Wednesday, 18 September 2013


Grillshack has thankfully replaced the execrable Alphabet Bar on Beak Street, and early signs are positive. First impressions are a slightly baffling array of innovation; no reservations standard but you can sign up for a text when your table is ready. But once you’re in, the options for ordering are overwhelming. Do you download their app and go through that? Or perhaps at the DIY till points? Or yes, there is a counter. Which most people seem to do.

The menu is edited fairly tightly – the burger with add-ons (my newly gluten-free other half is appeased here, but at a 75p surcharge absent from the admittedly higher priced Honest Burgers), a steak, some chicken. Basic yes, and not ground-breaking so far. Although crowd pleasers equate to  crowds and this has certainly been the case on both visits of mine.

Grillshack’s £5-ish burger is my nap here: a juicy, decent sized patty, just pink enough for the purists among us, pretty damn tasty. Bun replete with a light bead of sweat, and bacon proper. 

The steak with shoestring fries is value for the meat alone; a rib-eye supposedly but pulverised into the sort of escalope you might expect in a steak sandwich. No complaints at a £10 price point. Their regular fries have a fantastic seasoning which eclipses the rather lacklustre shoestrings too, which need a touch of sexing up, April Bloomfield style.

But food isn’t the main draw here. It’s serviceable, nay, quite good, but the ease and charm of Grillshack won this pig over. At such great value it’s definitely positioning itself as a Flat Iron, Five Guys and Shake Shack contender, and leaving the higher end of those markets well alone. The key will be repeat business, bolstered by service levels. Which are fantastic by the way; truly attentive and friendly.

Richard Caring’s stewardship of Le Caprice, Soho House Group and others over the years has proven that punters return hungrily again and again for 7/10 food when you give them 9/10 service. As long as it’s decent, great people add the magic finishing touch to make the occasion. Grillshack is a fast food version of that clever approach.

Yes I’m a predictable cynic and Grillshack is an achingly portable concept, probably conceived as such, but so what? Better more of this than some of the rubbish out there now, and nobody would object to W1 service levels radiating outwards, with the food people actually want to eat.

Grillshack on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Casse-Croûte is a relatively new French bistro, bang in the middle of that strip of foodie escapism, Bermondsey Street. Sure, you can have a very London experience in either of the opposing boozers, but Jose and Pizarro can whisk you away to Madrid, Village East to New York and Zucca to Milan. Although I always find Zucca has a New York feel too. And Village East is getting a long overdue refurb, so who knows.
But anyway, the point remains that Bermondsey Street is like being on holiday. A sophisticated, epicurean update of the pulling holiday’s ubiquitous ‘bar street’, only it’s for people with slightly more money and slightly less flesh on show. Slightly. And ironically, more actual Europeans than the Brit-infested resorts.

Casse-Croûte (might as well persist with the accent) is the cookie-cutter charming neighbourhood place of your dreams, to a fault. It vaguely reminded me of The Little Owl in that regard. The welcome and exuberance are en francais, but they were far warmer than any I’ve received in France. And yes, that includes outside of Paris.

Food? Well, we ate an awful lot. Before the starters, charcuterie sliced to order mere inches from our heads accompanied a crisp cremant. A nice menu touch, as too often (even in French places) the non-champagne option is prosecco – not to be sniffed at of course, but some beautiful fizz comes from The Loire too.

To start, a garlicky sausage and onion jam laden brioche (a posh sausage roll and no less for it). Excellent. As for the others’ dishes, to be honest I can’t actually remember as we were already rolling in the aisles.

Blame the handsome staff for turning our table of gals and gays a tad bawdy (the raging horn, in fact) or that seductively thirsty combination of food, open windows and a warm summer night – but we had a very good time.

On to mains, a huge, beautiful platter of roast lamb was shared. I had a pork dish I wasn’t familiar with but it was a massive, house-made sausage in a rich broth of cannellini beans and vegetables.

So, sausage rolls and then sausage and beans. Very cosmopolitan, me.

I can barely remember leaving, but we did share amongst other things an amazing strawberry and pistachio tart. One wine followed the other as we glugged from Loire to Rhone, and they were all delicious.

I absolutely loved Casse-Croûte. The only issue with its quality, vibes and ever-changing menu is that my every attempt to return has failed miserably. One for the little black book yes, but the secret’s out.

Casse Croute on Urbanspoon