Burger & Lobster is a -restaurant for capitalism in crisis, an existential moan for something simpler and less awful. Either that, or it is restaurant for small boys with jobs, who cannot make up their minds what they want and miss that -restaurant where you could get custard and a beating from a woman who looked like your mum but might conceivably shag you. Because it is simple — you arrive, and you order a burger or a -lobster, or both of them, or none of them. There is nothing to confuse, baffle or upset the small boy with a job living in a crisis of late capitalism, who may also have an Oepidus complex. Burger or Lobster, Oedipus? What’s it to be?
As a gimmick, removing choice from your customers obviously works, because the first branch of Burger & Lobster, in Clarges Street, Mayfair, a haunted street stinking of Graham Greene’s despair and possibly undergarments, had queues outside for three hours sometimes, and so I never went. All these people not in therapy! I tried to call, but they didn’t pick up — well, you know. Now it is a franchise, with a branch coming in Farringdon and one settled in Soho, where the Bistro du Vin used to be. Poor old Bistro du Vin. It didn’t survive having Piers Morgan as its spokesmodel. I can’t say I’m -surprised.
So here we are, the Junior Minister and I — no boasting, T! — in a huge, slightly battered diner in the skeleton of the Bistro du Vin. All the bones of the Bistro du Vin remain, which makes me wonder if this was a rush job, although my favourite bit — the fake books — have gone with Piers Morgan, possibly to the same place. I have known the Junior Minister for years, and I would say that power has made her slightly more strict, but otherwise she is the same, although she does have to wear brighter colours, like those scary female TV correspondents you know would suck your eyeballs out if you were alone with them, but wear pink two-piece suits to disguise it, and fail. The lobsters flap horribly in the tank that used to be cheese room at Bistro du Vin; they are oblivious extras in a horror film about seafood; thankfully, the cows have already been despatched. There is an explicit sadism to eating lobster, and toying with the remains. It is edible Lego. We all know it.
She orders burger and I order lobster and burger, although you can get a lobster roll if eyeballing a dead crustacean killed on your orders is too much for you, Albert Speer. The menu is chalked up on a board. I can’t wait for rustic chic to get lost, especially from a restaurant where a burger is £20. It is inverse snobbery, food speaking in mockney — look at us, we are street food! You aren’t street food. You are three times more expensive than the hotdogs at the Delaunay. The lobsters are from Canada, although they do not know it; they come steamed or chargrilled. The burgers are American-Irish, like the Untouchables.
In they come, on oval platters, aching with their own size, like the sort of people who need to be cut out of their own houses and then appear on Channel 5 in varying stages of denial. They are surrounded by sauces and condiments and cold, flabby chips, and salad that has no place here and should go somewhere else. The burger is almost a cube — cheese, bacon, beef, gherkin — and it is good, if so carnal and blood-soaked that it is, I imagine, slightly like eating a just-flayed human being. Lobster is light and pale, and equally good, but it all feels like a scene from Saw. This is an expensive restaurant which yearns to be a cheap one, and likes skeletons. Late capitalism, yes.
Burger & Lobster, 36 Dean Street, London W1D 4PS, tel: 020 7432 4800.
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