Wednesday, 6 May 2015
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, Piccadilly
The "concept" is so disastrously imbecilic even the thought of putting it into words is giving me hives, so I'll be brief. Remember that film Forrest Gump? About the man with some kind of learning disorder, not anything as unattractive as Asperger's or Down's Syndrome obviously (that would be box office Kryptonite) but that particular kind of Hollywood-retarded which basically means he talks slowly, loves his mama and unflinchingly does what other people tell him? Well, one of the stupifyingly unbelievable plot twists in this awful movie involves our "hero" taking command of an accidentally-successful fishing company. Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is a entire real-life restaurant chain based on a minor plot point in a terrible movie that last hit cinemas over twenty years ago. And it's shit.
Even if the food at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company had been any good - and it really, really wasn't - there'd still be a million other reasons to hate the place. The whole project is so disastrously flawed, the motivations for its existence so cynical and misguided, that even if this vast, ugly place sat empty of customers and its "kitchens" (or whatever you call an area where frozen food is deep fried and shovelled into paper cones) free of activity, it would still be a stupid waste of effort and space, a monument to boneheaded uselessness on a massive scale.
But add to this winning formula the kind of food usually advertised by Kerry Katona, at prices that would make a premiership footballer wince, and you have all the ingredients for a true disaster.
You enter, in the tradition of all crappy central-London tourist trash joints, through the gift shop. A nice man with a headset told us there was a 5-10 minute wait for a table which immediately made my heart sink ("Oh god, please don't let it be popular") but once upstairs we noticed with some relief and confusion about 2/3 of the tables were empty. Was the "wait" just a cynical way to get us to order a £12.49 bucket of weak margarita, while making the place seem in demand? I wouldn't put it past them at all.
Anyway, we were soon placed in a booth having the ordering system explained to us. On the table were two metal flip-signs, one reading RUN FORREST RUN and the other STOP FORREST STOP, the idea being if you wanted service you somewhat counterintuitively display the red STOP sign, otherwise staff were free to ignore you. In the end though, it served as little more than a lame reminder of the restaurant's rubbish concept, as every time you wanted anything so insignificant as a glass of water you had to turn the (large, cumbersome) sign over, wait for someone to notice, then make your order and - the real problem - remember to turn it back, as if you didn't another member of staff would rush over in the next few seconds to take your order again.
So far, then, so annoying. Then the food arrived. "Best Ever Popcorn Shrimp" looked at least generous at first glance, until on closer inspection you realised that most of the "shrimp" were actually deep-fried strips of red pepper made to look like seafood. So the red peppers tasted like greasy red peppers and the half a dozen or so "shrimp" (I'm using inverted commas because I'm not entirely convinced these things had ever seen an ocean) tasted of... well, nothing. Cooking oil. And then once we'd squeezed a lemon over them, cooking oil and lemon. Dipping sauces were diabolically sweet and artificial tasting, with less personality than the little sachets you get at McDonalds.
It got worse. Even on paper this, the Worst Salad In The World, is indigestible - lettuce, strawberries (?), pears (??), raspberries (please stop) four or five pieces of horrid cheap shredded chicken that tasted of wet cotton wool, all bound together with a sweet dressing of some kind and, just because the ingredients hadn't quite been batshit mental enough up to this point, a weirdly tiny amount of feta cheese crumbled on top. There's no excuse for this dish; no dimension in the multiverse where it could have ever been a success. I can't reconcile in my rational brain the idea that somewhere, at some point in time, someone threw this madly inappropriate bunch of ingredients together and subsequently decided to charge people £11.25 to eat it. This is not a salad, it's a cry for help.
"Crab stuffed mushrooms" didn't appear to have anything to do with crab at all, but maybe this was a blessing. Swimming in a strange, thin, chemically sauce they were an alarming colour of off-yellow and tasted like grilled squash balls. Revolting, and yet by the standards of the rest of the food, they could almost be considered a highlight.
Of the mains, probably the "Dixie Fishwich" was the least aggressively ghastly, because you can't really mess up a tomato, and the frozen chips didn't contain, I don't know, gravel or razor blades or anything. But the fish itself was overcooked and mushy, and the bun was truly dreadful, cheap processed bread left to go stale.
"Shrimper's Heaven" was three cones of vaguely prawn-y brownfood, one cone of fries, and three pots of disgusting plastic slime that defied all attempts to explain or excuse. If this is heaven, then I'll see you in hell with my foie gras and my Robert Johnson records, no regrets.
And oh God, there was still more to come. Sad, soggy fritters of fried chicken sat on top of a huge mount of (actually not too bad) mashed potato, a strange, grey sweetcorn and a little pot of, well it was described rather optimistically as "gravy". It was at this point I began to lose my mind a little. The gravy tasted of literally nothing - I can't explain it any other way. It was if someone had thickened a couple of tablespoons of water with cornflour. I kept dipping the end of my fork in it and tasting it, over and over again, hardly able to believe what was happening. "It doesn't taste of anything. Why doesn't it taste of anything?" I remember repeating, over and over again. My friends each did their best to talk me down.
"Is this the worst meal you've ever had?", was the inevitable question asked as our barely picked-at plates were taken away and the last drops of diluted margarita were teased from novelty branded cocktail shakers. And the horrifying truth is that it probably isn't - the Hard Rock Café is still the most uncomfortable I've ever been in a restaurant, because on top of the terrible food at mad prices the service was also belligerent and mendacious. The staff at Bubba Gump were all lovely, serving with a commendable amount of positivity given what they were having to deal with, and at least there weren't any animatronic gorillas.
But comparisons between one nakedly cynical theme restaurant and another nakedly cynical theme restaurant are a pointless, and self-defeating, distraction. The fact any of them exist at all is, to misquote Charlie Brooker, an indelible blemish on the world's already questionable track record, and if I'm ever made prime minister, shutting down anywhere exploiting gullible tourists in a prime West End location will be my number one priority (or maybe second, just after the demolition of Clapham Junction station). Until that happens though, I can't do more than implore anyone who reads this to tell anyone who will listen not to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. It really is the pits.
If you find yourself stood outside Bubba Gump's wondering whether to risk it, firstly punch yourself in the face until you realise what an idiot you've been then quickly download my app to find somewhere good.