It’s too hot (hot damn) | HotBox, 46 Commercial Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6LT
We’d heard that HotBox, the latest BBQ restaurant to hit London, gets pretty loud (it certainly was on the launch night). So we rushed through any conversation on the way there, anticipating shouting over/at each other all night. Instead of a wall of noise, we were met with an air of calm and music playing at a reasonable volume (an old Prince track to make Ade happy). Thank god, as after the day I’d had I didn’t need any more stress. It was only 7pm mind, by the time we left to go home it was much more lively.
HotBox came from humble beginnings – stalls at Street Feast and Battersea Power Station, as well as pop-ups at Wireless and Field Day festivals. It’s the first BBQ place to land in Spitalfields, we’re surprised it took so long. After all, Deep South cooking is showing no sign of going anywhere. A dark and smallish venue with the obligatory hot red neon sign, low strip lighting and black walls with contrasting red pillars, a sleek feel though, there’s even wine glasses on the tables. The communal bench seating that you have to carefully manoeuver yourself into, trying not to touch anyone else in the process.
We almost felt like we’d joined the three men next to us on a night out, sharing water and comparing notes on the food, it was impossible not to eavesdrop on their conversations about restaurants. We watched them pour the remains of some chocolate sauce from their dessert onto each other’s spoons. Sweet, never seen guys share food like that before. But then the customers here are not the kind you’d expect. It was pretty hard to concentrate on what Ade was saying when other people were having more interesting conversations around us (sorry Ade).
We were sad to hear that a waiter we’d been friendly with, previously of the Big Easy had left to pursue a day time job. Probably the same guy mentioned in Time Out ‘s piece… Instead we were given a very smiley guy who was on his second shift. Poor fella, what a test for a new member of staff!
The menus are short and sweet, which made ordering easy and enabled us to try every cocktail (there are just four). The stand-our drinks by far were the zesty and fresh Rum & Ginger (£9) and the smooth Delicious Sour (£9). There’s beer and wine too, good old Meantime features heavily. No starters as such, you just dive straight in. We went for what was probably the obvious choice – the HotBox smoked selection – beef short rib, pork rib, chicken thigh, hot link sausage and pulled pork (£21), alongside the Chipotle beef rib tacos (£12). They appeared almost immediately and we felt slightly disappointed in the portions size (especially compared to a certain BBQ joint named earlier and another too).
Our fears were unfounded as this was deceptively filling food. The Sweet potato fries (£4) went on and on and on, thankfully though as they were probably the best we’ve ever had. I couldn’t decide if this was due to the satisfying crunch or the odd smoky smell and taste of pulled Christmas crackers that wafted out of the bowl. What the hell was that? Smoking crackers is one of my most favourite smells, ever. The selection of meat on the board was great – juicy with incredible blackened edges. Although we appeared to be missing the beef rib, but we didn’t realise this at the time so couldn’t rectify it. It’s not really enough to share but perfect for one person. Smoked mac & cheese (£6) scored pretty highly on Ade’s mac-ometer, a thick crumb crust added texture whilst the cheese sauce was thick and creamy.
It’s not just ribs and burgers here, we enjoyed the open Chipotle beef rib taco (£12) – smoked beef short rib, chimichurri, crispy fried shallots, rocket and chipotle mayo all wrapped up. I must add that if you’re a veggie, this is NOT the place for you, there are no meat-free dishes, unless you’re happy to munch your way through the list of sides…
Often with restaurants like these, desserts can be predictable (chocolate brownie anyone?) Not here though, oh no. They have DEEP-FRIED OREOS! (£6) – possibly more of an Oreo donut – fluffy and not greasy. Whatever they are, they’re the best thing we’ve put in our mouths this year. So bloody good that we ate them as slowly as we could and I almost ordered another portion. Life’s too short, I wish I had.
The guys next to us had recommended the Molten chilli chocolate (£6.50) but we didn’t want to OD on the dark stuff so we went for the Sticky toffee pudding (£6). Bit of an error, although it was nice with a treacley crust, it just didn’t cut it compared with the immense joy the Oreos bought us.
We popped downstairs for the obligatory toilet visit before we left and checked out the menu of the 46 & Mercy bar downstairs. They are unisex loos by the way, just in case you get a fright. The bar is a separate entity from HotBox, but owned by the same people. A nice space with an impressive looking cocktail list but we had to get back home to catch up on emails/watch Celeb Big Brother. Another regret – the FOH lady told us on the way out they do a drink with pork fat in – the Blessed Thistle. We hope to return for this, more deep-fried Oreos and of course to get our hands on a beef rib…
46 Commercial Street, London E1 6LT
Opening hours: Mon: Closed, Tue – Wed: 6:00pm – 12:00am
Thu – Sat: 6:00pm – 01:00am, Sun: 11.30am – 5pm
For parties of 6-12 book a table online
Nearest station: Aldgate East (4 mins walk) Liverpool Street Station (11 mins walk)
We ate as guests of Hotbox, this does not affect our review in any way. We always write with complete honesty.