The premise of the 10 Cases in Covent Garden is that they only buy 10 cases each of 10 white and 10 red wines, and when they run out they buy something different. Which is pretty neat. And the wines are good, and interesting, and all available by the glass – reason enough to go back again. I tried a 2010 Domaine de l’Aumonier Cuvée Henri (a chenin blanc from Touraine, which was unusually fruity for a chenin blanc with an intense, penetrating, aroma of fresh pineapple and a searing finish) followed by a 2008 Schloss Halbturn Zweigelt from Burgenland in Austria, which was an excellent, peppery example of that grape variety. There was also some Banyuls that I thought tasted a bit clapped out but by that stage I wasn’t really paying attention. They have other odds and ends written on the wall too.
The food is good too. Pretty basic, but the ingredients are absolutely top notch and the dishes are well executed and perfectly acceptable, especially if you care more about the wine. Mushrooms on toast is literally mushrooms on toast, with a poached egg. Goat’s cheese salad is literally a bowl of dressed salad leaves with some warm, gooey, ashed goat’s cheese wrapped up and served on the side. Half a roast guinea fowl is – well, you get the idea. You can have oysters, a rack of lamb for two, and a bunch of more interesting sounding snacks (like grilled octopus and foie gras en cocotte). It’s all very good. The service is bloody fantastic – knowledgeable, friendly without being overly familiar, and surprisingly cheerful for somewhere so crowded and frantic.
The fly in the ointment is the price. It is fabulously bad value, at least as far as the starters and mains are concerned (snacks looked better value; wine is fairly priced but not a bargain). £20 for the aforementioned guinea fowl. £56 for a rack of lamb for 2. That’s £56. Nobody in London is paying £20 for a main course in a crowded bistro let alone £28 a head for a rack of lamb. Saddle of lamb (more or less the same thing) is only £25 at the exceptionally posh Rules, just down the road.
I’m sure they have their reasons. It can’t be easy running a decent restaurant in Covent Garden (if indeed there is one – save for 32 Great Queen Street, of course). But as a customer I just don’t care. The rules are easy. No tablecloth? Nothing beginning with the number “2”. We are living in an age where you can get lobster in Mayfair for £20 a head for crying out loud. Why on earth would you pay £28 a head for lamb in Covent Garden?
Which brings me to Burger & Lobster, which is an altogether different story. For £20 you can get a burger, or a lobster, or a lobster roll. Since you would be an idiot to spend £20 on a burger, the only real choice is therefore £20 for a lobster, or a lobster roll. And since the lobster roll is basically the same as the lobster, but on a roll rather than in the shell, and therefore designed to help rather than hinder you eat it, it all really boils down to £20 for a lobster roll.
It’s a perfectly good lobster roll; actually it was very good indeed, for a lobster roll. I was expecting it to be hot. It wasn’t. (To be fair, the non-roll lobster would have been hot). I was expecting the chips to be triple cooked masterpieces but they were just above average French fries (interestingly, some pictures on other blogs depict fatter chips than I was served today – in which case they should change it back). So for what it is, it’s pretty great, and exceptional value. For me though, the elephant in the room is that lobster just isn’t that exciting eating, I’m afraid. It’s one of those undeservedly luxury ingredients that, whilst I enjoy eating it from time to time, I don’t really see what the fuss is about. There’s a 2 hour wait for a table at this place in peak hour; I doubt that would be the case if it was called “Burger & Prawn”, and frankly a good prawn roll would have been just as tasty. The whole premise is just a bit ostentatious, but if lobster is what you crave, it’s the only place to go.
So basically if you’re in Covent Garden the 10 Cases is well worth a visit, but beware the bad value corners of the menu. And if you’re in Mayfair and anything but lobster is out of the question then by all means go to Burger & Lobster. But if you don’t fancy a 2 hour wait, or you don’t care for lobster, then, I don’t know, Beittedine Express is also on Clarges St and they do pretty good kebabs by London standards.