Bob’s Lobster in Bermondsey: The perfect balance of calculated elegance and easy charm
One could be forgiven for walking past Bob’s Lobster, perhaps thinking it similar to Ed’s Diner, or Bubba Gump. It has the chromed Americana appeal, the classic diner decor, a VW camper inside and nostalgic synth-pop turned up to a solid seven. One could be forgiven for seeing a low-brow joint, if only giving a cursory glance. A cynic (such as myself, admittedly) might read “The Shard” and “neighbourhood destination” in the same sentence and snort that there’s no neighbourhood in London Bridge, the home of corporate institutions and finance-tech companies.
One would be happily humbled, however, after dining at Bob’s Lobster. Defeated by its charm and rich, welcoming atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the memory-laden playlist, or the seeming non-hierarchy of staff (Rob, the owner, is just as likely to serve you, chat with you, seat you, as anyone else), but you’re at ease as soon as you’ve had a menu slid before you. Indeed, the menu can be a point-and-order affair, but taking some time to warm to the servers and probe a little deeper yields good recommendations from the 90 lines of wine available, and a few truly well-selected plates.
We opened with Tuna Tacos and the Crab Stack. The former arrived in an innovative long wooden rack and were stuffed with sashimi-grade tuna, a rich, smoky chipotle crema and wasabi guacamole. The chipotle really shines through, bringing a bright, rich bite with a tongue-covering creamy finish. Taking a tortilla chip to the crab stack next, we were rewarded with sweet, delicate morsels of hand-picked crab, echoed by indulgent nectar-like ginger and papaya from the salsa. It’s a shamelessly whimsical and moreish little dish. A must-try.
We followed with Shrimp and Grits, straight out of a Louisiana love-letter, and Fried Malden Oysters an hour’s drive from their catch. Both showed the real prowess of Bob’s ingredient-sourcing. The oysters arrived wrapped in Japanese shiso leaf, which turns the briney little guys into a whopping herbal aromatic journey – we were left stunned. The shrimp and grits swim in a bourbon deglaze under a bacon crumble: muscle-flexing, savoury and tangy. The only source of sweetness to lend vital balance is the shrimp, into which the whole dish places its trust. This is a level of confidence and consistency that only serious kitchens can operate with.
We continued on to harvest an obligatory lobster tail in vanilla white-wine butter, paired squarely by our server with a crisp German riesling. As one would expect, the succulent meat separated effortlessly and melted on the palate with a velvet coat of the vanilla butter. No garlic in sight, and yet a stand-out crowd-pleaser in every aspect.
Bob’s stuck the dismount with two desserts: a Lime and Coconut Pie and Bread and Butter Pudding. Note, this was lime pie in the looser American sense of the word – almost a cheesecake, in fact. Zest-riddled, zippy, creamy, biscuity. Fabulous. The bread and butter pudding performed admirably, bringing a warm cuddle of juicy sultanas to the closing parade. In retrospect, two more fitting sweet dishes could not have been chosen – the sleek, calculated, elegance of the lime pie and the humble, neighbourhood comfort pudding: the high-brow lobster, and the low-brow Bob.
Throughout the meal, I grappled with the question: why does a restaurateur with access to wines and cocktails like these, kitchen talent and ingredients such as those, and such an eye for evening-making hospitality, slam them into an unholy alliance with Chicago-roadside diner-chic? Why not open a hundred-seater one mile west, and double the prices? Neighbourhood: we’re back to that one crucial word. Bob’s Lobster sits between glass-and-steel skyscrapers at London Bridge and old-school cockney Southwark. Perhaps the most impressive balancing act here isn’t the sweet shrimp and bourbon grits, it’s a restaurant in one of the most starkly divided postcodes in the city extending a gilded platter to the lobster crowd and a warm hand to the Bobs. Judging by its runaway success in a little over six months since opening doors, there’s a winning formula at work somewhere.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Andrei Grosu
To book a table at Bob’s Lobster, Unit 71 St Thomas Street Bermondsey London SE1 3QX, call 020 7407 7099 or visit their website here.