Remember how your mum used to tell you not to play with your food? As it turns out, she was wrong. So, so wrong. Cast away her words of well-meaning (but misguided) wisdom, and scuttle into House of Crabs for a night of magnificently messy dining.
Nestled in the basement of St Kilda's popular Newmarket Hotel, the open-plan space is appropriately nautical, featuring a giant fishing net, lifebuoys and seaside signs. Warm timbers, velvet couches and rosy curtains give the venue a friendly, communal feel. The tables themselves come donned in thick sheets of liquid-resistant paper and equipped with pairs of abnormally-shaped scissors and what will appear to be a giant, metal toothpick. You will require all these things, and more. Trust us.
The menu at St Kilda's House of Crabs — which has recently been updated to parallel its Sydney sibling — champions the classic flavours of a no-frills American crab shack. Expect stringy, kickass jalapeño hushpuppies (that is, jalapeños deep fried in corn batter) with Creole mayo ($14), and fresh, tangy salmon poke on prawn crackers with lime and pickled radish ($16). The fried shrimp tacos with guasacaca (an avo sauce), iceberg and tomato are creamy, crispy and easily a highlight ($7.50 each).
The crab itself is served in plastic bags. Yes, really. Crab-eating attire consists of surgical blue gloves and a full-length bib. Don't be a hero — just put it on. Unless you're a crab-eating expert, accept that you've signed up to an endlessly entertaining night filled with delectable crab juice, sticky fingers and some of the best seafood in town. You pay per 500 grams, and depending on what crab you choose, it starts at $39 for the blue swimmer and goes up to $60 for the Alaskan king.
If you're unsure how to approach the star of the show, you're in luck. Staff are knowledgeable, friendly and very willing to lend a helping claw. Instantly endearing and genuinely attentive without being intrusive (particularly if this is your first time at the crab rodeo), staff make a strong case for some of the most charming service in Melbourne.
Pair your dinner with a Lagerita ($19), made with Don Julio Blanco tequila, lime, vanilla and pale ale — it's a match made in drinking-heaven. For the less tequila-inclined, sweeter cocktails like the Alabama Slamma or a carefully chosen range of beers, wine and ciders are on offer. They're far from crabby options.