Bibs are necessary and gloves are optional at House of Crabs. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Foie gras jaffles? Truffle pancakes? Cyanide-tinted caviar? All worthy last meals but if I could swing some death row day-release, a coastal seafood shack in the States tops my list. Somewhere to demolish crustaceans like there's no tomorrow (because there wouldn't be), wear thongs and knock back gallons of supermarket-purchased beer.
The latest from Drink'n'Dine isn't quite that place, but it's the closest thing we have to it in Sydney. Think more Louisiana good-ol-boy joint than Maine burly-beardo shack with plenty of creole, corn and cajun. Designer Mike Delany (Queenie's, The Carrington, et al) has continued to cast away the shackles of subtlety with canoes, beach umbrellas, fairy lights, crab net chandeliers and assorted seaside kitsch now Tetrised into Level 1 of The Norfolk.
The crabs, sourced in conjunction with Matt Kemp at Demcos and the Alaskan Snow Crab Company on Bourke Street, come boiled in 500g sharing bags of your choice of blue swimmer, snow or king. The latter has a saltier, firmer meat than the soft white flesh of the other two but holy-moly, there's a lot of it.
Go-to dish: Octopus taco. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
The boil is full of Old Bay seasoning with extra cayenne, so the crabs are all, ahem, cracking anyway.
Old Bay, an American blend of celery salt, cloves, paprika, and other wonderstuff is the best thing the Yanks have given the world behind frozen fish fingers and MacGyver. It goes magnificently with anything, especially seafood and especially crab.
Bibs (necessary), gloves (optional), and paper towel are provided so grab your crab fork and get stuck in - being sure to scoop out all that pearly flesh from the Promised Land around the legs. And don't be afraid to get messy. Not only is it perfectly fine to tip the crab bag out onto the butcher's paper tablecloth, it is actively encouraged.
House of Crabs: Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
For diners after something else, a barbecue octopus taco ($6) is a fine choice with soft, tangy squares of ocki holding their own in a chewy tortilla also containing jalapeno wheels and salsa verde. Lobster fries ($12) - shoestring chips smothered in fatty gravy, lobster flecks, corn and bacon - is classic stodge from chef Jamie Thomas and completely at home at The Norfolk's dude-food ranch. Also noteworthy is the chubby Redfern prawn roll ($9) and a fried chicken burger ($18).
You want some no-nonsense beer with all this stuff and the hipster-nip cans of Pistonhead for $6.50 provide it. Booking ahead is recommended, specially for a later seating, where you can order a number of tinnies and get really down and dirty with the many seafood options until kick-out time.
Do … leave any hope of a clean, cutlery-filled night at the door.
Don't … try and pick up in the unisex toilets, fellas. Wash your hands. Move on.
Dish … anything from the boil and the octopus taco (below).
Vibe … The Bubba-Gump Shrimp Co. but with less schmaltz and more of Lieutenant Dan's "have a good time all the time" ethos.
- 02 9699 3177
- Cuisine - Seafood, American (US)
- Prices - Snacks $5-$16; Crab $28-$45 for 500g; Mains $18-$28
- Features - Bar, Licensed, Accepts bookings
- Opening Hours - Tues-Sat 6pm-midnight, also open Friday lunch midday-3pm
- Author - Callan Boys