By Matsume Kai
Great seafood is like a good shag on a Saturday night. Especially when it comes to crab. The work that you need to put into it to get to the creamy succulent meat that you sometimes need to slurp out.
And if it’s the right crab and served the way you want it, then, my oh my, it makes me want more.
The Red King crab is one of those inducers of pleasure. Originally from the Bering Sea (Ever watch the deadliest catch? Don’t, your job will suddenly feel mundane.) Artificially introduced to the Northern part of Russia and Norway where these gorgeous god made beasts in Fancy Crab come from.
As soon as you walk into the dimly lit bistro-style dining room – with its bare brick walls and high ceilings – you see them splayed out in front of you. Bright red in colour like a hot baboon’s arse (I don’t know why, but this was the first thing that came to mind, you’ll get used to me). Displayed in a glass display case, as if in an upscale art gallery, they summon you closer, just to make sure they’re real. Can a crab be so large and so bright in colour?
Louis, the attentive restaurant manager and sommelier, was quick to grab a crab and show it in all its glory. I swear, the twinkle in Louis’ eyes reminded me of my sister when she was four and had come home with a half-eaten wham bar. So, proud. (Our Japanese parents never let us eat anything sweet.)
Louis was proud of his specimen and knowledgeable to say the least – a true carcinologist. First, the ‘rose’, the super-tender shoulder where the leg meets the body. Then the ‘caprus’, that sweet and delicate lower portion of the leg. And finally the ‘merus’, the best part, the largest part, so succulent and meaty like a man should be. I mean crab! I really meant to say crab, stay focused now!
With drool running down the corners of our mouths, my friend and I are escorted to our table where we have a full view of the restaurant. It’s busy and buzzy. There’s a table of some 20 men (and this time I mean men, not crab) across from us, enjoying their drinks before the big opening. And by opening I mean the two large red king crabs ordered to their table as champagne sparklers fizzed away. A bit over the top for my taste but hey, I guess if you want to impress your clients, then so be it. Would I be able to finish a whole crab? Probably not but I would try my best. If you have tasted one of these beasts, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s that good.
We’re given our menus and guess what? It’s mostly all crab. It’s raining crab, hallelujah! It’s raining crab! Pretty confident right?! Well, Fancy Crab have every right to be. They pride themselves on being one of the few London restaurants that serve this majestic creature. The red king crab is caught in November and December to preserve the species. Fishermen and women put themselves in danger to capture these crabs.
The wine list is small but considered. Our wine menu was full of dot stickers, white out and scribbles. At first this came across as cheap, but after reading through what was once there, crossed out and then written over, my friend and I realised that the sommelier was someone who really thought about every dish. (Maybe next time, keep that rough draft to yourself guys.) Luckily, we saw the sweetness in this rough copy. The Japanese in me was disappointed in the only two selections of sake. Come on folks!
Anyway, we put in our order and asked which wine they recommend. Louis attends us with a sly grin to say he has a unique wine to introduce to us – one that will work well with the sweetness of the crab. We’re intrigued and so we oblige.
Before our first course arrives, I’m already impressed. The butter that is presented with our bread is married with three different types of kombu. And wow, the earthy saltiness of the sea goes well with butter. Who knew? Although my personal trainer worked me hard the next day, finishing that large knob of creamy, intense sea flavoured butter was worth it.
Our starters arrive. Crispy king crab bites – recommended by our waiter – were not a great lead on from the butter. I was disappointed by the blandness of the dollop of crab mixed with cucumber and mayonnaise, on top of a shrimp cracker. Maybe I hyped myself up too much? No, the decor, the manager, the waiters, the crab, the wine list, all of these components, built me up to this first bite of red king crab. Was it my own fault or theirs? If I’m excited about the crab, should I have not gone straight to the baked Merus crab leg in its beautiful natural form? I let this one slide, as I was still impressed with the butter.
