The Big Easy is one of the better known American-style diners in London. The original Kings Road restaurant first opened more than 22 years ago, designed to be an easy going place with generous portions and cool music in a similar vein to the 19th century crab and BBQ shacks on the American Gulf Coast. More recently, The Big Easy has opened up in Covent Garden and Canary Wharf as well.
Flossy’s rating: 2/5
Ever since I moved to London I have heard people rave about the great food and atmosphere at the Big Easy. When I was waitressing at the Palm (a famous US steakhouse whose London venture was short lived), the other staff would go on and on about how awesome the weekday specials menu was whilst we were folding napkins. On quiet nights, the manager would even send a runner up the road by taxi to compare how busy The Big Easy was compared to us. Later in my career when working in an office, I still heard other staff recommending The Big Easy for its fantastic food and classic American experience. Over the years I started to imagine The Big Easy as an incredible place I needed to visit however I never quite made it there because Kings Road is a pain to get to when you live in East London.
When the Covent Garden venue opened it was not long before I paid a visit for Saturday lunch. Despite all the hype I’d heard about the place I had not previously given much thought to what their specialty was, I just assumed it was steak and burgers like every other London-based American diner. On reading the menu it was clear that lobster and shrimp are their thing. My friends ordered the daily special, £20 for lobster with clarified butter, salad, chips and a drink. I went for a sirloin steak, which set me back £27.50 without any sides. The experience was disappointing. The cocktails were too sweet, the steak was too fatty, the bill was too expensive, and it was not that pleasant being squashed together in a booth where our knees were touching and the lighting had a red hue (a bit like a strip club).
However I didn’t give up there. Believing the original venue on Kings Road must be awesome I finally went there for dinner on a Saturday night with my husband. At the Kings Road location you feel like you have stepped back in time 30 years. The joint is cosy and tables are packed close together however the peeling wood furniture, cheesy American signs, and buzz of chatter and old rock music gives the place character. It just feels like a cool place to be. My husband and I were lucky to get a table at 6.30pm on Saturday without a reservation and the place filled up quickly, with people soon standing by the open bar waiting for a table to free up.
We were seated close by the bar and the large frozen cocktail machines pumping out frozen lime and strawberry daiquiris caught our eye. We ordered these the whole night, they were certainly drinkable however right then and there I decided it would be my last time ordering cocktails at an American diner. As with previous experiences at The Big Easy in Covent Garden and at TGIF, they were too sweat, padded with too much ice, and were obviously flavoured with artificial and not real fruit.
To start with we shared some jumbo shrimp. These were incredible. Although deep fried, the prawns were large and plump and deliciously seasoned. They came served with a special tartare sauce and spicy tomato salsa that just hit the spot. We devoured these very quickly. However things took a steep dive downhill when the mains arrived. We both ordered the daily special, the £20 lobster meal. It was not clear if the lobster had been boiled or broiled but it was a tad over cooked and a little dry and therefore needed plenty of the clarified butter to dip it in. Normally the chef will half crack the claws so they are easier to open, however this had not been done properly and even with the lobster crackers supplied to us it was a mission to get the meat out. The chips tasted horrid and they were surprisingly more sweet than savoury. It was difficult to tell whether this was because the oil they were cooked in was very dirty or the potatoes were old, but something was definitely wrong with them. The saving grace of the main (and more so had the portion been larger) was the petite side salad, which was surprisingly fresh with a nice zingy dressing.
For two lobster dinners (that come with a small cocktail), an additional cocktail each and a shared starter, our bill came to just over £80. For a rustic diner that is supposed to mirror an old school crab shack, it is a little on the rich side – even for London! You don’t even get a finger bowl for the price, just some KFC-like wet wipes.
The Big Easy was an interesting experience but it failed to live up to its reputation. However I would return for the Tuesday all you can eat shrimp special, because those jumbo shrimps were just amazing.