Grillshack

I doubt too many people remember Alphabet Bar that used to be on this spot. It wasn’t that it was a bad bar, just that it had no character, and never seemed to have many people in. Thankfully Grillshack has replaced it, and they have done brilliantly with the makeover. It’s another classic Soho trendy diner, but the good thing about it is that it isn’t trying as hard as the rest of the Soho joints to be cool. As I keep saying, I’m bored of the bare-brick walls and nose-to-tail tattooed (and of course bearded) staff. Grillshack has bright yellow walls and is just a little bit more laid back.

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The set-up is simple. You get a few choices- basically chicken, a burger or steak- then you go up Nandos-style and order it yourself. A few minutes later it arrives at your table. And they do refillable soda (£2.25)! I always love that. They say you only get one refill but I doubt anybody really sticks to that.

First up was buttermilk chicken nuggets with a sweet chilli mayonnaise. For £2.50 these really do make McDonald’s look bad. I’d go as far to say that they are even better than the ones that Spuntino knocks up.

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I went for the flattened rump steak and shoestring fries with smoked butter (£9.95). I was surprised that they’d managed to keep it moist and cook it medium rare even though it was so thin. I would have liked a few more licks from the grill though. It needed to be more of a caramel brown like all good steaks, this one was just a bit anaemic. The shoestring fries needed to be crispier as well. But with lashings of the Grillshack sauce, which was a really good BBQ, I wolfed them all down and polished the plate clean. One other complaint is the bloody knife I had to eat it with. I know this was a flattened rump steak but come on, you don’t have to give me something this flimsy. I imagine prisoners get sharper knives than this!

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My partner went for the double cheese burger with fries (it came to about £10.50) and it was sadly overdone. They’d promised it medium, but this one had the life cooked out of it, and we all now that doesn’t give a burger much hope. It was a little on the bland and greasy side as well, and given that Soho is pretty damn hot on the burger front this fell way short of it’s competition. If you are only going to offer a few things on the menu then you need to make sure they are all spot on. And if you’re a grill then you need to make sure you cook the meat right. So they need a kick up the arse here.

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Although the food wasn’t the best, I still liked Grillshack. It’s cheap and easy and has a real good feel to it, and the music was great. On the table next to us the half chicken looked good, and there’s a lip-smacking list of puddings, so I’ll save the burger shift to the experts (Honest Burger) but still come back.

Food: 4/10

Service: N/a (it’s self-service basically)

Atmosphere: 7/10

Value: 7.5/10

Overall: 5/10

61–63 Beak Street, W1F 9SL

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Pitt Cue Co

Pitt Cue Co is a meat dungeon where no more than 30 hungry prisoners are lucky enough to be served up trays of smokey meat. On what was probably the last pleasant day of the year before the 6 month slog of winter arrives, what better way was there to spend it than in a grey windowless bunker. At least it would be helping me with the unintentional fattening up that tends to start around this time of the year.

As is the ongoing trend around Soho there are no reservations, which usually means tenting up outside the door hours before it opens, only to still somehow be told that the wait time is 2 hours the moment the doors open (fuck you Burger & Lobster). But today I beat the system and we were seated within five minutes. It feels great when you are one of the lucky twenty to have a seat, and when I left I smugly grinned at all those in line.

Downstairs really is tight. There’s barely enough room to squeeze past people without rubbing your crotch across their back. It also means that if you are a two then you’ll be sharing the table. We were cramped up next to a couple of Americans who were gasping about the quality of the BBQ (always a good sign) and as they kept knocking back more shots of bourbon were becoming increasingly more flirty with each other, to the point that they started leaning over the table to plant kisses on each other. At 12.15 on a Thursday afternoon, this made for an entertaining lunch. What makes the sharing of these small tables fun is that the food here is not neat and dainty, and instead it’s the type you get your fingers and mouth dirty with. Grinning with pulled pork clinging to my teeth at the American packed in closely to me, she gave me a grin back with BBQ sauce all around her chops. We had become table buddies, and by the end of the meal we had joined them on the bourbon shooters.

We shared a snack of beef on toast (£5) with a half pint of ‘Whatever’ (the beer on tap- £2.50). It was a surprisingly neat and tidy dish, but we soon changed that by tearing into it with our hands. If only all toast tasted as good as this. The drunk Americans next to us were so jealous that they went ahead and ordered two of them.

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Then came the pulled pork bun with a side of bone marrow mash (£9.75) . It wasn’t the biggest or messiest I’ve seen but the flavour made up for this. It had a great tangy smokiness and the bun was buttery and soft. The mash tasted of meaty caramel and was so smooth that it soon served a condiment which we dipped the bun into.

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I went for the spicy pig’s head sausage (£12.50) with crushed celeriac and leak. If this had been dinner then I’d been a bit disappointed by the size of the portion on the prison tray in front of me, but again the flavour was great. I couldn’t shake the image of McDonald’s sausages given their shape though! The picture isn’t the best, but it was taken in a dungeon!

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We were in and out within 45 minutes, so it’s ideal for a lunch or quick dinner, but hardly a place if you want to relax and let the food settle. There’s hardly enough space for the waiters to do much more than just put the trays down in front of you, but they were friendly and of course hip (although without beards- maybe this is going out of trend now?). A lunch for two with a couple of beers came to £40. I wouldn’t say that the food knocked me out, after all it is just BBQ smoked food, so I wouldn’t queue for an hour like I’m sure some people happily do. Instead I’d be more inclined to nip down the road to Bodean’s where the pulled pork sandwich isn’t quite as good, but at least you have a better chance of getting a seat and don’t feel like you’re hiding from the Luftwaffe when you do.

Food: 8/10

Service: 7.5/10

Atmosphere: 7/10

Value: 7.5/10

Overall: 7.5/10

1 Newburgh St, W1F 7RB

Pitt Cue Co on Urbanspoon

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