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 béarnaise 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.