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 **

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests