I’ll admit it. I’m a fan. I’ve been to Shake Shack in New York – I went twice in one day. I went to Blue Smoke and loved it before I even knew Danny Meyer was involved. I’ve read ‘Setting the Table’ and found it fascinating – how a small, service focussed restaurant manages to replicate itself on a much bigger scale.
There isn’t anything really like Shake Shack in London. It’s a fast food chain – Burger King with a cheeky smirk and a chef who knows what he’s doing. They serve Burgers, Hot Dogs, Milkshakes and ‘Concretes’ – frozen custard with different toppings mixed in.
When I heard they were opening in the UK I was really excited. I followed their teasing updates on twitter and as soon as the launch date was announced I booked it off work. Which is why, at 9am, I emerged into the bright sunlight outside Leicester Square tube and walked down to Covent Garden.
The doors were opening at 10am but a queue had already formed – the guy out front had been there since 5am. I took the fourth place and it quickly got much longer behind me. Members of the Shake Shack team came out to chat to us while we were waiting and gave us ‘Shack Shades’ and natty wristbands. When we got peckish they brought out some coffee and doughnut concretes – St Johns doughnut and Monmouth coffee – heaven. The queue was really friendly, most people were bloggers or at least very passionate about their food (you pretty much have to be to queue at 10am for a burger).
As the hour approached, the staff gathered inside for a pep-talk and several photographers gathered outside. With an Apple-style countdown the doors were flung open and in we went. I placed my order (one shack burger, one cumberland hot dog, a union shack and cheese fries) and picked up my pager. You then go round to the lovely covered market area and wait for it to buzz. I grabbed a table with the rest of the guys at the front of the queue and there were some nervous looks as we waited to see whose order would be ready first. When my buzzer went I nearly sprinted to the counter – I was going to be the first member of the public to be served by Shake Shack in Europe.
I took my tray back to the table amid many envious looks and tucked in. The food is incredible – the Smoke Shack combines a great bun with fragrant, crisp bacon, a juicy beef patty and wonderfully fresh toppings. There’s a great combination of textures and flavours – I particularly liked the slight chilli hit. The fries are crisp and light – markedly better than the ones I tried in the states. The hot dog is great – I love the cumberland sausage, it’s so much better than the american style frankfurter. The concrete was lovely – rich, chocolatey and with lots of toppings mixed in.
Shake Shack royalty were there in force. I got a photo with founder Danny Meyer, had a chat with Mark Rosati (their culinary director) and spoke to their CEO and CDO. It was really nice to see them taking the effort to speak to their customers.
Having enjoyed my first hit I went round for a second trip and picked up a particularly stylish t-shirt at the same time. I sampled their lemonade (delicious), the shack-ago dog (good, but I prefer the cumberland) and the Drury Lane Jam (vanilla, jam and biscuit concrete – heavenly).
There was a great atmosphere, everyone was very friendly and it was fab to see so many people genuinely passionate about food, service and hospitality. Shack Shack is never a ‘one off’, I expect they’ll open a second venue in London shortly, and I expect it’ll be a huge success. Go there, wear something with an elastic waistband, and eat the entire menu. It’s all good.