish and chips' treats in paper cones for 'dessert' ... and then one of the guys came out and offered us a free beer ... Czech pilsener no less. So for £25 I did get two lobster sarnies and 2 beers and a few lollies for dessert. Not a cheap lunch but not too much of "I saw you coming dot com" either

I know your friend as a coeliac must have been very frustrated but it is a complicated condition and she must find that eating out is always quite tricky ... I totally agree that they should have made their own dressings rather than catering tubs BUIT even if they had the likelihood is unless your a coeliac yourself for what amounts to a 'street food' outlet it is prolly a bit of a big ask to expect them to know the gluten contents of the ingredients ...

Personally if you don't mind waiting 15-20 mins for a sarnie and you think £12.50 - £15 isn't too bad for lobster/crab then head down there this weekend. you won't be disappointed.

Anonymous said...

It was really good. A fun atmosphere, tasty food and drinks, I thought that was the whole point of pop-up's?

Chris said...

Pinball Karma: A very detailed response, and very interesting, so thanks for that. I'll respond to your points:

1. I think you can probably see from my picture, my roll wasn't jam packed by any stretch of the imagination. I did like the pickles, but I just couldn't get past the nasty cheap mayo.

2. My main problem wasn't really with the price - I was expecting to pay about that - but just that all the food was just a bit disappointing

3. I should hope so, because aren't crayfish dirt cheap vermin? I think Pret (shudder) do a crayfish and rocket sandwich that's less than £3, and that has about 40 of them in it. Maybe there's something I'm missing.

4. Take your point on the Coeliac's thing but it wasn't just that they didn't know what went into the food, it was the very strong impression they didn't care either.

Anyway thanks again for your feedback, and I am glad you enjoyed. I just still think most people won't.

Kay @ Chopstix2Steaknives said...

After sampling great ones in the US, I know is not comparable but that lobsta roll is just quite dismal looking.

Bah...I forgot about their opening but I guess it was a blessing.

Hugh Wright said...

Sounds awful, but what i truly struggle to understand is why anyone would want to pay £15 to eat a sandwich in the street anyway. It's for similar reasons that I didn't go to Taste London this year - paying over the odds for a miniaturised portion of food in a paper bowl just doesn't compute.

I'm not by any means saying the egregious rip-off is justified, but my alarm bells would have been clanging before even setting out.

Barry P said...

I can only base it on my experience but when I went there last night but my roll was well filled...

Anonymous said...

Mine was definitely larger than the posted picture, and I think for fresh lobster (we were informed that it was 24hours old) I dont think the prices were too extreme. The shop next door also did a great job of keeping us happy, free chocolates and cherries for dessert! Well worth a visit.

Anonymous said...

I went down to Rock Lobsta on the opening night and i was very impressed. There were welcome g&t's being served, the atmosphere was vibrant and the food was not only delicious but generous for the money. It was very busy but the staff managed to cope under the pressure. The design and presentation was fun. It was great eating simple fresh food al fresco on a summers evening. It was worth the trip down there and made for a wonderful early evening experience. Finally an alternative eating pop-up in London!

Sarah and Simon Wedding Photography said...
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Anonymous said...

have any of you people actually been or are you just moaning about something you've not yet bothered to experience?! And i've been to the Taste festival several years in a row and it never fails to delight.

Anonymous said...

One persons opinion, (not fact) should not put people off from at least popping along. Take a look for yourself before buying anything and then make you own minds up instead of writing something off straight away. Then if its still bad, feel free to comment!

Caroline said...

Ha ha what a pathetic portion! I go here when I'm in Boston and as you an see from the photo on the top right of the page http://www.therawbar.com/menu.html that even at $25 a pop I feel like I'm getting a good deal, plus they are so massive I split one with my husband. Somethings I won't buy in the US and some things I'll only buy in the UK and this might be one of them.

Bilous old git said...

Ah, Anonymous, you're totally right. One person's opinion shouldn't put you off an overpriced sandwich stall.

What will 100% convince me to go sniff out this place - and spunk 15 quid just to check whether the picture in this post is a fair representation of their lobstery offerings - is a small avalanche of unattributed, defensive, snippy comments.

Good work! See you down 'Tha Rock Lobsta'.

Adamvdb said...

Chris - I am really dissapointed that we didn't meet your expectations. We have had loads of really positive feedback both verbally and on tinternet.

When I spoke to you half way through you seemd fairly happy - if I had known there was a problem I would have attempted to fix it.

There is a mix of comment here - loads of positive stuff elsewhere.

I am going to look at your comments in detail and reply next week off line.

Ultimately I am very happy you came - we'll make it up to some time soon...