Finally, the Michelle Pfeifer of crabs makes its entrance. Sexy and never gets old. Grilled and brushed with Fancy Crab’s homemade butter and served cold on crushed ice. Now this, this, is what I’ve been waiting for. I go for the grilled and it’s not a disappointment. The first bite bounces off my teeth and tongue. The sponginess of the plump sweet meat fills my mouth and with heavenly juices. The combination of the sweet tender flesh mixed with the slight saltiness of the butter. Heaven, pure heaven. I swear, if all men, I mean, all crab tasted this good.
By now Louis’ unique wine has arrived and, surprisingly, it’s a Moscato! We’re initially taken aback. I don’t think either of us would have ordered a Moscato on a cold winter’s night in London. But surprisingly it went well with the crab. The lushy fruit aromas combined with the complex sweetness of the crab, paired well. A tad too sweet though. My personal choice would have been a good Riesling if we were going down the sweet route.
Our final dish appears, the Singaporean Chilli Crab. A dish, every man and woman I know from Southern Asia, goes out of their way to find, wherever they travel. Chilli Crab almost defines the maturity of a great culinary city. If you can find one restaurant – yes just one – or even a small rundown shack in the middle of nowhere that’s been making amazing, mouth tantalising, Chilli Crab, then you know, the city knows its food. Chilli Crab needs to be somewhat hot, somewhat sweet and somewhat gooey. And definitely messy. Fancy Crab’s version was delectable but I wasn’t expecting to be shot back to my backpacking days in Malaysia. It was good enough for me and tasty. And for a Thursday night, where we were hoping to grab a few cocktails after our meal, I was somewhat pleased that my crab was already shucked and I didn’t have to worry about the mess I normally make when eating this naughty dish. So it’s a pat on the back for me.
We were both satisfyingly full enough after our meal and contemplated pigging out on dessert but we gave into the pear tarte tatin. The crust was lovely but the pear was too chunky for my liking. I love it when they’re thinly sliced. Having said that, the balance between the tart pear, savoury crust and sweet caramel sauce was perfect and we finished the plate in a heartbeat.
As I stared at the empty dessert plate with fork streaks running through the barely there caramel sauce, it made me think about the whole night. I came into fancy crab not knowing what to expect. It’s not like going to a French restaurant or a kushi yaki izakaya, where your expectations levels are high after being to so many. But a crab restaurant that served everything from Peruvian ceviche, Japanese sake and Singaporean chilli crab. You can’t possibly know whether you’re going to like it or or not. It’s impossible to judge, even if you want to. And maybe this is the reason why we enjoyed our night there. Yes, I was excited about the crab and it more than fulfilled my fantasy. Yes, I was excited about the Singaporean Chilli Crab but I wasn’t expecting to be served something straight out of Mellben seafood in Singapore. And so it was good enough for me. It was more than good enough for me. It was tasty. So tasty that if I was on my own, that plate with the little caramel sauce that was left, that big bowl with the Singaporean Chilli sauce that was left and that little butter dish, would be sparkling clean as I would have licked every each inch of those plates.
I look around the buzzy room. There’s a couple in the corner booth – you know the good looking ones that always look like they’ve been cut straight out of Vogue – engrossed in their conversation but their hands still focused on who’s eating what. There’s a family sitting near us, with a hot Asian hipster daddy complete with man bun – I bet he’s been here a few times and now he has to prove to his older sons what he’s been talking about all these weeks: “Fancy crab is really the bomb!” There’s one odd couple, each so absorbed in their own Chilli Crab that I don’t think they’ve said a word to each other. And of course, my fellow Asians, at least 4 tables, luxuriating in the beautiful crab that can’t be bought in China. (And trust me, China’s famous hairy crabs are pretty darn good! These people, they came here for a reason. None of them are walk-ins. They wanted crab and this is the place to be.
It feels good to be here.
While the friendly waitress poured out our last glass of wine I wondered what she overheard as my friend and I debated the pros and cons of meeting men on Tinder.
Now as for my night … let’s just say the crab got me flowing and I headed straight home to hubby: “Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter – take it from me!”
92 Wigmore Street
Tel: 020 3096 9484