House Of Crab: Concept Over Crustacean
The one-item restaurant trend continues and we’re embracing it. Splashing our t-shirts with ramen, crunching into fried chicken that doesn't come with a welfare warning bell, and hoovering up cheese toasties like they’re going out of fashion (they’ll never go out of fashion), we're having a lovely time, thank you.
Enter then, House of Crab, which has opened until January 2016 in Mayfair (the building is destined to become a block of expensive flats). Lobster rolls are great and all, but now it feels like time to move on to a superior crustacean. Crab meat is sweet, fuller of flavour and plentiful. Bring it on.
The foundation of the menu at HoC is a selection of crab rolls, with the option to add sides. The best value option by far for our table of two is to order the claw combo (£20), which is any choice of roll, plus bisque, fries (with seaweed or rosemary salt), slaw (that’s samphire and fennel) and mac n cheese. Adding another sandwich on top (£8.50-9.50) then leaves you with two sandwiches and all the sides bar crab cakes. The first thing you’ll probably notice about the menu however is the use of puns (punnage? Punnery?) and we have a fleeting moment of fun ordering the Singaclaw (white and brown crab meat, hot sauce, sesame seeds, nori and coriander) and the El Jimaclaw (white and brown crab meat, avocado, chilli, coriander and sour cream).
As our tray of crabs and carbs arrives, however, we begin to worry that perhaps the puns have come first, and the food second. The bisque is murky, thin and tastes only faintly of seafood. We confirm that they’re not ordering in whole crabs, so how are they attempting to make this? Bisque should be rich of flavour, almost too intense, and super smooth. This was like fishy dishwater. Come to think of it, wouldn't a restaurant specialising in crab want to serve them whole? Working over a crab is, to us at least, a great pleasure – all that cracking, mining and slurping against shell. The reason they don't is down to lack of space and facilities we’re told — fair enough — but it's hard to shake the thought when the rest of the food fails to impress.
The rolls for our pun-tastic sandwiches are baked in house, which is great, but their double-coated Ronseal crust is oddly crunchy. There’s absolutely no criticism to be levelled against the amount of meat used to fill them but the problem is that it’s all just too cold. The flavour of the crab is muted — an expensive mistake, but easily fixed. The fries aren’t bad, although they need more of the advertised salt to, again, bring more flavour. The ‘slaw’ is samphire, fennel and red onion, which is fitting but so chilly it's just a bowl of crunchy bits.
We so wanted to love House of Crab, but felt there’s a lack of attention to detail and confidence in the kitchen when it comes to really celebrating the main ingredient, a shame since they're getting everything from Favis crabbers in Salcombe, and seem to really care about the sourcing. This ingredient needs showing at its best. In the end we found ourselves impersonating Jerry Maguire in his famous ‘SHOW ME THE MONEY!” telephone scene, the money part of course replaced with crab.
We should say that we loved a dish of macaroni cheese (sorry, mac 'n cheese), rendered extra-crabby as the result of some feedback that it didn’t contain enough. So they’re listening, which is great, but it’s a shame there’s such a lot that needs listening to.
House of Crab has the potential to be decent, but if you’re going to do just one thing, you need to be the expert, and here it feels like they’re scuttling away sideways from a fantastic concept.
House of Crab (extra points for an excellent website), 81 Grosvenor Street, W1K 3JY. Open until January 2016.
Last Updated 16 October 2015