Gregory said...

Chris,

Punk IPA aside, it is a pretty sorry image of sandwich. I am sure you needed another IPA to console yourself about losing 15 notes.

obviously portion control has kicked in when even in their short life they need to stretch their produce further.

Lets keep Street food primal, easy to eat and easy on the wallet !

federilli said...

I'm SO not going!

Did you know that Pret and Waitrose crayfish sandwiches use crayfish from frigging China? And our rivers are swamped by non native ones... Rant over. No rock lobsta for me. Awful name too.

LondonSheSaid said...

I went there yesterday and was annoyed with myself for spending over 15 quid for a rather small portion of lobster.

Taste-wise it was only ok and nothing special (I am from New England - I know what really good lobster tastes like). If that was supposed to be PR for a future resto they are, IMO, shooting themselves in the foot.

My lobster roll experience was expensive, no more than ok and certainly not something I would want to spend my money on again.

LondonSheSaid said...

I went there yesterday and was annoyed with myself for spending over 15 quid for a rather small portion of lobster.

Taste-wise it was only ok and nothing special (I am from New England - I know what really good lobster tastes like). If that was supposed to be PR for a future resto they are, IMO, shooting themselves in the foot.

My lobster roll experience was expensive, no more than ok and certainly not something I would want to spend my money on again.

Caroline said...

I want to make one more comment and that is that proper authentic classic New England Lobster Rolls also come with standard mayonnaise. It just acts as an adhesive really and adds a bit of flavour, I don't think that any of them make their own mayonnaise and I don't think it's necessary. Lots of Lobster is though!

May said...

Finally got past the porn filter!

This was on my list but £15 to have a sandwich is a bit much, regardless of the filling. I so agree with @Hugh Wright's comment.

Food truck started off trying to emulate Asian hawker stalls who offer amazing food and dirt cheap prices. In London, the gourmet food trucks and pop ups seems to make you pay for the priveledge. Much discernment required.

Anonymous said...

I went there on the opening night and was extremely disappointed with the food. I paid £15.50 for a lobster roll and it was tasteless and bland. I live in the area and so didn’t have to travel as far as a lot of you and I know that in Shoreditch there are a great many places where you can eat great tasting food in a restaurant for £15.

Great food and good value spring to mind when I think of Street Food. This was disappointingly neither. Try Whitecross Street market for lunch.

On the plus side drinking GnT’s from the shop next door in the street was fun. There was a friendly atmosphere and the people from the shop were generous and hospitable.

(Oh and by the way from reading the above comments I would like to add that I was told the mayonnaise was from a jar by all three of the chefs working there.)

TheSkinnyBib said...

Chris,

Your portion was ridiculously small, about half portion of my filling! For me, I don't think it's too excrutiating an experience but it leaned towards being a DIY flavour I can devise at home. Personally I thought the inconveniences of eating put me off - rather than the food - from going back. Price-wise, I'd rather add £10 extra and get a superb bun at Hawksmoor. Theirs are just perfect!!

Eva Lai said...

Oh my word. "I don't know, it comes in a jar". They managed to say that!!!
Your poor wallet & stomach.
Oh yeah, excuse my "absences" even though I am "remotely" absent anyway. I have been super busy with the fish oil people. The fish head people. The fish oil people. The fish head people. Ooh spread the joy FHmovie.com and the techno/ electronic music. I forgot to tell the folks that Chinese people do actually have soup that's fish head & beancurd soup- it's divine, I must say. But it sounds like Rock Lobsta did even worse than my girls' boarding school all those years ago and their egg saffron rice. Oooh dear.

Eva Lai said...

It's adorable that you've written up so many, urh, ""defamatory"" Blog posts and you haven't even got sued for defamation. Hehehehehehe.

gill Kelleher said...

That sandwich would cost around $4 in any decent lobster shack in NE America.

Hungry Female said...

Oh dear, that is beyond disappointing. I too hope that one day there will be awesome lobster rolls, perhaps not like ones in the US, but a great British version. There's so much good seafood in the UK, just not showcased to its full potential!

Su-Lin said...

Yikes...that is indeed a very disappointing looking lobster roll...

CalzoneCalzone said...

Way too much bread. Way too much mayo. Sweet peppers in the lobster mayo took away from what little flavour the lobster actually had. Love the marketing though. I will say they may be on to something with the crab mayo. There was way too much on my crab roll but the idea of mixing up the grey crab meat into the mayo and making a little sauce is something to keep thinking about.
Let's hope these comments spur these people on to open the mother of all lobster shacks right here London. (PS. Way too much bread!!)

Lizzie said...

I had an AWESOME lobster roll in New York last weekend. *smug*