There’s something in the air. Trees are green again, birdsong fills the air, and it’s still light when you leave the office at half-five. For want of a better pun, Spring has definitely sprung (and don’t the hay fever sufferers know about it). Restaurants all over are celebrating the seasonal change for their menus, and Chinatown newcomer Shuang Shuang is doing just this with their lobster hotpot — because nothing says ‘spring’ like a heavily-armoured crustacean.
The lobster comes with a pot of tom yum soup — light and refreshing with the warmth of chilli subtly coming through, then a hint of creaminess from coconut milk is tempered by the complex taste of fresh, green herbs. For one crisp, blue £20 note, you can get this sensational, nourishing broth plus a whole lobster — quartered and served on ice — ready to be simmered and devoured right before your beady eyes.
The lobster that we get for our simmering supper isn’t the largest, but what meat we do extract, is sweet and tender, with an undertow of brine which speaks to its freshness. It’s early in the season though, and it’s likely that the lobsters on offer will get bigger as spring draws on and they feast on more sea urchins and clams themselves.
Just as important as the lobster meat though, are the flavours that the lobster shell imparts as it infuses in the tom yum broth. At the base of any good fish stock is the sort of stuff you wouldn’t want to eat — bones and heads and tails and shells — and this broth is no different. As the lobster cooks, the broth it’s boiling in becomes richer, more redolent with the sea — the glimmer of prawn you can taste in the broth, neat, is accentuated. The shell doesn’t just make the soup taste better — it makes it taste more of itself.
Lobster isn’t the easiest thing to eat — by any means — and when the lobster is steaming-hot and slippy with soup as it is at Shuang Shuang, it certainly doesn’t get any more effortless. At times, we feel like we’re in Annie Hall: wrangling loose crustaceans in a Manhattan kitchen. But that’s part of the fun. Ditch the lobster crackers, and flex those muscles. Shuang Shuang is as much about the experience of eating, the tactile nature of it, the way that boiling broth transforms and is transformed by the raw ingredients that whizz by. The lobster, fiddly as it may be, is very much in this vain. So leave your dignity behind, wear a shirt you don’t mind messing up, and have fun.
Shuang Shuang, 64 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 6LU