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Oversize lobster claws its way out of the charity pot

IT WOULD have been one of the biggest lobster thermidors in the history of seafood. But when the centrepiece was delivered to La Foret restaurant in Odiham, Hampshire, the charity banquet was cancelled.

This was no run of the mill lobster. It was 3ft long, with 9in claws, and weighed nearly 14lb (6kg). It had survived for decades before being caught off Canada's eastern seaboard.

'We all fell in love with him,' Kerry Houlker, proprietor of the restaurant, said last night. 'He is absolutely immense and incredibly aggressive; he could easily sever your wrist.'

Mrs Houlker and her husband Steve put aside their huge cooking pot and spent pounds 1,000 on a reinforced glass tank. The lobster is now the centrepiece of La Foret, where distracted diners contemplate his exploits from a distance.

'We call him Larry but he has bugger-all personality,' Mrs Houlker said. 'He just runs around, bashing his claws against the glass and making a terrible noise. When people go up to look at him, he throws a wobbly and chucks himself about.'

Larry, who would have made 20 portions of very tough thermidor, was bought for pounds 85 from a local fish merchant. In the few days since he arrived at the restaurant, he has torn out the filtration system in his tank and smashed the coral in the seascape.

The tank is to be replaced by a larger one with 1-inch plate glass to guard against a possible escape bid and calm the cleaner's nerves. 'She got a hell of a shock when she turned up on Monday morning,' Mrs Houlker said.

Larry, a confirmed carnivore, gets through half a pound of fish a day and is particularly fond of sardines, baby swordfish and mussels, which he cracks open.

Lobsters of his stature are rare in this country, but more common off North America. The record there was set before the Second World War by Ike and Mike, who weighed in at 42lb and 38lb.

Larry shared his tank with two 2lb lobsters until yesterday, when a series of unequal brawls culminated in an antenna being ripped off one of the small fry. They have now been separated.