⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 4.5 out of 5
Meal for two with drinks – £85
There are many things that I enjoy about Jay Rayner as a food critic. He does not mince his words, he is harsh but fair and most importantly he imparts his view without manipulation which is to say he has no agenda (in my opinion) to bring his readers to his way of thinking. For that reason I spend a few moments most weekends enjoying Mr Rayner’s reviews whether they are good or bad. One such review was of a new restaurant in Soho (unsurprisingly given that a new restaurant opens in Soho every nano-second) called Shotgun.
The concept behind Shotgun is not new to the London restaurant scene, American BBQ. As people will know Tom and I have a certain fondness for the brisket, ribs, burnt ends and general meat-tastic flavours that emanate from America’s deep south but it has been with great sadness that we are yet to find anywhere particularly special (save for the Blues Kitchen in Shoreditch) that really delivers. Shotgun is based on being long and narrow (like the barrel of a Shotgun) so that when you open the door you can see right through to the back of the restaurant. The dining room is nicely laid out for the space which is, as warned, narrow and although it is confined it is not cramped. However, the decor is more akin to a real american steakhouse than a typical BBQ pig out joint. This is a welcome change, not everything has to be laced with neon for me to feel like I can enjoy good american food.
I arrive at 10 to 8 and am seated at a table very close to the door. I notice as I sit down a fairly chilly breeze as the door shuts and sense that this may cause a problem. I wait to see whether this arctic chill will be a regular occurrence. It will not, I discover, because the hostess reacts to the door opening like well, a bullet out of a shotgun. Every time the door opens, there is an exchange of pleasantries which, by the time they have been completed, have covered the fact that the hostess has nipped around the new customers to shut the door so that the existing customers do not have the sensation of living like an emperor penguin. It is a very small detail but the sort of detail that is so often lacking and the type of attention to detail that makes you feel like you’re in a proper restaurant. It is a pleasure to see and puts a smile on my face, it is safe to say that Shotgun was winning in my books from the moment I opened (and then very quickly had closed) the door.
Tom arrived at 8 on the dot and we assumed menu gazing time. We ordered two beers, the choice of which is very limited and come the end of the evening would result in one of few minor criticisms. The beers are small, presumably bottled originally, which is by no means an issue but with this sort of food it would be nice to see something on draft of which I can have a pint. After all, despite america’s appalling repertoire of mainstream lagers (yes Budweiser and Coors Light I am categorically talking to you), they also have some real corkers (take a bow Sam Adams). For a place as sophisticated as Shotgun makes you feel (to the extent that somewhere serving full racks of ribs can do) it would be nice to see a bit more of what america can do hops-wise. That being said the beer we did have was lovely and not bad value for central london, so whilst we observed that more choice would be preferable it was not altogether necessary.
The first thing to do was satisfy that niggling sensation in the belly for ‘a little something’ before the main event. Tom and I usually do this with wings at a BBQ joint but alas there were none. The starters selection is very much ‘snack’ based, and understandably so with the portions of the mains being the size of one’s face. Nonetheless, as we would soon find out, this place was good and it was only then at the end of the meal that we really wished they had offered wings, purely because they would have been excellent. Instead we opted for pimento cheese and ritz crackers. Some might say that cheese before a main is sacrilege but they have never eaten the pimento cheese at Shotgun. It is moreish beyond all worldly realms of moreish, packed full of flavour almost like a churned butter with a tingling addition of chilli. If they had given me a bucket I would have eaten it. Fortunately for my waistline and the rest of the meal, one to share fills the hole perfectly. Alas we did not try the pigs ear so fervently put forward by Jay Rayner, I would have liked to, but for some reason (which could easily be my own predispositions) it just did not feel right on this menu. I would venture that if I knew a bit more about it I may have tried it. Silly really but not to worry, I will be back.
So to mains, and it is a glorious selection. There is beautifully sourced meat from all over the world including chicken, lamb, beef short rib, suckling pig and pork belly amongst other things. We order a half rack of pork ribs and some wet brisket. We have only had dry brisket before and so we decide to go the other way. As our waiter takes our order he casually drops that they have one short-rib left and he would highly recommend it. The cynic inside me said he was giving us the hard sell, the mouth on Tom decided it didn’t care and ordered it without so much as a hint of consultation. Fortunately the cynic in me loves short-rib! In any case it would be offensive in the extreme not to take the last one.
What we notice first is the array of sauces provided to the table. A Kansas City barbeque sauce and its spicy older brother, a zingy (french/english/american) mustard fusion and a translucently fascinating Carolina hot sauce. Whilst we waited for our order Tom and I performed the dot sauce test. They were all brilliant and interestingly all relevant during this meal. Tom prefered the barbeque whilst I enjoyed alternating the Kansas and Carolina hot sauces. What was most impressive though was the quite obvious fact that these sauces were made in house. Shotgun is proud of them, and they should be. American BBQ is as muchabout the condiments as the meat with one able to make or break the other. It is a tightrope sometimes, so to produce 4 of such high quality is to be praised.
As the food arrives it looks good, but more importantly smells epic. The wet brisket is placed in front of us, two large slices with a wonderful crumb that emits an aroma that can only be described as alluring. It is not as rare as some brisket I have tried but the minute it was in my mouth that fear was put to bed. The meat simply melted away in a wonderful cacophony of flavours and picking up little hints of Kansas hot sauce as it went. With such tender meat there is a risk of textural imbalance against the flavour, with the brisket though the bark was so perfectly executed it appeared to have happened naturally. Instead we concluded the kitchen and folks behind Shotgun really understand what they are doing. It was, quite simply, outstanding and I would eat it any day and on or in any form of vehicle in which this restaurant wished to provide it to me.
The short rib was next and it is the sort of thing you imagine a dinosaur to have enjoyed for a light snack. This is real hunter-gatherer stuff and it is brilliant. The meat falls away from the bone with such ease that both Tom and I emit the sort of sound associated with a beautiful sunset. The flavour of the bark on the outside, we are informed, is made from coffee and provides the exact bitterness that you want to cut through all the meat. It is, if anything, somewhat liberally applied but both Tom and I loved it, so much so that we ate the whole thing bark and all.
The final piece of the meat jenga to be added to our insides was the ribs. I was excited as Jay Rayner said wonderful things, and they are, but we made one error. We should have tried the ribs when they first came out, leaving them until the end meant we neglected the continued cooking of the meat as it cools meaning the fibres stiffen up. They were still, undoubtedly very good ribs, but it was our neglect that meant they were not the swan song they could have been. The irony of it being that the half rack of ribs would have made a great starter instead of the wings we craved. Again, next time. The second point to note is that the sauces once again worked wonderfully. The Carolina hot sauce in particular really brought out the smokiness in the pork which is such a hard thing to do.
Shotgun is a brilliant restaurant. It is not pretentious but it is grown up. Having said that it is grown up in the sort of way that living abroad is grown up. You know you’re growing up and it is a fantastic experience but beside all that it is just seriously good fun. Shotgun is not gimmicky or overstated, it is a restaurant that serves brilliant American BBQ in London, in a relaxed atmospheric setting at very reasonable prices. I could not recommend it highly enough, of all the restaurants in London that attempt the American BBQ vibe, Shotgun is the only one sophisticated enough to be a cheaper alternative to one of London’s big steak houses. The often grey area between posh fast food and sophisticated dining often feels like a gap in the market. If that is true then Shotgun has done a seriously good job of filling it. For the money, it is a rival to some of London’s best meat meccas. I will be back, repeatedly and I urge you to do the same.