Maximise the meat! Don’t order too many side dishes! Thus advised the diner to my right, officially seated separately to our group, but in reality rubbing shoulders with me. This popular new barbecue destination in Spitalfields has bench seating, and if you’re a gang of four at a table for eight, you’re going to make new friends.
Which was fine with us, because it made the Hotbox experience feel like a party. The look of the place helped with the jovial atmosphere: dark wood everywhere in the large, attractive rooms, and surprisingly moody lighting from ceiling-hung fluorescent strips.
We meat-maxed with the Smoked Selection: short rib, pork rib, pulled pork, chicken thigh, outstanding smoked sausage (£21). Seasonings were spot-on, and (unusually) each component was perfectly cooked and showed no sign of dryness from sitting around. The menu also has some slightly daintier options: a taco, a couple of sandwiches and an excellent burger.
But the top choices (apart from the Smoked Selection) are the mega-spicy pork rib (£16 on its own), and especially the short rib (£24). Smoky, sweet and succulent, this was a match for any I’ve eaten in Texas or South Carolina. And regardless of what my new friend said, top-quality slaw, smoked mac and cheese and sweet potato chips are all worth ordering.
Our waiter guided us to the house red, a solid South African blend at £24. His chumminess made us smile, though others might have thought he was edging a little too close to over-familiar. Beer drinkers have a choice of six in bottles, cans and on tap (£4-£5.50); a Meantime range, Orval and the German Hopf Helle Weiss.
Sadly, you can only book for parties of six or more, so the lovely front-of-house staff suggested we wait at 46 & Mercy, the restaurant’s downstairs bar. It was way too loud for our liking, so they guided us to the excellent Discount Suit Factory nearby during our 45-minute wait.
In fact, noise ended up being our biggest complaint about the restaurant overall. Once seated, according to our sound-level meter it hit 90 decibels (mostly music) in the dining room. This is shout-or-forever-hold-your-peace territory.
If noise doesn’t faze you, here’s the plan. Book for six or more. House red. Sides in moderation. Forget dessert. Order extra sausage. While you’re in the box, maximise the meat.