I once worked for a newspaper in Bermuda called the Mid Ocean News. I say “worked” but we didn’t actually do very much. Every Friday we’d meet in a restaurant called The Lobster Pot, which remains my favourite place in the entire universe.
We were all in our 20s, earning what still seems like a ludicrous amount of money and not paying any tax. We would drink expensive wine that we were far too sloshed to appreciate and eat Bermudian spiny lobster (which is distinctive by its lack of claws), toasting our luck at winning the cosmic journalism lottery. Of course, the newspaper soon went bankrupt, largely because it was paying a load of layabouts ridiculous wages, and I ended up back in the UK, completely skint because I’d spunked all my money on booze and lobster.
One thing I did bring back with me was an appreciation of what makes a good broiled crustacean. Spiny lobsters have tail meat that would make Beyoncé feel inadequate; juicy and tender and full of subtle flavour (the lobster). Nothing has measured up since, although I heard good things about Rock Lobsta, which briefly popped-up in Shoreditch in 2011. Now it has a permanent home at Mayfair’s Mahiki, which makes me happy for two reasons: firstly because I missed it last time, and secondly because the word “pop-up” makes me want to eat my own fingers.
If you haven’t been to Mahiki – and if you’re over 35 there is no reason you would have – it looks a bit like a Polynesian-themed Alton Towers attraction. Piped-in exotic bird chirrups greet you at the entrance and every surface is cluttered with sea shells and bamboo and faux-tribal wooden heads. Eye of the Tiger was playing as I walked in, which, interestingly enough, was number one in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, on the day I was born*.
My booth at the back of the dining room was dominated by a video screen showing palm trees and a tropical sunset – it looked like a still from a Duran Duran video, in a bad way. The waiters wear Bermuda shorts and the toilet door is camouflaged with foliage, making it impossible to find without a guide, for reasons I couldn’t fathom. It’s been called Prince Harry’s favourite club and it is, I’m told, the place to hang out if you’re young and rich. In short, it’s the last place in which you’d ever want to eat.
El Pye was dead on time, which means she was exactly 15 minutes late. As a forfeit, I made her go to the bar to spin the cocktail roulette wheel, for which you pay a £4 premium on regular cocktails but get the chance to win a “treasure chest”. A treasure chest is essentially a bucket of booze big enough to floor a table of six. Exactly what we would have done with it, I’m not sure. Thankfully, it wasn’t put to the test; after much shouting (“SPIN THE WHEEL!”) and gong ringing, she ended up with something that tasted of honey served in a cup shaped like a head, and I had something called a fa’afafine, a word that refers to a Samoan who identifies as neither male nor female. It tasted like sugar and came with an entire fanned apple, a cherry and a cocktail umbrella; even Del Boy would have thought it gauche.
Rock Lobsta’s Sex Pistols-inspired branding reads: “Never mind the scallops…” I ignored it and found that the scallops are actually very nice. Not amazing, and a little on the small side, but good nonetheless, with a pungent dash of charcoal oil. The “lobster popcorn” (which is free) tastes exactly like KP Skips and the lobster corn dogs taste mostly of batter. The starters, though, are just fluff – a warm-up for the main event: the lobster. At £17 for half a grilled one, they’re not unreasonably priced (certainly not in this neck of the woods), although when they arrive it becomes clear why: they’re pretty weedy specimens. This is because they are all wild creatures sourced from Cornwall. Chef Carl Clarke insists on it, which is all well and good, but I wish I’d gone for a whole one. You can forgive the size, though, when you taste them: this is some seriously good lobster. I had mine with smoked chilli butter, mostly because I thought it would destroy the flavour and I could write about it afterwards, but it was delicate enough to work.
My side of potato salad was fine, but El Pye’s Keveral Farm salad, which the waiter promised would be a “very special experience” was a decidedly average plate of leaves with some petals in it. Whisky cake with iced coffee and honeycomb sounded better than it was – it looked a bit like the DIY puddings kids make in Pizza Hut and there was so much going on that it merged into a single cold, sugary mass. But whether the ice cream is any good is neither here nor there: the lobster’s excellent and that’s what counts.
Is it as good as the Bermudian spiny lobster? Is it hell. I doubt anything ever will be. It’s taken on a mythical quality now, like a kindly, deceased grandparent. You have to wonder whether Mahiki’s clientele really cares, anyway. As we left, a bouncer was escorting a group of teenage girls from the premises, on account of them not being old enough to be in a bar. There were more queueing outside. I guarantee they were there for the treasure chests, not the lobster.
*This is almost certainly untrue, but it was number one in the US when I was born. In the UK it was Fame.
First published in City A.M.