Crab Tavern is the tenth restaurant to open at the City’s newest dining destination, Broadgate Circle. The area is now overflowing with the kind of high-end, high-turnover gastro-chains that private equity guys go nuts for: opening branches in the City completes a perfect capitalist ouroboros in which we can literally get rich off of our own appetites. There’s an Aubaine and a Franco Manca, a Beany Green and a Botanist, a Comptoir Libanais and a Shoryu, a Jose Pizarro and a Yauatcha and a Street Kitchen. Whether you want Japanese or Spanish or Lebanese or Italian, it’s here, sharp edges glittering in the sun, almost unreal in its concrete newness.
Russian restaurateur Igor Krayushkin’s Crab Tavern is actually the only original concept in the development, although I suspect it will become the flagship in an empire rolled out across London and beyond. Because crab is the perfect thing to serve in restaurants like these: it’s expensive, but not too expensive. It’s familiar but has a hint of the exotic. It triggers memories of birthday dinners and summer holidays in the Mediterranean. It’s fun but safe, the food equivalent of an Ann Summers party (although that’s the last place you want to mention crabs).
I went on a blustery Monday evening when a pop-up clothes shop housed inside an inflatable igloo was straining at its moorings in the epicentre of the Circle, threatening to take off like a fashionable blimp. The glass-fronted Crab Tavern occupies an unassuming spot at around 2 O’Clock on the Broadgate clockface.
The dining room has tumbled fully formed from the New York mould, with a surfeit of exposed brick and poured concrete. A mural on one wall depicts a row of jolly crabs wearing sunglasses, which makes you wonder what they’re so happy about, given the circumstances. There’s also a downstairs area clad in wood and tiles, which is probably fine in the dead of winter, but with the knowledge there is a sun setting somewhere above, it has all the ambience of a decompression chamber.
They’re not kidding about the crab, either: hot, cold, fried, served on bread, stacked into towers: if you can do it to a crab, they do it here. To be contrary, I started with tuna and watermelon tartar, served with a few slivers of radish and too much soy sauce: chop, drizzle, charge £8 (it does, though, come in a very nice porcelain crab-shell). The Crab Tavern platter, at £10 a head, was a mixed bag: king crab wrapped in lettuce was rendered all but inedible by an aggressively salty avocado mayonnaise; crab tartar with capers was pleasantly zesty; a crunchy, not too greasy soft shell crab was well cooked; the caesar sub was the pick of the bunch, although there’s little room for failure when your ingredients are crab, mayo and brioche.
The mains only really differ from the appetisers in volume; the soft shell crab burger was too much soft shell crab after the previous serving of soft shell crab (the poor decision-making was my fault – the cloyingly sweet relish, enough to tip a diabetic over the edge, wasn’t). The “Best Legs in Town”, meanwhile, was excellent: four vivid, meaty limbs, lightly herbed, subtly garlicky, served hot or cold, with mayo or garlic butter. But £39? You can get a deposit on a good-sized semi-detached house in Coventry for £39. You can get an entire tasting menu at Craft London, one of this city’s superlative new restaurants, for only £60, and they’ll give you seven courses of intricately crafted nosh. I don’t care what the market price for king crab leg is these days, there’s no way £39 can represent anything approaching good value.
And then a strange thing happened. An innocuous-sounding chocolate brownie arrived, and it was absolutely, stupendously delicious: a gigantic slab of rich, buttery chocolate, still molten at its centre, slightly crisped – but not hard – around the edges. The salted caramel ice-cream, served on a bed of crushed biscuit, was saltier than most restaurants dare to go and all the better for it. And so I walked out of Crab Tavern reasonably happy. Not ecstatic. Not clicking my heels in the air in glee. But sated.
Would I go back? I don’t plan on it. But Broadgate Circle isn’t the kind of place you plan to go. It’s an amphitheatre of modern dining into which bewildered businessmen are tossed from trains to the lions of the restaurant world. Those people – people like you and I – need to eat, and Crab Tavern fulfils its purpose with a ruthless efficiency. You’ll end up dining here whether you like or not. And when you do, I insist you try the chocolate brownie.
First published in City A.M.