First Impressions: Grillshack, Soho
I’m going against the grain on this one.
Like many Soho regulars, I’d been eyeing the building work going on at 61 Beak Street all summer long, waiting to see what would emerge from behind the temporary white facade emblazoned ‘Grillshack’. The start of September brought an end to our wait, and the ‘all-day counter order grill takeaway and restaurant’ that was finally uncovered roared into life as the summer sun began to fade.
Grillshack is the latest addition to Richard Caring’s empire (he of the stable of brands that is Annabel’s, Soho House and Caprice), and press releases boast of an innovative ordering process that allows diners to pre-order and pay for meals online, at a touchscreen order station, or simply at the front counter. It is indeed a venue that aims to satisfy hunger pangs at all hours, with a breakfast menu that is served from 8 am until 11:30 am (from 10 am on Sundays), followed by an all-day array that then holds court until the closing time of 11 pm. The focus here is on ‘dude food‘ – the short list of offerings consists of a hamburger (£4.95), a rump steak (£9.95), half a chicken (£7.95) and the concessionary salad (£7.50).
Expecting that the queues would be inhuman at normal eating hours, we opted to visit Grillshack for a late weeknight dinner. The eating area is spread over two floors, and has a low-light, relaxed industrial-chic feel, all park bench seating and exposed pipes. A customer handbasin by the counter is a somewhat pragmatic addition for a fast-food-focussed destination, if a little unexpected amongst the stylish decor. On seeing the menu, Bazley immediately opted for the hamburger with extra cheese (+ £0.75), while the excesses of this past weekend led me to opt for the halloumi salad. We accompanied these mains with shoestring fries (£1.95), thinking a repeat visit with bigger appetites would definitely be needed to fully experience the remaining options (including the decadent and glorious-sounding grilled corn with chipotle butter and cheese, £2.50, and the ice-cream cookie sandwich, £2.95).
I don’t think we’ll be making that repeat visit, hence the ‘First Impressions’ title. Although the focus is admittedly on the grilled meat here, my salad was disappointing – a pile of leaves littered with greasy halloumi, two tiny spoons of vinegary, unpleasantly acidic quinoa and tomato salsa, and four quarters of bland beetroot. But it was the hamburger that disheartened the most, with Bazley commenting that ‘it tastes just like a Whopper’ (a competitively-priced option at £3.89). I’m of the school of thought that the focal point of a burger should always be the meat, and Grillshack’s creation is let down by a bland patty with a 30% gristle rate (of ten mouthfuls, three contained hard, white, inedible pieces).
There are redeeming features – the shoestring fries were excellent, being perfectly straight and crispy yet pleasingly skinny. The staff are very friendly and helpful, there’s a good range of condiments and we liked the warm, stylish decor. Grillshack certainly achieves that elusive state of being ‘cheap for London’, and other diners have been complementary about the steak and chicken options. The drink menu is efficient but suitably varied, with a ‘Grillshack Craft Lager’ (brewed by Brewers & Union) taking pride of place. However, given all the great places you can now get a phenomenal burger in London at a similar price, from a two-square-foot truck boasting succulent bone marrow patties to the ballooning range of bricks-and-mortar locations, Grillshack just doesn’t hit that juicy, meaty, rich, cheesy, peppery, messy spot.
61 – 63 Beak Street
Total for two, not including drinks or service: £15.15
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