There is a lot to be said for chain restaurants, they generally have a well thought out formula that they stick to rigidly. Venues are easy to find, are recognisable and have a menu and offer that punters can readily identify. What they aren’t so good at is innovating, creating an original atmosphere or producing truly great food. For that you need to go to the independent sector where mavericks and entrepreneurs work their magic. However up here in the West End where rents are astronomical, there is a shortage of good staff and the competition is cut throat you need to get it right fast. I worry for outwardly good restaurants that make a couple of silly mistakes that put off punters. Shotgun on Brewer St near my office is a case in point. It is lovely inside, a narrow space where you walk through the cosy dining room to a magnificent long bar at the rear. However you won’t necessarily know it is there. In their wisdom it’s attractive wooden façade is painted dark blue with dark almost tinted windows. Unless you are looking for it you don’t know it is there so passing trade is limited. Contrast that with Dishoom next door to it which literally screams about its presence. It’s a ballsy move but I don’t think the air of mystery is best recipe for success in the West End. Obviously the owners do a lot of work on social media and the like to drive custom but why not make better use of the prime asset. Whenever I walk past at lunchtime it is largely empty whilst the confident Dishoom is packed.
Having said all that once you get inside it is very nice. The dark wood and booths bring to mind the American bars you see in the films. I like the fact you can eat at the bar much like Goodman's. Another issue here is the food, it is very good and they put great store in their sourcing and the authenticity of their BBQ craft. However they aren't that generous with their portions. Compared to somewhere like Zelman meats where you get big piles of bold looking meat at Shotgun it is all a bit small and prissy. I've been here for ribs which consisted of a 3 ribs a small container of coleslaw and a small portion of excellent baked beans. Another time I was charged £13.50 for 10 (I counted) burnt ends. Even the excellent sauces come in small neat opaque plastic bottles it all feels out out of kilter with the surroundings. Don't get me wrong quantity is definitely not quality especially when it comes to BBQ food. I've reviewed places on here that load you up with inferior stodge at least here the food is top notch. It certainly passes the benchmark test of being better than Bodeans but if you can't be as generous as Zelman Meats why come here?
What I really do appreciate here is the drink. They have a killer selection of bourbons and rye's and bar staff who know their way around it. I like the fact you can just pop in here for a drink. I think as such it is a favourite of hospitality staff on their way home. It certainly has it's niche in the West End but can you run a profitable business that way? Looking around I've often found that successful restaurants have a clear vision. Establish your core theme whether it be a single menu item, look or location and the rest falls into place. I think the originators of Shotgun had a vision of setting up a West End BBQ bar but then it feels like too many people got involved compromising the finished article. This is a place that has had good reviews and I've seen cookery writer Gizzi Erskine in there so it has pedigree but most days sadly not punters. I noticed they have recently taken on a pop restaurant onto the roof of John Lewis Oxford St which is fine but they do need to address issues at their flagship. The could do no worse than repainting the outside a more inviting colour and getting the windows reglazed. This is a decent place but it frustratingly misses the obvious improvements.