Statistically, the most dangerous job in the world is king crab fisherman. In terms of mortal peril, it is 75% more fraught than piloting, flight engineering and logging, apparently the next most likely professions in terms of coming a cropper.
I know this because years and years ago I caught the ‘flu, and in my delirium became inexplicably hooked on The Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch, a documentary series that chronicles the lives of the people who earn their living dredging up crab pots from brutal and unforgiving seas. The fishermen are at sea for weeks at a time – king crabs live in pretty deep waters, and can only be got at three or four months of the year. The chances of being maimed, thrown overboard or killed are not insignificant (though apparently it’s a lot safer now than it used to be), and, for those who dare, there’s pots of money to be made.
But despite having devoured six seasons of Deadliest Catch in a week, I’d never actually had a chance to eat one of these crusty beasts. They’re cripplingly expensive, for a start, and not that many places in London actually sell it. I recently rectified this at Fancy Crab in Marylebone, which specialises in king crab meat, and I’m a bit cross I didn’t do it sooner. Truly, it is the Kobe beef of seafood and everyone should try it at least once.
Considering its USP, the restaurant is actually pretty unpretentious. There are no white tablecloths and I was very much taken with the gigantic mural of a lady riding a crab, and all the mildly horrifying ‘paintings’ of medieval ladies in compromising positions with monster crustaceans.
Once you consider that a crab is just an enormous armoured spider, a sort of monster truck in arachnid form, and also looks a lot like the face-huggers in Alien, they do give you the heebie-jeebies. The last time I ate a crab that still looked like a crab was in San Diego aged 23, where our waiter made us wear plastic bibs upon which he wrote ‘MY WAITER GAVE ME CRABS’ in Sharpie. (Afterwards I got leglessly drunk at the bar and started an argument with a marine about whether or not people should be allowed to shoot burglars. It was not a classy affair.) The bibs were necessary because eating crab is a messy business, except at Fancy Crab it isn’t because they do all the tedious claw-cracking for you, so the meat is just there ready to be scooped up into your gaping maw. And what meat it is! It’s hard to describe, but it manages to feel meaty and substantial but also delicate and sweet. It’s light and summery but strangely filling… basically, it’s magical stuff and it is so bloody typical of nature to put it down at the very bottom of the ocean where it’s hard to get at.
There’s plenty of other seafood on the menu too (as well as a few half-hearted meat dishes for anyone who misses the point). We started with the sublime ‘Fancy Ceviche’ (£10), unusual in that the cured fish – a mix of yellowfin tuna and sea bass – was served up with the usual tiger’s milk on a layer of smooth sweet potato puree; and the crispy chilli squid (£10) which was individually fried, delectably crispy little squiddies served with a homemade chipotle mayonnaise.
Aside from the crab legs (£18/100g – and two big legs are about 300g), which were exquisite, and our cheery waiter who sported a turquoise and orange crab motif dickie bow, the absolute highlight of the evening was the guacamole. Now, we all know that guacamole is good. Until recently my favourite kind was the stuff they do at El Pastor, which has the option of adding chicharrones (i.e. pork scratchings) to use as dippers, but the guacamole at Fancy Crab is on another level. Truly, they could rename the restaurant to Fancy Guac and redo their mural with a lady riding a big old avocado, and I would still go. They mash it all up table-side, and they SMOKE the avocados beforehand, so the whole dish has this incredible bonfire flavour to it. And then, if you are not a complete idiot, you pay an extra £5.50 to have a generous smattering of king crab chunks mixed in. And then you scoop it out with topotos and shove it in your fat face. The downside is that regular guacamole is now ruined for me. No longer will I enjoy my peasant guacamole, unsmoked and sadly devoid of any crab whatsoever.
The Singapore Chilli Crab seemed like a must-order, and at £28 feels like a more accessible route to that luscious crab meat you’re here to try, but alas was the only disappointment of the meal. The sauce was lurid orange and much too sweet, and tasted more like a really well made chicken tikka masala than anything else. I say that with love – in my view the humble CTM is Britain’s greatest contribution to world gastronomy, but I don’t want to pay £28 for one. Nor do I want a version with the world’s most expensive seafood – it’s a shocking waste. You wouldn’t mince up wagyu steak to put in a burger, would you? (Well, some restaurants do. But the point is that they shouldn’t.)
Naturally, sustainability is a big thing here. King Crabs live only in the darkest, deepest, coldest waters, which is probably why they are so scary looking, because you don’t get to be a bad-ass bitch 600 feet underwater being cute and fluffy. Fancy Crab apparently uses a supplier that throws all the lady and baby crabs back in the water, so it only uses fully-grown males, and also freezes all its crabs on the boat. Apparently king crabs can get quite fighty, and also if one of them dies and goes off it releases a sort of spite toxin that can spoil the rest of the catch. (On the way home I was feeling a bit
pissed because I’d drunk half a bottle of Chablis and also swung by Pachamama on the way home for a Pisco Sour worried about the effects of pressure on these crabs, especially the rejected ones that were going up and down in the crab pot like a whore’s drawers, but I googled it on the train and it turns out that crabs don’t get the bends or anything like that. Which is nice.
Finally, I feel compelled to mention the lunch deal Fancy Crab’s got going on, which though only available Monday-Friday is worth keeping in your back pocket for the next time you’re on staycation. Admittedly, the lunch menu is a little light on the star ingredient, but you can’t argue with the price. There’s a good selection of seafood (and non-seafood, for the heathens), and you can get two/three courses and a glass of wine for £16/£19, which is truly bonkers value for a fish restaurant. (PLUS the insane guacamole is on there as a starter.)
Fancy Crab, 92 Wigmore St, Marylebone, London, W1U 3RD
I was invited to visit Fancy Crab and my meal was complimentary.
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.