Hotbox is relatively new on the restaurant scene, having opened just last December. Considering mine and Michael’s love for BBQ’ed meat, and that Hotbox is walking distance from both my home and work, it’s almost shameful that it took us so long to get around to making a visit. We decided enough was enough and put a firm date in the diary last Friday to go for dinner.
Since they don’t take reservations I was a little concerned about what the wait would be like at prime eating time on a Friday evening. Alas, we rocked up at 7:30 and were told that the wait wouldn’t be long, so we decided to have a drink in the underground bar and wait to be summoned.
Service: As if timed to perfection, someone came to fetch us just as we were finishing the last dregs of our glasses of red. We were originally seated next to one another in the main part of the restaurant at the long, high table on bar stools, where you sit with your back to the rest of the restaurant and get a lovely view of the front entrance room with its rather depressing backdrop of the busy & grey Commercial Road. Understandably, this didn’t fill me with joy – I felt as though I was sitting down to eat a rushed working lunch on my own in Pret.
So I asked if we could move to one of the benches instead. Our waitress was hugely accommodating and said that that wouldn’t be a problem at all, but warned that we’d have to sit next to other diners. I must admit that this confused me slightly; it was as if she thought that sitting side-by-side staring out of a window was more romantic than actually looking at one another and being submersed in the restaurant’s lively atmosphere. Regardless, I was simply pleased that she was happy to oblige.
Re-seated on one of the benches I was much, much happier. Throughout our meal our waitress was super. Despite being very busy she explained the menu, gave her recommendations and answered all of our questions. Our water jug was refilled and the food was brought promptly. She was very relaxed & jolly, which I think makes such a huge difference to one’s overall dining experience; I love it when waiters are friendly and seem entirely at ease even when chaos is ensuing behind them (not that it was), I think it really rubs off on you! I cannot fault the service that we received.
Ambience: The restaurant has a very East London, trendy vibe. I actually think that their décor is really on point for their style of food and pricing. It’s ‘shabby sheek, upmarket BBQ’, shall we say. The dark green patterned wallpaper behind the restaurant bar and stained dark wood of the benches and floor create a sexy vibe for the evening, whilst the large glass windows stretching the entire length of the restaurant-front ensure that lots of natural light brings the place to life during the day.
The bench seating ensures that a little of that Deep-South ‘rough & ready’ BBQ-esque authenticity is present, yet the table setting brings it up a classy notch.
^ Candles are always a winner as far as I’m concerned.
Food: Both lovers of ribs it didn’t take us long to choose what to have. We were simply going to have to share the beef short rib (£24.00) and pork ribs (£16.00), with two orders of the sweet potato fries (£4.00) and a pickled jalapeno slaw (£4.00), for the main purpose of getting some veg in.
Once our food orders had been placed we quickly set about guzzling our delicious bottle of red wine – ‘Buitenverwachting, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, 2012’ (£24.00).
Then the food arrived. It was served on wooden chopping boards, which I thought was an excellent shout on Hotbox’s behalf.
Starting with the pork ribs, I cannot lie and tell you that I was anything but whole-heartedly disappointed. We ordered them with the sweet house glaze (as opposed to a spicy alternative), which should have caramelised to form that finger-lickin’, sticky, goo-ey, sweet crunch edge. Instead, it was as if the glaze had been brushed on the ribs after they had cooked, as it was rather runny and hadn’t soaked into the meat properly. The ribs were also grizzly as hell. Honestly, I had so many mouthfuls containing inedible cartilage that I was continuously having to spit out, which made the whole dining experience more than a little unpleasant. However, I must say that Michael didn’t have as much of a problem as me, so perhaps I was just very unlucky.
Thankfully, the beef short rib was better. But not wildly so. It lacked any depth of flavour or beautiful smokiness, and was rather dry in comparison to the juicy, melt-in-your mouth beef short rib that I’ve had in the past and was so desperately hoping for. It was most definitely overcooked, depriving it of all its delicious fat and leaving behind a rather chewy hunk of meat. It was a real shame, particularly considering that its price is the same as a rump steak at a decent restaurant, which I would have enjoyed significantly more.
But all was not lost. Amazingly, the fries saved the day. Oh my goodness they were good. Totally different to the unbelievably good sweet potato wedges that I loved so much at Mildred’s, these were just like ordinary fries in that they had a gorgeous crisp exterior and a delightfully soft & fluffy interior. They were incredibly moreish and delicious. Similarly to Mildred’s, it was the house mayo that really transformed these humble potato sticks into a true taste sensation. The chipotle mayo was both spicy & cooling at the same time, and was an amazing accompaniment. The hot house ketchup was nice but it had nothing on the mayo, or Heinz for that matter. If you go, be sure to get multiple orders of these babies. You won’t regret it.
As for the jalapeno slaw, the vegetables incorporated were fresh and crunchy, but I found the taste of onion overpowering and thought that the dressing could have been vastly improved. I personally wanted it to be a creamy side dish versus having a light, zingy & refreshing dressing but, hey, I guess I spared myself some calories!
Since the main star of the show had been such a let-down for me I was in need of a good pud. I have always, always wanted to try a deep fried Mars bar, so deep fried Oreos (£6.00) seemed like the next best thing. I was sold. Since Michael was most keen on the same dessert we decided to place just one order in case they proved to be another disappointment. HUGE MISTAKE.
The deep fried Oreos were filthy delicious.
Served with cold vanilla ice-cream and a jug of hot chocolate sauce, there was only one thing to do. Smother them:
They were a true thing of beauty. The batter was light and not at all greasy, with the perfect crispy-to-doughy ratio that fell away to reveal the melted chocolate & cream biscuit filling. The hot chocolate sauce added a good dose of deep, dark, richness and amped up the chocolate hit, which is always going to be welcomed by me. (I actually asked for another jug but let’s pretend that didn’t happen). The vanilla ice-cream provided a hot & cold contrast making it quite simply a star of puds for my tantalised taste buds.
I ended up leaving Hotbox a very happy girl, having had a few lovely glasses of red, some amazing fries & sauce, and a decadent dessert. Quite literally what my dreams are made of. Of course, I wish the BBQ had been better, but I’m pleased that I have fond memories of the overall evening… I just wouldn’t necessarily recommend the meat if you decide to go. No, in all honesty I think I must have been unfortunate and perhaps we should have ordered the pulled pork, which is apparently their best dish. I have also heard that their brunch is sublime and I must admit that it has some really appetising and unusual options on its menu, so maybe I will be giving it a second try!
Price: The total bill came to £92.25 including 12.5% service, for 2 meat mains, 2 orders of sweet potato fries, 1 order of the jalapeno slaw, 1 dessert and a bottle of red wine. Both Michael and I thought that this was too much money for how much we enjoyed the food. In our opinion the size and quality of the meat needs to be improved to justify their pricing.