Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Smack Deli Breaks From The Traditional Lobster Roll Game

Billed as the "naughty little sister of Burger and Lobster," the naughtiest thing about Mayfair's new-ish Smack Deli is the blatant disregard for lobster roll tradition and the lack of focus on diner experience. The "deli" just off of busy Oxford St. offers four types of exotic lobster rolls, a lobster chowder, an in-shell one-pounder, a de-shelled pot of meat and a side of courgette fries. The prices are much more reasonable than those of the store's (well behaved?) older sister, yet they fluctuate whether you choose to eat in or take out. That's pretty typical of casual London places as there's no tax charged if you take food away, but opt to dine in and you can expect the bill to be a couple of pounds heavier. 
When Dad was in London for work last week, we stopped in at lunch time and the place seemed empty save from a few people placing orders and another few eating at the high bars across the front window. Upon entry you're met with a giant menu that forces the issue – which non-traditional, naughty ethnic lobster roll do you want? They're called Mexican, Happy Ending (with fish sauce and a name like that, if I was Thai I'd be kind of put off), California and Seven Samurai. We ordered the California and Seven Samurai, courgette fries and two soft drinks, which we then moved on to serve ourselves from bar taps. First wrinkle: out of three soft drink options, one was empty and both others were out of syrup. No one tended to this during the 30 minutes we were in the store.
I do think that the menu at Smack should include a traditional New England-style lobster roll. Not only because the current four options are each quite exotic and the menu lacks any easy option, but also because I feel like homage should be paid to the original form. It's a respect thing. I mean, it would seem like common sense that before you re-invent things, you should be able to whip up a damn near perfect original. Perhaps the restaurant does not want to get into the minefield of regional debate that is creating a perfect lobster roll – type of bun, mayo or butter, chilled or warm, etc. Or maybe tradition simply doesn't matter when you take the lobster roll out of the region it calls home. Or maybe Smack doesn't want to offer the same product as Burger and Lobster and undercut them on prices. (Or maybe they just don't care.)
Ed and I moved into the shop's back room with our sugar-less sodas to scout out a seat and found a full house. We settled down to wait with the electronic buzzer that we were given, but after around 10 minutes, suspicion set in. I moved to the counter where orders were being distributed to hear numbers being called verbally – buzzers merely served as number holders, there would be no buzzing or light-up involved. I asked about my order, only to be told by the expediter that she didn't have a ticket matching my receipt. She apologized and threw our order together immediately. Good thing I asked. 
After all of that, Ed and I both agreed that these rolls were delicious. My Seven Samurai had a hearty amount of lobster salad featuring Japanese mayo, shredded cabbage, cool cucumber, pickled ginger, scallions and a sprinkle of togarashi spice that really heated things up. The mayo was light and let the delicate lobster shine through, while the sliced scallions and cabbage rounded the salad out. I love a sliced scallion. Dad's California roll had lettuce, tomato, cucumber and avocado mayo with lime and chives. The topping-to-lobster ratio was well balanced – weight could easily tip towards lettuce and cabbage in these to fill things out, but Smack didn't skimp on lobster.
Integral to a good lobster roll is the roll, naturally, and these were fresh, buttery and grilled to a golden crisp. Bready, but not too dense. The courgette fries were equally satisfying. They were lightly breaded and fried just enough to get some crust going but not enough to go totally soggy and lose substance like zucchini can. They were certainly delicate, and could have done with maybe some salt and or some kind of dip. 

Though I'm feeling a little negative about the limited menu and unpolished delivery and service at Smack, the food is certainly delicious and definitely worth stopping by for lunch. It's a great option should you be shopping on Oxford St., as it's almost directly on the corner of Oxford near Bond St. station. Plus, there's not much else around that's worthy of the calories or cost (save burgers at MeatLiquour or Patty & Bun). 

Smack Deli: 26 Binney Street, London, W1K 5BN Smack Lobster on Urbanspoon


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