Fancy Crab: Review
Words & Photography: Chris Pople
Since Burger & Lobster exploded onto the London dining scene half a decade ago, there have been numerous attempts to recreate its not insignificant successes in democratising other previously premium products (in other words, sourcing them more cheaply, and serving with chips). Flat Iron did for steak what B&L did for lobster, using a budget cut but cooking it extraordinarily well, and itself has now spread across the capital like so much black peppercorn sauce. And just over the horizon is Bastien by Andrew Clarke, which promises to serve exciting ways with Challens Duck and foie gras for much less than they do in Paris. That isn’t saying much, we know, but it will be good, we promise.
But what if your thing is crab? Particularly, Red King Crab, harvested at great expense and at great personal danger to those involved and still rarely seen in London? Well, there is Beast, and admittedly Beast is great. But you’ll also need to remortgage your house to cover a dinner for two — they keep the animals live in tanks on-site, and all those oxygen pumps don’t come cheap.
So, if you’re a King Crab fan and don’t have pockets deep enough for Beast, perhaps Fancy Crab will fill the crab-sized hole in your dinner diary. Fortunately for all concerned, King Crabs freeze very well — they suffer from little of the chewiness or wooliness that can afflict frozen lobster, and lose none of their distinct meaty sweetness. And so the idea is that Fancy Crab can use the cheaper frozen product, cooked and frozen on the factory ships straight after they’re hauled out of the water, to offer this premium animal to hungry Londoners without the extortionate costs associated with keeping, and cooking live crabs.
At least, that’s the plan. Doing the maths is difficult, as Beast charge £18 for 100g of crab with a minimum order of 400g, and Fancy Crab charge per joint of leg, with the ‘Merus’ £23 (the largest part of the leg), the ‘Rose’ £17 (the knuckle where the leg meets the body), and £14 for the ‘Carpus’ (the lower portion of the leg up to the tip). So if you order all 3 bits of leg from Fancy Crab it would cost £56, and only £72 for 400g from Beast, which seems odd, considering that at Beast the animals are cooked from live. On the other hand, an entire crab at Fancy Crab is £89/kilo, and it’s £120/kilo at Beast, and with each animal usually 3–4kg that’s quite a saving on the frozen product.
Anyway, where it counts, the offering at Fancy Crab is worth the effort. The crab itself is, as previously mentioned, definitely worth a try — rich and meaty and quite unlike the texture and taste of any ordinary brown crab you may have eaten before. They really are better compared with the soft bounce of lobster, bright white flesh glazed with rose pink. They’re served either cold on ice with a couple of dipping sauces, or grilled and slicked with butter, and with a pot of hollandaise sauce. Having tried both, our advice is ‘try both’.
The rest of the menu is a little more hit-and-miss. Crab bisque is decent, with an interesting earthy taste just the right side of bitter, and fluffy light texture. And ‘Singapore chilli crab’, though turning out to be more of a kind of light tomato/cream curry than the recipe popularised by Rick Stein involving a tomato ketchup and soy dressing, was pleasantly smooth and contained plenty of crab.
‘Tempura claw’, however, was rather greasy and contained overcooked meat, and I’m not sure what ‘Guacamole with crab’ achieved other than making you wish you’d either had a bowl of (nice, made tableside) guacamole, or some crab, and not both mixed together. As for the desserts, I’m sure cheesecake shaped like a crab leg is very clever, but it makes for a rather… challenging eating experience. Heston Blumenthal’s Meat Fruit it was not.
So here’s what we think you should do. Order as much crab leg as you think you can eat (or afford), and a bowl of nice skinny fries (£3). Wolf it all down, getting crab juices all over your clothes and your table, and wash it back with a bottle of beer. In this way, you get all the best bits of Fancy Crab without either bankrupting yourself or having to eat desserts that look like seafood. It seems odd recommending a restaurant with the caveat that you ignore 90% of the menu, but the core of what Fancy Crab do, the crab itself, is worth the effort and then some. Burger & Lobster and Flat Iron built their success on ultra-specialisation and small menus. Fancy Crab would do well to learn by their examples.
JOL was invited to review Fancy Crab on a complimentary basis. We retain full editorial control.