By Ben Booker
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
On a fairly cold Saturday morning in mid-May, this guest reviewer was left with a vacancy for a two person rendezvous at the above meat mecca. Many of you will have heard of Hot-Box from its pop-up days. It was not until around the beginning of this year that Hot-Box permanently set-up shop in the ever expanding street-food come bustling no-booking restaurant magnet that is Shoreditch. Thank goodness it did.
I ventured over to the establishment from South-West London with a fellow meat comrade. At around 7 o-clock we got to our destination and it was packed – a good sign, but without a queue – a welcome relief. We settled down at the counter for a couple of exceptional beers and began to peruse what can only be described as a menu with a plethora of delicious options. One of the best features of any menu is to find that there are too many things that one could eat. That feeling is even more poignant when the menu is actually relatively small. Hot-box rightly keeps things simple. Yes it is a meat haven and a BBQ joint but it has a little something extra to it, something that you sense when you walk in but cannot put your finger on until the first bite.
There are the usual staples, the burger, the ribs and the brisket but they come with that little ‘hot-box’ twist. T and I order a smorgasbord of tasty treats – some to share, others to devour individually. T orders the chipotle beef rib tacos. They look extraordinary packed tightly onto a board, they are served with chimchurri (a widely underrated relish in this reviewer’s opinion), crispy fried shallots, rocket and chipotle mayo. T was wowed, not only was the meat packed with flavour, but it balanced well with every ingredient, the chipotle mayo was far from its usual gimmicky supporting role but brought a ‘zing’ to the tacos that left T immensely satisfied.
To share T and I enjoyed pork ribs with a scotch bonnet glaze. Yes they are hot, but not outrageously so. Enjoyably we were asked which sauce we would like, quite hot or hot hot….er my man that will be the hot hot please! It was brilliant, huge flavour above and beyond just heat. The ribs were a special sort of sharing dish and along with the Blues Kitchen rightly contest the best ribs in London mantel.
I opted for the Smokey Bandit. This is a burger of aged beef patty, smoked short rib, jalapeno and red cheddar. Having been blown away by the quality of some burgers in London (yes Honest Burger I am talking about you) I have exceptionally high standards when it comes to burgers. It is both a blessing and a curse. In this instance it was a blessing. The burger was cooked medium rare to perfection, was juicy without falling apart and was complimented wonderfully by hot jalapenos and gooey red cheddar. The addition of short-rib may sound a gimmick but when it is cooked at hot-box it is far from it. It was not an Honest Burger but hell was it good and quite surprisingly very different from anything else I have had in London. I would recommend it, and that is a high stamp of approval.
T and I love a side dish. On this occasion we indulged in some smoked mac n cheese, coleslaw and sweet potato fries. The former two were good without being outstanding, which is understandable if a little disappointing. The latter was not so good. I have never been a sweet potato fan particularly but I can appreciate a good sweet potato when it is presented to me. This was sadly not one of those occasions. The paprika salt would have been great had the chips been crispier. Although not great, these were certainly not poor enough to dampen our spirits.
Hot-box does sharing platters and a few other well put together dishes that I will certainly enjoy trying the next time I go. That I think is the main thing about Hot-Box, I will go again, and with so many options in this genre to choose from that is saying something. In such a crowded market Hot-Box stands out and I think that is saying something, something impressive enough to forgive a slightly limp sweet potato fry.
Go, enjoy and then go again.