Thursday, 4 December 2014
Smack Lobster, Mayfair
Yes, it's true, there's yet another new lobster restaurant in town. I've never been a believer in "too much of a good thing", so I don't really care how many there are as long as they're half decent but of course that's the problem - most of them aren't. If your business plan is simply to make money off a trend forged more bravely and more successfully by others, then experience shows your end product will be as bland, cynical and depressing as your motiviations for doing it. And despite its enviable number of trailblazers and risk takers, London has never been short of its bandwagon-chasers either.
But Smack lobster comes with a pedigree more promising than most. Surely one of the great London dining success stories of the last few years is the brilliant Burger & Lobster, which alongside employing some of the most skilled barpeople in town (gotta love those martinis) paired huge live Canadian lobster (grilled, boiled or in a roll) with crunchy fries, green salad and served the lot for a flat fee of £20. Apprently they also do burgers too.
Smack Deli is the Burger & Lobster team's go at fast food. You order from a short menu, wait around with a little buzzer in your pocket for your order to be ready, then either eat it in the functional seating area or take it boxed up back to the office. It's a great idea - egalitarian, attractive and accessible, bringing lovely fresh seafood to the Pret and Eat lunchtime crowd, and doing so with speed and style.
More good news - the lobster rolls at Smack are, whilst necessarily not as good as those from parent restaurant Burger & Lobster, fresh, tasty and insanely good value - £7.5 for (as far as I could tell) a whole lobster's worth inside a warm, crunchy brioche bun. The ordering system works well - I waited barely 30 seconds between picking up my buzzer and picking up my food, and though this is easy to do when you're not cooking the animals to order (the seafood itself is cold, but not of course frozen) no waiting around means no queues. I'd have liked some hot sauce on offer in the dining room, perhaps some more exciting accompaniments (courgette fries were the only option - what's wrong with potato?) but at these prices you can hardly complain. This is fresh lobster on a tiny budget, the kind of which I'd previously only seen in North America. On the face of it there's not much not to like, and on the strength of their product and process alone, Smack deserves to roar across town bashing the awful mayo-laden Pret and Eat branches into oblivion and bringing lobby rolls to the masses.
Except what's this, one of the styles of sandwich - the Japanese-inspired one, of course - is called the Happy Ending. And a sign pointing to overflow seating downstairs boasts of "wine, beer & naked women". I know, minor things really in the grand scheme of things, and perhaps I shouldn't be so bleeding-heart about it all and just let them get on with it, but... well, why is it when a restaurant is trying so self-consciously to be "edgy" that misogyny is always the first port of call? From mediocre burger joints looking for an easy route into the local papers, to trendy noodle bars plastering their toilet walls with pornography, "edgy" almost always means the same thing.
I mean, you don't see restaurants advising their interior designers to be 'edgy' and 'controversial' in other ways do you? I'm not seeing any East-African-pirate-themed hot dog stalls popping up in Camden ("All our meat is reared on hijacked container ships! Only one Khat Salad per customer!") or Civil-Rights-themed rib shacks in Soho ("Downstairs for beer wine and more slavery - sorry, spaces!"). And despite one hapless Mayfair restaurant happily boasting about hosting a Nigel Farage lunch a few weeks back (the restaurant industry being famously rarely in need of immigrant labour), I haven't yet noticed anywhere going the full-Third-Reich on the menu ("Two Goering Burgers and fries please." "Himmler Spritz?" "No, tap water's fine thanks."). Attention-seeking restaurants make casual references to prostitution because - for whatever reason - its gets them noticed (and yes, written about by do-gooders like me) more often than it gets them boycotted. Which says fairly worrying things about our attitudes in general.
Anyway, that's probably enough on the matter for now. The real shame of course is that while lesser restaurants have used "controversy" to raise their profile, there's absolutely no need for Smack to have done the same because their product is good enough to stand on its own. So hopefully, eventually, they'll rewrite the menu, take that stupid sign down and make an honest living selling fresh lobster rolls to happy customers. Let's leave the gimmicks to the other idiots, OK guys?
Photos taken with a Canon 700D with 50mm lens, kindly loaned from Canon.