Monday, 16 January 2012
Burger & Lobster, Mayfair
As a child, starved of entertainment on long car journeys through France on family holidays, I would often find myself flicking through the Michelin Guide. And much like the way I occasionally now browse the Foxtons website for the most expensive properties on their books, just for the sheer masochistic delight of discovering what £32 million can buy you in SW6 (come on, I can't be the only one), I would find myself drawn to the flashiest places in the Red Guide; the 3 star restaurants and the 5-red-tower hotels, strange make-believe places like the Crillon (Paris) and the Carlton (Cannes) that existed in a glittering parallel universe I could only dream about being a part of.
Our own evening meals on the road, needless to say, generally consisted of a 70F set menu in the nearest cafe to whichever prefabricated chain hotel we found ourselves in, but the details I soaked up from the short descriptions underneath whichever gastronomic temple was top of the list that year led me to a lifelong obsession with lobster. They seemed to be everywhere in that book, and always at the most expensive places - lobster, along with a couple of other ingredients (caviar, truffle), was shorthand for glamour and decadence, and as I was (still am) desperately superficial, I was hooked.
As for burgers, that's a little easier to explain. My parents, with only the best and very sensible intentions I'm sure, refused to take me to McDonalds, and the only times I ever managed to breach this embargo was when children of slightly less neurotic families would invite me to sit in the plastic boat upstairs at Southport branch, wear a little cardboard hat and eat cheeseburgers and fries until I was sick. There's something about McDonalds that hits every single pleasure spot in a child's brain - it's crack for the under 12s - and these rare occasions burned so bright in my formative mind that even to this day there are few more sinful pleasures I indulge in than the occasional Quarter Pounder. I don't care who knows it - it's salty, greasy, packed with evil chemicals and everything that's wrong with the way people eat in the 21st century but I bloody love it. Also, anyone who thinks McDonald fries aren't the best are snobs. So there.
So, there's a new restaurant in Mayfair called Burger & Lobster and it's as if my whole life has been leading up to this moment. It serves, at £20 per item, a whole lobster, a lobster roll, and a burger. Each come with salad and fries. The burger is rich and bloody, the umami hit of the aged beef strengthened with (so it's rumoured) a splash of Thai fish sauce, though not enough to be distracting. The lobster steamed or grilled (your choice) to perfection, presented in neat halves so you have all the joy of extracting the sweet claws and meaty tail section for yourselves. And the roll, with its sweet toasted brioche bun and carefully balanced lobster meat and mayonnaise filling, is a thing of wonder too, packed with silky fresh seafood and perfect dipped in the lemon herb butter. Even the fries are fantastic - golden and crunchy, aggressively seasoned and generously numerous.
The question is, of course, and it's one that might have occurred to you already, is why on earth would anyone pay £20 for the burger, no matter how good it is, when an entire fresh lobster is the same price. It is a fair question, but whether or not you think burger addicts should subsidise the crustacean fans there is a certain pleasing aesthetic to a menu where everything's the same price and at least you know (barring anyone going too crazy at the bar) approximately how much the bill's going to be before you sit down. It's an incredibly attractive way of doing things - I'm a huge fan - and I hope they don't cave in to any accountant's suggestions of adding a few quid onto the lobster and shaving a few off the burger. Lobster, or burger. £20. Simple. Perfect.
Oh, there's the no-reservations thing I suppose but that's just the way things are going at the moment so you may as well just get used to it. Here's a tip from me - if there's a queue, put your name down and hop over the road to the upstairs bar at Tempo. You can enjoy some of the best drinks in this part of town while you wait for your table to be ready. They'll even call you on your mobile when it is - surely that's no real hardship?
Either to blame or thank them for the way I've turned out, I brought along my parents to Burger & Lobster on Saturday. They loved it - how could you not - and we talked about old holidays and great meals the way you do when you're enjoying yourself. Mum said that she remembers a conversation with a friend when I was quite small, and how she told her that I wasn't allowed to start on dessert until I'd finished off every bit of my main course. "Aren't you worried that might make him a bit greedy?" was the friend's response. I suppose it had never occurred to her. And thank God for that.