That’s what I want from somewhere like this.
I want a spread which represents in its plenty the fecundity of the oceans. The teeming, glittering shoals, the scuttling, darting crustacea. I want beady eyes and shells and pincers and frankly extravagant numbers of legs and the effort of extracting their meat, and I want lots of it. I want the resulting detritus to lie piled, as testament to the process. So the prospect of Big Easy seems to be firmly up my whatnot. The menu promises things with tiles like ‘Blow Out’ and ‘Grand Appetizer’ and list the lobsters (from their in-house tank) up to 6lb, with the teaser, ‘Larger sizes always available…’ Nothing here is done by halves: if they pile it high, they sell it…well, if not cheap, then certainly competitively priced. Lobster typically sells at- what? £25 per lb of weight?- which puts a six-pounder firmly in the ‘my numbers have come up’ category. Here, a similarly hefty beast would hit you for a relatively polite £65. And that comes with a drink.
This is, in effect, a very simple place. You’re here for meat or for seafood, quite possibly both, and lots of it. You’re here to get your fingers and cheeks and various other surfaces sticky with barbecue sauce and meat juices; you’ve come to crack shells and tease out sweet meat from crustacean carapaces and crevices, to separate shell and pincer and body and not worry too much how you look in the process. Leave your prissiness at the door.
We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Saturday night. After a busy day chasing down some prime street food- that bit is here- and endless tube station to tube station (the foetid subterranean gusts, the vertiginous ascents) came a restorative snooze; DLR from Mudchute to Heron Quays. Jubilee Line from Canary Wharf to Waterloo and then Bakerloo to Charing Cross, a short walk to Covent Garden. Maiden Lane’s Big Easy- there’s another on the King’s Road- faces its antithesis across the street in Rules, London’s oldest restaurant, which has been serving traditional and proudly English fare to the great and the good of London since 1798. You can’t help thinking Dickens and Thackeray might have drawn the line at the finger-friendly barbecue options on offer, or struggled with the ‘Mumbo Jumbo Combo’. It’s a fair bet the noise and gloom would have struck an alien note, too, as might the live band.
Anyway. Where were we…? Ah yes. Abundance. The aforementioned ‘Combo’, for two (or more to share- as if!)-at £14.95 per person. Two halves of a lobster, four crab claws, four hefty prawns, four sauces. They try to make the maths easy for you, here. I’d have loved to have had the option to add a few oysters, but I’m picking now. This is also available in a ‘six to share’ version. Forklift to the table is included in the service charge. Claws are fat and meaty, prawns hefty and sweet, the lobster dense and fleshy.
Big Easy clearly expect you to be on at least nodding terms with lobster pick and claw crackers, as most of said cracking/extracting is down to you. This has never been a chore I’ve quibbled at performing: it always brings to mind my Spanish grandfather and the way he had of shelling fat, meaty prawns with a deft twist. I spent ages trying to emulate that, as a child.
Duly dispatched, one Taste-O-Rama! (£15.95) was on its way. The barbecue plate had smoked chicken, dry-rubbed ‘St Louis’ ribs and pulled pork. The usual suspects of coleslaw and barbecue beans were present and correct: the ribs carried a thick sleeve of melting fat and the meat bore obvious signs of that telltalesmoke ring, proof of long hours over wood. It was all remarkably tender, offering little resistance to fork let alone knife, and plentiful.
The lobster, then. Due to a mix-up with our order my main course arrived as two halves of a one-and-a-half-pounder with fries and salad, rather than the roll (£20, including a pint of their own ale); when this was pointed out the offending beast was whisked away but the sides remained. These kept me going while I waited for my food, which arrived complete with a fresh salad and another portion of the rather excellent fries.
Now that’s how to deal with a query…
This was less a roll, more a thick slice (what my gran used to call ‘a doorstop’) of beautifully light and buttery brioche, barely toasted then split lengthwise and crammed full of lobstery lusciousness. Drawn butter on the side, a bottle of cold local beer, rustling fries. They were exemplary- fluffy hearts, with crisp edges translucent by candlelight.
I should know, I had them.
We rolled out of there around midnight, while others were still arriving. Still wincing at memories of a £68 cab fare last time we were out together in London, we paid some small penance for all this abundance. The long walk to the toilets- so distant they post encouraging signs for the easily daunted (‘Nearly there!’), and according to our neighbour ‘deserving of its own Tube station’- was reckoned not enough exercise for the evening. In other words, we Boris Biked it home. Weaving through cabs and buses stuck in midnight jams, rolling down Fleet Street and past a floodlit St. Paul’s took some beating. Scooting around and under Canary Wharf’s towering cathedrals to commerce in the small hours, a very modern ghost town, was vaguely cinematic. In my head, anyway. Recommended.
Various daily deals make it even more affordable: the whole shebang came in (several drinks and ‘obligatory’ service included) at around under £50. For a large meal out in Central London, that’s a pretty damn good return: if you’re after some roll-up-your-sleeves and get-properly-stuck-in action, if you want to experience some echo of the plenty of the sea, the decision is Easy.
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.