US food chain Red Lobster sold for a colossal $2.1 billion last month. For a shellfish with such humble origins, that’s a lot of dollar. You see, up until the 19th century, American lobster was a sign of abject poverty. So plentiful was this hard-bellied crustacean that they often washed ashore, covering the Massachusetts Bay Colony in heaps two-foot high. It was only later, after serving as fertiliser, fish bait and as a low-priced canned food that lobster started to gain culinary momentum.
While historians champion improved transport links and tourism for the rise, it’s still astonishing to think that the lobster managed to claw its way up to ‘delicacy’ status. Today its fans range from stay-at-home mums to bon vivant twenty somethings – and so far they’ve amassed over 730,000 (and counting) hashtags on Instagram. But is it really as tasty as those stylish filter-enhancing snaps would have us believe? As one of the last remaining shellfish virgins in London, I went to find out.
Lobster London is where the magic happens. Housed on the 28th floor of the 118-metre high Millbank Tower skyscraper, the restaurant boasts panoramic views, and is accessible via a mirrored lift (prime opportunity for a make-up check if ever I saw one). When metallic doors open, there’s an onset of contemporary interiors; glossy pine floorboards, subtle green lighting and freshly cut orchids that welcome you at the booking desk. Service, I find, matches the décor: cheers again to the French-speaking waiter who politely prised open my lobster claw after some unapologetic wrestling on my part.
The menu, with its “graphic-design cool” layout, is surprisingly diverse, featuring dishes ranging from Angus beef, pulled pork and Cajun chicken burgers to lobster brioche buns and truffle fries. As my friend and I both have Wowchers – a three-course meal with two cocktails and Prosecco for only £30 – we stick to the set menu. I test the waters, quite literally, with lobster in the form of bisque soup. It tastes good. The toasted granary slice soaked in olive oil, nestled beside the soup bowl, serves as the perfect dipping accompaniment.
Then there’s the main. All bets are off. A half lobster layered with melt-in-the-mouth garlic butter resting on a wooden serving slab, sitting alongside fluffy chips in miniature metal buckets. It has a wonderfully organic feel – not pretentious, pompous or proud, but saturated with quality ingredients set to lift the fish and chip combo to fresh heights.
Fortunately, our sweet desserts of cooling raspberry ice cream paired with summer fruits and decorated with handfuls of oat crumbs relieve the risk of being ‘shell-fished out’. We wipe our spoons clean and eye each other in joint foodie sin. By now, it’s dark, and we digest our meals behind a backdrop of cascading London skyscrapers, of glittering office blocks and the not-so-humble Shard blazing like a silver beacon in the distance.
Lobster, I decide, has a dense, succulent taste. Like delicate king prawns but with bigger, more buxom bells on. It’s safe to say, Victorian gruel or not, I’m won over.