First look: Red Lobster

Embrace the all-American dream with generous portions and decent price points at this popular seafood chain

All photos: Annabelle Lim
First looks are initial sneak peeks at a new venue. Unlike reviews, which are strictly anonymous and paid for by Time Out, 'first looks' may be based on press trips or other non-anonymous visits.

What is it:
A famous American seafood restaurant chain with world domination in mind. This outpost at Taikoo Li – in the spot which was once Pizza Marzano – is its 780th store and there are plans to open more across China. Red Lobster is known for making seafood affordable – it buys the most seafood in the world so much so when they have one of their ‘Endless’ buffet promotions, prices go up worldwide. Unfortunately there aren’t any plans for one of these ‘Endless’ deals in China. Yet.

What’s the vibe?
If you’ve been to a Red Lobster in the US, well, it’s different. The branch here is Red Lobster 2.0. a relatively open space with a slight seafood theme – fishing nets – to it in accents of blue, red and light-wood furnishings. And a massive abstract red lobster sculpture hanging in the main dining area. Also to cater to local eating preferences, there’s also a private room with glass walls and drapes for a more intimate setting. Its kitchen lined up along the wall so you can see the food being prepared. It’s a pretty small for a Red Lobster restaurant but in a prominent location.

Cheddar Bay biscuits

What’s on the menu?
Its iconic Chedder Bay biscuits, which has close to a million Facebook followers on its page, comes free with every order. It was incredibly buttery and crumbly – we don’t want to think about the copious amounts of butter and cheese that have went into it. It’s complimentary, but have more than one and you’ll possibly ruin the rest of your meal as it does weigh heavily in the stomach.

Lobster, shrimp and crab dip (108RMB)

Red Lobster’s starters mostly feature seafood and its lobster, shrimp and crab dip served with corn chips (108RMB) was a little too rich for our taste, though credit goes to its homemade corn chips, which were deep-fried to perfection. We could find no fault with its lobster bisque (68RMB), which was also sinfully rich with lobster umami-ness and topped with a mini claw, which added a little crunch to the thick broth.

Lobster bisque (68RMB)

Lobsters, obviously, are its signature dish. You’re allowed to pick your crustacean of choice by its entrance from its lobster tank. And if you want to commemorate your kill, staff is also on hand with a camera and a print-out of your conquest will be presented to you later to hang on your wall.

Lobsters come in a a variety of sizes though for two to share, opt for the 1.3kg ones. There are five ways they prepare it though we recommend it steamed (from 298RMB/450g to 888RMB/1.3kg) in its specialised steamer which locks in all the moisture for a juicer bite. It is accompanied by melted butter for added richness, or for lighter palates, a ginger soy sauce. Its unique chilli-fried lobster with cashew nuts (from 308RMB/450g to 888RMB/1.3kg) is unique to Beijing and it’s surprisingly tasty, sweet and fragrant rather than burn the palates. It does however mask the natural sweetness of the lobster though. What has surprising heat is its Diavolo (from 398RMB/450g to 1,088RMB/1.3kg) version with spaghetti. Those who love spice will enjoy it though we were sweating freely after a few bites.

Chilli fried lobster with cashew nuts

Steamed lobster served with hot drawn butter sauce

For seafood variety, try its ultimate feast (338RMB) that includes the North-American lobster tail, wild-caught snow crab legs, garlic shrimp scampi and crispy fried shrimp. It comes with a choice of two sides such as crushed baby potatoes, mashed potatoes, truffle fries, rice, and steamed vegetables.

DSCF1027Ultimate feast (338RMB)

‘Rich’ has been the theme of our first look for Red Lobster, and this also extends to its desserts. We sampled three and all deserve special mention. The brownie overboard (68RMB) is served in a sundae glass which contains a mess of gooey chocolate sauce, moist brownie and ice cream that comes together heavenly in the mouth. The theatrical chocolate tidal wave (78RMB) comes literally smoking, with dry ice hidden between the plates. It holds a scoop of ice cream balanced between twin towers of chocolate cake so rich that even the sour raspberries at the side can’t diminish its sweetness. A relatively lighter dessert is its Wild Berry Shortcake (38RMB). We say relatively as it has whipped cream filling the empty gaps of the large beaker where the shortcake doesn’t reach.

DSCF1050Brownie overboard (68RMB)

Chocolate tidal wave (78RMB)

We say:
Red Lobster lives up to its reputation of being value for money. It’s not cheap, but live lobsters and fresh seafood never are. The only other places with such variety are at 5-star hotel buffets.

We also recommend heading down with at least one other. Along with its lobsters, it has also imported American-sized portions. Its ultimate feast for example, could easily be shared as a main. Add in one of the appetisers and the both of you won’t go hungry come next meal time. Save for its lobster bisque, Red Lobster’s portions, from starters right down to its desserts were massive.

Solo diners should however come down for its lunch sets (88 to 168RMB). You won’t get live lobsters at this price, but with seasonal soup, a beverage and mains that range from lobster and shrimp tacos (118RMB a set) to shrimp pasta with lobster cream sauce (98RMB), you also won’t fall into a food coma (like we did) for the rest of the afternoon.

We also advise leaving space for its desserts, or better yet, head down separately just to indulge in the sweet treats. Pair them with its massive list of cocktails and you’ll have a perfect afternoon sitting above the crowds at Taikoo Li.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars