Over twenty years ago, The Big Easy crabshack on the infamous Kings Road opened its doors to the people of London and its visitors, serving classic style American food, from lobsters and shrimp to burgers, ribs and steaks. The popularity of this authentic restaurant has kept movie stars, journalists, sports stars, members of the royal family and Chelsea locals returning to it for a feast year after year, always keeping the tables full and a reservation difficult to acquire at short notice.
But today, after months of waiting eagerly, The Big Easy opened its doors to its second home, located a short walk from my offices in Covent Garden. How convenient! For the past few weeks I have been sat eagerly watching the Big Easy twitter feed (@BigEasyLondon), waiting for the announcement that bookings were now being taken, and I would finally have my opportunity to book a table and find out for myself what all the fuss and hype surrounding this deluxe crab shack has been about. This is what I found out.
Well… it wasn’t very busy considering it was lunch time on opening day. Granted it’s a Monday, and over the last few days they’ve had their soft launch and so many of the hard core foodies & crabshack fanatics have already had a chance to try this new restaurant out, but even still, over 10,000 people applied for a reservation to the soft launch, and those of us who missed out were offered the chance to also receive either a free round of drinks or 50% off their food bill (which today we took full advantage of, although for the purposes of this post the prices listed are the non discounted amount) – so why wasn’t the place packed to the brim? I’d say only half of the restaurant was full upstairs, and downstairs was only being occupied by a few members of staff enjoying their own lunches and a few people conducting lunch meetings. It was more than a little surprising.
As we were receiving 50% off the food bill, we saw this as an opportunity to try as much of the menu as we could. In general the whole menu is a little pricey, and so I think if I were coming on a regular lunch or evening, i’d opt for one of their set menus or deals which are pretty fantastic! More about those later…
We started with half a dozen Native Oysters (£15) which came with the usual accompaniments; lemon, onions and tabasco – the green one! What a bonus. Each of the Oysters were big, meaty and shucked so well that they slid into the mouth without need for excessive prodding. They were chilled nicely on a bed of crushed ice and were a great start to the meal. Unfortunately these oysters are very seasonal, so they’re not going to be a permanent fixture on the menu which is a massive shame. Oysters this good are hard to find.
For the big event of the main course, we opted for a £17.95 platter of ribs, BBQ’d chicken and pulled pork. Usually this would have also come with brisket, but that is only available after 5pm every day due to the amount of time it takes to cook. Regardless, this is a very large platter indeed and proved too much for the three of us to complete (luckily this place is all about American style dining and so taking away a doggy bag is more that encouraged!) The ribs were meaty and smoked well, the chicken was succulent, and the pork tender, but all seemed to be a bit lacking. For me, they were missing the depth of flavour that is synonymous with BBQ… I wanted my meat to be coated in a rich, sweet, sticky BBQ sauce that would have made the free bibs worth while. But all in all, it just wasn’t quite messy, saucy and juicy enough – although I did make use of the supplied wet wipes which (and I know this sounds ridiculous) had a pretty good texture and consistency – just what you’d look for in a wet wipe!! With this platter came a side of crunchy homemade slaw, but it wasn’t tangy enough with the flavour of mayo for my liking, however the bowl of BBQ beans added the flavour that the meat was missing to make this an authentic BBQ feast.
As this is a crab shack it seemed silly not to have a try of their shellfish offering, and so I also ordered a Lobster Roll which came in at a pricey £16.95. This came with a small side salad (unlike the dish on the downloadable menu which can be found on their website that says it comes with a small bucket of fries) and no garlic butter (as you’d expect with this dish). The lobster was chunky, sweet and seasoned well with paprika, however it was cold. Why?! Cold lobster is nice in a salad, but lobster rolls should be hot! In comparison to the Lobster Roll at Burger & Lobster (served warm and with a big bowl of garlic butter) which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was pretty disappointed, and am pretty sure if it wasn’t for the other mountain of food that we had ordered, I’d have been left pretty hungry.
In addition, I ordered a side of Mac & Cheese £3.95 which had a wonderful layer of crispy cheese on the top (always the bit we fight over in my house) – Pretty indulgent as sides go, and not something I would usually order when it comes to side, but as we were in the spirit of trying as much as we could while we have the 50% off chance, I thought, why not?! Mac’n’Cheese seems to be reaching highs of popularity in London at the moment, which I am very happy about, and I think this side dish contributes to why people are starting to take note of this delectable cheesy carb loaded dish. It really is very good, with enough crispy topping to get a small bit in each fork-full, and cheese nice and stringy that is clings to your chin as you reach your mouth. I like that in a Mac’n’Cheese…
Despite being about ready to pop, we thought it rude to not at least have a peruse of the dessert menu. My eyes instantly lit up when I read ‘Waffles’ as an option and was ready to order the Apple & Cinnamon offering, when I was told they didn’t have any waffles. Err… what?! Opening day, and they didn’t have 30% of the dessert menu available?! Disapointed doesn’t even cover it. However, my second choice of Baked Cheesecake was available and so five minutes later a massive slab of cheesecake (dotted with big raisins & currents and a side of vanilla ice-cream) was placed in-front of me, while Josh found himself facing a mountain (quite literally) of chocolate cake. Value for money is the best way to describe this dessert, as each portion was only priced at £5.50 each and could have fed at least 2 people each.
My cheese cake was creamy, and despite not being a huge fan of currents, I quite enjoyed the little fruity burst of flavour in every other mouth full. The base was short and crumbly, and in its entirety, it didn’t give me that sickly feeling in my belly that I would usually experience with a pudding portion of this size.
Josh’s cake on the other hand (which he drowned in cream) was a little dry for my liking, but the ganache was rich and thick, lifting the dryness. The portion however was just too large, and when we told our waiter, his response was simply “We do American portions” …’nuff said.
The bill came to just under £60 which I think you’d agree for how much we ate, was an absolute steal. Especially considering that included drinks and service charge. However, had we been paying full price, I’d have left feeling a little out of pocket (albeit, incredibly full!) I won’t be returning to eat the lobster roll (unless the price is dropped considerably and the lobster warmed up!) but I will definitely be back to enjoy one of their great lunch deals that run Monday to Friday; two courses and a beer or slushie cocktail for£9.95. I’m not sure of a better lunch deal in Central – the portions are a very filling size (the fried shrimp main could fill a family!), and the Slushie cocktails (usually priced at £8.50 alone!) are strong and refreshing. The Margarita in particular is verging on addictive. You could also grab yourself a Steak Frites for the same price also with a drink. Name me somewhere else in London that can beat that flavoursome deal! Alternatively on most days there is an All You Can Eat offer whereby you can fill yourself to the brim with pork, shrimp, fajitas or hog roast (and a drink!) for less than £17!
In addition to food, they have a live band perform in the evenings, and with one of the most attractive back bars i’ve seen in a restaurant (rows upon rows of interesting rum and whiskey bottles bottles of over 50 varieties lit up from underneath highlighting the amber liquids within), this could be a great venue for some afterwork cocktails. I’m glad we finally have somewhere like The Big Easy available to us here in the West End, especially so close to my office. The lunch deal alone will keep me returning (make that ‘the Margaritas will keep me returning’!) and i’m looking forward to taking my friend who takes “all you can eat” as a personal challenge to one of their Big Pig Gigs. The Big Easy guys really do make themselves hard to resist…