Restaurant review: Chop Shop and Grillshack are the restaurant equivalent of instant coffee - just add customers

 

You know a food trend is big when the venture capitalists move in. Where there's meat, there's brass: gourmet burger chain Byron was recently on the market for £100m, while the admirable Hawksmoor group sold to private equity investors for £35m. That's an awful lot of beef-dripping fries.

At a certain level, the restaurant business stops being about food, and starts being about real estate. This week's restaurants are both in prime central London locations, and in both cases, the leasehold agreements must have been far more complicated to work out than the menus. Both have stolen shamelessly from others to pop on to the market fully-formed. Two start-ups in search of a roll-out, they're the restaurant equivalent of instant coffee – just add customers.

Chop Shop, the only restaurant you've never heard of on a strip of chain joints just below Piccadilly Circus, is an American steakhouse done London-style. But if that makes it sound like Hawksmoor, don't get excited. A chop shop, in US slang, is a garage which breaks down stolen cars to sell them for spare parts. Well here, they've done it the other way round, and assembled stolen parts into a business.

There's not one thing here you haven't seen done better somewhere else – the décor (stripped-back brick walls, reclaimed wood, school pegs etc…) comes from Polpo by way of umpteen other places. The menu, with its jars of this, planks of that and skillets of the other, is a try-hard tour of steak-house staples. Only the staff, lightly tattooed and mainly clueless, don't seem to have previous form in other restaurants.

The tables may well have been stolen from Hamleys – so tiny, they offer barely enough room for your arms, never mind bits of other animals. But that's OK, because Chop Shop has borrowed the small plates concept, too. Hanger steak seemed decent value at £14, until it arrived, a weeny, timid thing, sliced tagliata-style to hide more of the plate. A daily special of Barnsley chop came unadorned with just a bulb of grilled fennel for company, but at least it tasted of something.

The only original creation is a regrettable mash-up of British and American-Italian tradition, in the form of 'cottage pasta pie'. Served in a cast-iron skillet , apparently straight from the core of a nuclear reactor, it partnered gnocchi and oxtail ragout under a breadcrumb crust. I didn't entirely hate it, but if I'd have waited for it to cool down, I'd still be there now. Mind you, if I'd waited for a waiter to bring us dessert menus unprompted, I might also still be there now.

Chop Shop is the first UK venture by an American restaurant group who signed a 10-year lease for this site. The place is so carbon-datable to 2013, it's odd to speculate how it will feel in 10 years' time, though I rather suspect we may never find out.

To give them credit, at least Chop Shop is independent(ish) among a sea of chains. Grillshack is different – a proto-chain, owned by London's richest restaurant magnate, sitting like a cuckoo in a nest of cool independents on a hip Soho food street. It's the brainchild of Richard Caring, whose previous investments include the Caprice and Soho House groups, Bill's, and Côte.

Grillshack sees him try to cash in on the dude-food trend, which started in the car park of a New Cross pub, and has now reached the City. Figuring that the best way to start a chain is not to make it look like a chain, Caring bought out the lease from a bar at a reputedly huge premium, and set about creating a new market-ready concept from scratch – if you can call a by-the-numbers synthesis of Chicken Shop and Shake Shack 'creating'.

Thing is, it's all been done rather well. The food is decent, and remarkable value, with a flattened rump steak with shoestring fries coming in at £9.95, half a juicy, crisp-skinned chicken for £7.95, and burgers – proper ones, not processed meat-mulch drowned in mystery sauce – starting at £4.95.

Grillshack's menu doesn't go on about suppliers, but the foodie credentials are there, with Brewers & Union craft lager on offer and baking heroes Galeta supplying the friable biscuits in an addictive-as-crack chocolate chip cookie/ice-cream sandwich.

Caring built his empire on restaurants that make old people feel comfortable – The Ivy, Scott's – but Grillshack is the opposite, with a hi-tech ordering system to leave those silver surf'n'turfers feeling bewildered. In a gimmick which will likely become the norm, you order at the counter (as in Nando's), via touch-screen (as in Inamo) or via an app on your phone (as in The Future).

As much as I wanted to hate Grillshack, and denounce it as the end of days for independent restaurants in Soho, I couldn't. I've seen the future and it works. And it's doubtless coming to a high street near you soon.

Grillshack, 61-63 Beak Street Soho, London W1. Around £15 a head for two courses with a glass of wine

Food ****
Ambience **
Service ****

Chop Shop, 66 Haymarket London SW1 (020-7842 8501). Around £50 a head for three courses with a glass of wine

Food ***
Ambience **
Service **

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all