Fresh off the plane from my trip to America, you think that I would have immersed myself in all the things that London has to offer that I missed in my three weeks back in Alabama: good coffee shops, restaurants with carefully crafted small plates, bars that actually know what a Negroni is. But it wasn’t to be. Wilkes called me up a few days after I returned, just as I was recovering from an exam and still fighting off the fug of jetlag. Before my trip, he couldn’t stop raving about Big Easy and the ridiculous amounts of food you could have for the price; now that I was back, he insisted that I give it a try. So it was in this way that I ended up, on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, deep in the cavernous recesses of Covent Garden’s newest restaurant.
The entrance to Big Easy in Covent Garden is announced with a brash, brightly lit neon sign, urging you down the tunnel into whatever culinary delights lie beyond. It’s vaguely reminiscent of tourist-trap restaurants such as Bubba Gump’s, and considering that they were capitalizing on a cuisine that is very near and dear to my heart (Southern BBQ), I approached it warily. The inside is huge, with an impressive wall of booze rising up behind the bar, requiring a ladder to reach the top rows. There’s just as much seating space downstairs as well. On a Tuesday lunchtime it was hard to imagine the entire restaurant being filled, but I’m sure it happens easily.
Once at our table, we ordered pretty quickly: I knew I wanted to try the lobster, which came with fries and a drink included; I also wanted to sample their array of barbecued meats, so we ordered the “Tastearama” platter as well. Wilkes got a Sazerac slushie to go with the lobster, and I went for my usual fare at any place that has it: root beer (but this time in the form of a float).
Dominion is one of the better root beers (though Abita is still my all-time favourite) and on a scale of “caramelly goodness” to “toothpaste”, it sits firmly on the “caramel with a hint of mint” side. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream in it, it brings out the sweet side even more. I happily sipped my giant, fizzy float until Wilkes’ Sazerac slushie showed up, complete with a stick of wormwood. Now, if you’re sitting there thinking “Alcoholic slushies? What a gimmick”, then consider this: alcoholic slushies are very much a New Orleans thing. You won’t find them in the dainty portions served here at Big Easy (arguably the only thing in the entire restaurant that comes in a dainty portion) but rather in 32 oz foam soda cups, served to you in a drive-thru. Yes… alcoholic slushie drive-thrus. (Normally these are found next to another south Louisiana staple, Raising Cane, a chicken finger drive-thru. My mom told me, with the shine of nostalgia in her eyes, of being a student at LSU and driving to get chicken and slushies sometimes after class.)
Anyways, the slushie was amazing. It had the sweetness of the bourbon and absinthe, with a delightful kick of booziness. Unlike lots of slushies, it was pretty well blended, so you didn’t have flavourless chunks of ice ruining the experience. My only qualm would be that I’d prefer to have quite a large glass of it instead of the size it is actually served in, but it would probably get dangerous really quickly.
Soon the waitress came back with the classiest of dining accessories: the single-use lobster bib. I’m sure there exist people in this world who have their own silken, embroidered lobster bibs, ready for every crustacean occasion. But for the rest of us, we have to rely on the bibs that are provided. With heads held high and dignity still somewhat intact, Wilkes and I tied our bibs on with a flourish.
And then the food arrived. The table of three guys next to us, who had barely made it through their own plates of burgers and fries with effortful groans, stared as two huge platters were set down on our table. They covered the entire surface and hung off the edges – it was a LOT of food. In hindsight, it probably could have fed three, if you could ever figure out how to split two halves of a lobster three ways. Our dignity retreated a little further away.
I didn’t mind so much though because the food was, for the most part, absolutely delicious. The chips were perfectly crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, but needed a bit of extra salt/spices to make them stand out. Thankfully, the lobster was perfect – the delicate meat had taken on a smoky flavour from the grill and only needed a squeeze of lemon and a tiny dip in the pool of clarified butter. We had originally ordered hollandaise as our dipping sauce, but it was a bit bland; the lobster didn’t need it anyways.
The “Tastearama” barbecue sharing platter was a behemoth of a plate, with ribs, chicken, pulled pork, potato salad, baked beans, and coleslaw. It was so massive that, after thoroughly enjoying my lobster, I only had room left to focus on the meats that were there. Wilkes said he enjoyed the coleslaw and the potato salad, though, so I trust his judgement. I’m not the biggest fan of coleslaw anyways.
The ribs had rendered almost all of their fat, so they were juicy and delicious, needing only a slight dip of bbq sauce to really bring out the flavour. The pulled pork was my favourite, with its soft, almost fluffy texture; it was rich, succulent, and burnt ends were hidden in the bowl for extra bursts of smokiness. Even though I could barely bring myself to eat it, I managed to try the chicken as well, which was also juicy and lean.
Our bill came out to just under £60, so £30 per person – and this was to stuff ourselves silly. That’s already a good deal for central London, so if you think that we easily could have gotten away feeding three people with the same amount of food, you could probably get out for around £20 per person.
In the middle of our meal Wilkes joked, as we squinted our eyes and stuck out our tongues while trying to crack into the lobster, that this was definitely not a restaurant to bring someone to on a first date. (I’d say the opposite: if they can’t deal with you wearing a bib at the table and or having a bit bbq sauce on your fingers because you enjoy the food so much, there’s probably a lot of other trivial stuff they can’t deal with and you’re better off without them.) Perhaps Big Easy is a great first date restaurant because, hey, you can only go up from there, right?
Despite its kitschy sort of facade, the simple fact is that Big Easy’s food is good. It reminded me of the tourist-trap restaurants simply because of its size; in reality, it also reminded me a bit of the small bbq joints you’ll see in Southern towns, just on a much larger scale. You’ll just have to get over the fact that eating here isn’t going to be a small, intimate, quiet affair. In my opinion, Big Easy is the perfect restaurant to bring a group of friends to so you can order a few platters and all dig in indiscriminately, hoping that through a team effort you’ll be able to finish the hefty portions of food. It might take a little while, but that’s ok. Order another round of slushies, eat to your heart’s content, and take it easy.