Do not go to Claw & Hammer on a date. Or to be more exact, do not go to Claw & Hammer on a first date. Go on a seventh or eighth date, when the deed has been done, and you’ve already seen each other being about as messy and human as it’s possible to be. Then this restaurant on the eastern edge of the City of London, which specialises in southern US seafood boils, will be just the thing.
Because this is very much a hands-on, up-to-your-armpits place. The food is so gloriously prone to chaos and disorder that the main events are delivered not just with crab claw crackers and crabmeat picks, but also with blue latex gloves. “Although I wouldn’t bother with the gloves,” our cheery, cheerleading waiter said. I told him I wasn’t planning to. I’d come for dinner, not to perform an internal examination. Wet wipes would do me fine. I noted that those on other tables who had gloved up, were still able to scroll on their phones. They were probably Instagramming, which is very important in a place like this. Just look at the size of those king shrimp, and so on. It did, however, make them look like they were hunting down a differential diagnosis, while getting deep into the seafood action.
At the heart of the menu are their hotpots: boisterous, Cajun-spiced broths, lightly thickened with the noble wonder that is the Louisiana roux, that gracious interplay of fat and flour cooked out together which underpins so much of this sort of food. The rust-coloured broth bobs with chunks of corn cob, red potato and smoked sausage, to which your chosen seafood is added. There’s mussels and shrimp in the New Orleans; crab claws and shrimp in the Alabama; and snow crab, clams and mussels for the Louisiana. A single serving of the New Orleans costs £21 or you can share for £35. The pricing works upwards from there. I have no idea what these regional titles have to do with the contents. Maybe they just wanted to prove they know the names of some places in America. There’s also a vegetarian version called the Mississippi, filled with butternut squash, grilled asparagus and okra, presumably aimed at non-meat eaters who really like hanging out with their pescatarian friends. What matters here is that they are huge, edible Fisher-Price Activity Centers for grownups. You are never alone with one of these hotpots: ooh, I can suck on this bit; ah, I can peel that bit; my, I can poke around in there for the sweetest of sweet white crabmeat.