Burger. And. Lobster. Those three small words have developed something of a reputation since giving their name to a limited menu concept restaurant in Mayfair a couple of years ago. My dining partner and I had tried no fewer than four times to visit the two West End branches, but were thwarted each time by the “no reservations” policy, the large queue of waiting diners, and our growling stomachs. This time, stepping out of the theatre after a matinee, we decided we would not be defeated. It was time. Time to finally sample the burgers and lobsters we had heard so much about. There couldn’t possibly be a long wait for a table as early as 5.20pm, could there? Alas, as we turned into Dean Street, we could already see the huddles of people in the street, crowding, waiting for their turn to be let in. But then, in a flash of brilliance, my dining partner remembered the newer Farringdon branch. With the City a virtual ghost town at the weekend, we had found a way in. A quick ride on the number 55 bus later, and we were in. Table for 2? At 6pm on a Saturday? Absolutely, right this way.
In fact, the place was almost empty, with just a couple of other tables occupied, although it did fill up over the course of our meal. We were seated comfortably, with plenty of space between us and the neighbouring table, and left to take in our surroundings before our waiter came over with tap water and menus. The décor is a sort of industrial chic, with exposed brick walls and “chandeliers” of old fashioned filament bulbs strewn around metal hoops suspended from the ceiling, and from where we were sitting we had a view into the gleaming semi-open kitchen where chefs bustled around the sizzling robata grill. When we did get to peruse the menu, we were initially taken aback by the absence of food – both sides of the brown paper printout listed drinks. Then again, with Burger and Lobster offering no starters and only three mains to choose from, it’s perhaps not surprising that they leave it to the waiters to explain the options.
For me, there was really only one way to go – grilled lobster, with a dish of lemon and garlic butter for dipping. Presented on a large silver platter, it’s quite a sight to behold. A whole 1lb 5oz lobster, its shell bright red save for a few spots of black where it had been charred by the robata grill; my first thought was, “how on earth do I do this without making an absolute mess?” But it didn’t take long for me to lose my inhibitions, wrenching the claws open with my hands and digging the soft, sweet flesh out with the skinny silver tool provided for the purpose. Soon, my hands were sticky with butter and spotted with particles of charcoal dust, and I was very glad of the unflattering plastic bib that I wore tied around my neck. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely – the lobster meat was fabulously succulent, with a delicate sweetness that was brought out by the intensely garlicky dipping butter (though the advertised lemon was virtually undetectable). The lobster tails seemed slightly empty, as though some of the meat had been skimmed away (perhaps to make the other lobster dish on the menu – lobster roll). While the apparent skimming was a touch disappointing, in fact I had plenty of lobster and probably couldn’t have managed more anyway. Particularly as the sides of classic shoestring fries (well salted and perfectly crisp) and dressed green salad (topped with grated parmesan and a slightly sweet balsamic dressing) were too delectable to be ignored.
Deciding that we had to sample both elements of Burger and Lobster’s namesake, my dining partner plumped for the burger. A generous, flavoursome beef patty cooked to order (anywhere from medium-rare to well done), topped with intensely salty maple cured bacon and gooey melted cheese, sandwiched in a soft brioche bun, and served with the same shoestring fries and salad as accompanied the lobster, this was one impressive burger. But was it a £20 burger? For that kind of money, we think, a burger should blow your mind. It should be the best burger you’ve ever eaten. This burger was good, but it wasn’t the best burger ever. (That accolade goes to the £15 Kobe beef burgers at The Mayflower in Rotherhithe – review coming soon).
Once he saw that we’d downed tools and wiped our hands and faces with the proffered wet wipes, our waiter returned to ask if we wanted any dessert. Perhaps surprisingly after such large mains, neither of us had any doubt – we could easily make room for something sweet. As with the mains, Burger and Lobster keep their dessert menu short and leave the waiting staff to describe it. While the upside-down passion fruit cheesecake did sound tempting, neither my dining partner nor I could resist the other option: white chocolate ice-cream sandwich with double chocolate cookies, crispy honeycomb crumble and salted caramel sauce. Used to waiting a good few minutes for even the quickest of desserts, we were surprised to see our waiter return just seconds after taking our order, and even more surprised when he placed in front of us a couple of small, rectangular parcels. Wrapped in the kind of foil paper that places like EAT use to keep their paninis warm when you order them to go, these bizarre little parcels were actually our desserts. And although the presentation wasn’t exactly up to much, they were pretty damn tasty. The combination of flavours was complex, and with so many different elements of sweetness going on at once it was a wonder the sandwich wasn’t sickly, but whenever the white chocolate ice-cream and honeycomb crumble threatened to get too much, a hint of salt from the caramel sauce brought the back the dish’s balance. Eating this decadent delight with our fingers did get a little messy as the ice-cream began to melt, and I could have done with another wet wipe at the end. But as with the main course, the taste was such that I easily abandoned my embarrassment and indulged in some rather undignified finger-licking.
Drinks are the only things that Burger and Lobster presents on a paper menu, and there is a fair amount of choice at two sides of A4. The wine list is brief, with about 5 reds, 5 whites and just 1 rosé. All are available by the glass, but with the cheapest (small) glass costing over £6.50 and only 2 glasses coming in under £8, it doesn’t really feel like good value for money. Fortunately, the cocktail list presents some rather more appealing options, all at a not-too-budget-busting £9.50 a pop. I chose the rather intriguing sounding Deep Southside. Served long, this combination of Beefeater gin, black pepper, lime, velvet falernum, cucumber and soda was intensely citrusy and deeply refreshing with just a subtle hint of spice from the pepper. My dining partner, meanwhile, enjoyed a can of the somewhat unusual Brooklyn Lager – unusual because it had more in common with an ale than a lager, but it went down well with the burger nonetheless.
One positive with a place like Burger and Lobster is that with all mains costing £20 each, there are no real surprises when the bill comes. Two courses and a drink for £35 per head including service isn’t bad in central London, particularly when one of those courses is a very tasty lobster. And it is a fun experience (at least when you don’t have to queue for two hours first). But somehow, all the hype had left us expecting more. Don’t get us wrong, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal. But we had anticipated something overwhelming. So for falling just short of spectacular, Burger and Lobster scores a still impressive four Forks-Up.Burger and Lobster (Farringdon) 40 St John’s Street Smithfield London EC1M 4AY T: 020 7490 9230 (reservations for tables of 6 – 10 only)