Ketchup? On lobster?! BLAAM!
Lobster isn’t a cheap food, but once every year in London it does become more affordable. Belgo, a chain of Belgian-themed restaurants serving mussels and fries, holds a month-long lobsterfest every year with a bargain-priced menu of lobster dishes. I attend every year and this year I dutifully trotted down to Belgo Centraal, the Covent Garden branch, with the Euro Hedgie in tow.
The long-established Belgo Centraal is a Covent Garden fixture, but if you’ve never been then you might find the underground industrial dining room and the waiters, enrobed to resemble Belgian monks, something of a novelty. The large space is quite noisy, although the other end of the room set aside for diners with reservations is more sedate. It also has the benefit of slightly roomier, more private tables instead of the quasi-communal bench-style seating in the main section.
The lobsterfest menu consists of just three dishes and the Euro Hedgie and I sampled two of them. We ignored the surf and turf, which combines half a lobster with steak, since there was little chance Belgo could match the steaks at Hawksmoor.
The Euro Hedgie skipped having a starter, but I opted for the lobster bisque. This is a soup which uses lobster shells and other viscera as a thickener and stock. Unfortunately Belgo’s version is far too creamy and the scattering of limp chives does little to balance out the flavour. There is a slight seafood-ish kick at the end of every spoonful as it hits the back of the throat, but it’s very weak. Poor.
Both the Hedgie and I opted for a whole 1lb Canadian lobster served with salad and fries, at the bargain price of £25 each, for our main courses. While the Hedgie seemed quite pleased with his crustacean, I was bitterly disappointed with mine. My lobster seemed far too dry which is something usually compensated for by the butter. Sadly the herby butter on my dish seemed baked on, adding a crusty layer rather than a much needed dose of moistness. The green salad was mildly refreshing, although the fries seemed to be made from reconstituted mash and were a bit too soft, lacking that touch of crispiness on the outside.
The Hedgie was more prosaic on my poorly cooked lobster, opining that we shouldn’t expect professional and consistent levels of execution from a chain restaurant, but I strongly disagree. If one can’t expect machine-like consistency out of a chain restaurant, then what are they good for? It’s certainly not for fresh and innovative cuisine – the usual mussels-centric menu at Belgo Centraal has remained largely unchanged for years.
Sigh. Will the disappointment never end?
The selection of soft drinks at Belgo is mundane, but there is a reasonably wide selection of Belgian and Dutch beers for booze drinkers. The Hedgie usually drinks Kwak or Leffe, but this time he opted for Belgo’s own pilsner. He wasn’t terribly impressed though, but managed to swill it all down nevertheless.
The enthusiastic and friendly service can’t be faulted though.
It seems churlish to complain about the quality of lobster given such a low price, but the standard of the cooking at this year’s lobsterfest is just inexcusably inconsistent and poor given the number of meals they will produce for the June-long festival. I usually attend lobsterfest multiple times, but this year I think I’ll give it a miss – complacency has clearly set in at Belgo.
Name: Belgo Centraal
Address: 50 Earlham Street, London, WC2H 9LJ
Phone: 0207 813 2233
Opening Hours: Monday – Thursday noon – 23.00, Friday – Saturday noon – 23.30, Sunday noon – 22.30
Reservations: highly recommended.
Total cost for one person: £30-35