Lobster rolls lighting up London

It’s been a long time coming, but at last the lobster roll from the east coast of North America is becoming a trend for diners in central London. The first such restaurant, now a small chain, to arrive was Burger & Lobster in late 2011. It currently has seven outlets in the city, and was followed more recently by Smack Deli from the same owners, Fraq’s Lobster Shack and Lobster Kitchen.

Now it’s always been possible to eat what is probably the U.K.’s most celebrated crustacean in central London, but years ago it would probably have been in an upmarket and expensive restaurant in the West End. Restaurants such as J Sheekey’s, famous for its fish pie, Green’s or Wilton’s have been popular for seafood for generations. Not that it would have been Maine lobster that would have been offered in those days, or even now.

However, the influx of restaurants specializing in lobster rolls belong in the cheap and cheerful category. Lobster & Burger, which sells lobsters imported live from Canada, sell them at GBP 20 (USD 30.59, EUR 27.82), which includes fries and a side salad.

There are just three dishes on offer – there is no menu – lobster, lobster rolls and burgers. These are all offered at the same price, which makes some dishes better value than others.

At Burger & Lobster, the roll is actually a toasted brioche and some customers like the product a lot while others aren’t so keen. Cold lobster in a warm brioche didn’t go down well with one disgruntled diner.

However, the reviews are generally very good and the chain is expanding so it must be doing something right. It is even starting to serve breakfasts in its Threadneedle Street branch in the City, the financial center of London. “How do you like your eggs in the morning? With lobster obviously” is its promotional slogan.

And, in a neat twist, it has gone back to North America for its latest venue and opened a 350-seat outlet in New York.

Smack Deli, the offshoot of Lobster & Burger, does away with the burger option and just serves lobster rolls with different salads, and lobster chowder. Its lobster roll is cheaper still at GBP 10 (USD 15.29, EUR 13.91). The outlet is mainly a takeaway although customers can eat in.

Fraq’s Lobster Shack offers a “Boston roll” at GBP 7.95 (USD 12.10, EUR 11.08), a lower price still, but sides are extra. An XL roll or salad is offered at GBP 14.90 (USD 22.67, EUR 20.78) and whole lobster plus a side dish at GBP 25 (USD 38.04, EUR 34.84).

According to its owners, the idea to open the aptly named Lobster Kitchen was born out of a number of trips to New England, “where lobster shacks can be found up and down the coast of Maine. The best lobster shacks serve up top quality seafood in a warm, friendly atmosphere, and that’s what you’ll find at Lobster Kitchen – lobster served every which way, with a dash of New England hospitality.”

The menu comprises eight lobster dishes ranging from lobster rolls – twin priced at GBP 8 (USD 12.17, EUR 11.15) and king priced at GBP 12 (USD 18.26, EUR 16.73) – to split whole lobster at GBP 16 (USD 24.34, EUR 22.30), lobster bisque, lobster salad, lobster tail, lobster mac & cheese and deep-fried lobster legs. Shrimp is also on the menu, otherwise it is lobster all the way.

There are common elements among the chains which are obviously appealing to younger customers. The lobster dishes are served in cartons, there are cardboard plates and plastic cutlery, and craft beers are more the usual drink than wine. Other seafood such as shrimp and calamari are often offered, although the focus is purely on lobster.

Will the concept really take off in the U.K.? There are opposing points of view. One culinary writer said it is likely to have a limited shelf-life, while another said: “Lobster will become much more commonplace, and be available at a lower price in 2015 as the premium seafood becomes increasingly popular across London and the U.K.”

We shall have to wait and see, but in London at the moment there is cheap lobster available and this will delight most seafood lovers.


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