POP-UP restaurants and dining clubs are all the rage, a creative way to set up in catering if you don't have the cash or the credit that would allow you to commit to an expensive lease and all the associated costs of a restaurant proper. There's something about these more informal eateries that captures the mood of austerity. Their indy, scruffy character and modest bills feel right at a time of recession, riots, cuts and corporate crime.
The Lobster Shack, which has sprung up in the East Lothian port of North Berwick, is delightful irony. The name is oxymoronic. We think of lobster as Cadillac alley food. A shack is for the down-and-outs on the other side of the track. How can the two combine?
The Lobster Shack is indeed a shack, albeit a cheerily painted one, with dimensions that resemble a large garden hut. It sits on the breakwater at the harbour with a huddle of tables and chairs around it, wisely sheltering behind a substantial stone wall. The picturesque location comes with stunning views, both out to sea and over the bobbing masts of fishing boats. No need to contrive a maritime aimosphere here.
Lobster Shack's USP is that it sells freshly caught lobster and crab direct from fishermen. It is registered as a 'first buyer', which means that it sources direct from the boats as they drop anchor in the harbour. Its motto is 'Fresh-Fast-Local'. You wouldn't think so looking at the rudimentary cooking facilities, but the cooking here is surprisingly good, serving up sparklingly fresh seafood at a price no restaurant could hope to match.
We began with Firth of Forth langoustines. They weren't, in all honesty, the best langoustines I've tasted, being a little mushy, but they were still pleasant and gained something from being cooked in the Iberian style with slightly piquant pil-pil oil. They came with a gentle alioli dip, a disappointingly standard crusty roll, and some allotment-fresh salad leaves, a mix of several diverse, interesting varieties.
Crab cocktail was off - the capriciousness of crustacea supply makes this a permanent possibility - so we went for what sounded like second-best, a smoked haddock and tomato soup. But it turned out to be quite special, with generous flakes of the smoky fish underpinning the acid sweetness of the tomatoes.There was no overlooking the lobster, grilled with garlic, lemon and parsley butter. We had the half (£8.50) not the whole lobster (£16.50), and it was perfectly filling as a main course. Although with lobster that was this fleshy and bathed in buttery shellfish juices, it would have been all too easy to eat a whole one. Either way, the lobster here is about half the typical restaurant price. All the main courses come with the aforementioned impeccable salad leaves, dressed with good vinaigrette, and irresistible chips - the hand-cut sort, offering soft floury potato in a crunchy crust. Snowy-white fillets of unimpeachably fresh lemon sole with melting caper butter got the same treatment. Lobster Shack could present a litter problem as the food is served in disposables.
But these have been sourced carefully, so you get biodegradable cutlery made from corn starch, compostable glasses, recycled cardboard and obvious bins, so debris shouldn't pollute the attractive setting.What you 'save' on the well-priced shellfish you can blow on a bottle of reasonably priced Jacquart champagne. More temperate types may settle for organic lemonade.
Lobster Shack offers the best children's menu I have seen. Fish goujons and grilled mackerel cost £3.95, or let them get stuck into creamy mussels for 50p less.
We left Lobster Shack looking for dessert, which we found a few miles along the coast road at Gullane, where the consummately professional 'konditormeister', Falko, turns his hands to ice cream as well as meticulously hand-made loaves and accomplished cakes. Like everything Falko cakes or bakes, sugar never dominates. Even the caramel ice cream is a model of restraint. My current favourite is his orangey almost citrus-tasting sea buckthorn ice cream, a toothsome seaside treat to round off a fishy feast.