Bracing ourselves for an evening of bone-gnawing and obscene burger porn, it is a bit of a revelation to be presented with a little crock pot filled with a delicate yet complex stew. Cress and peas keep it light on top, while deeper investigation through the thickening layer of earthy pulses yields succulent chunks of unidentified meats. Burgoo is traditionally made with whatever is to hand; roadkill being a popular source of ingredients in old Kentucky, our hosts delight in telling us. The accompanying Wild Turkey Rye cocktail, known as the Ten Cent Pistol, is bold enough to hold its own alongside this rich soup. I’d not often choose a drink with ‘banana honey’ to have with a starter, but it deftly tempers the bourbon without compromising the boozy hit.
2. Mutton Shank
More what we expected here – a blackened hunk of ultra-slow cooked smoky leg bone – but a standout dish nevertheless. The reduction of the sauce, which is fiery hot, is insane, and the meat falls away into it in equally spicy forkfuls. A side of layered corn bread salad with jalapeno sour cream offers a cooling foil, bursting with zesty corn kernels. Our preferred cocktail here wasn’t the prescribed one, featuring fruited IPA, but the White Heat, (paired with a tray of 18-hour smoked, slightly over-oily pulled pork). This drink incorporates white chocolate and white pepper alongside Wild Turkey 101 in an another necessarily punchy little glass, keeping the meal’s flavour knob dialled up to 11.
3. Chargrilled pineapple
There’s no dessert choice on this special menu, you either have the BBQ’ed pineapple or you don’t, but it’s worth trying. Obviously there’s only so much you can do with a simple ring of the tropical fruit, even if it’s got a Wild Turkey glaze and comes with cornflake-flecked ice cream. But it’s there to be eaten with a Fifth Element, a true sharpener of a cocktail, featuring sherry vinegar. The acid and those now familiar bourbon notes do wonders for the humble grilled pudding, and bring the meal at Hotbox’s lively communal table to a satisfying finale. There’s always the 46 & Mercy cocktail bar downstairs for those that want more, but we teetered off into the night replete.
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2 or 3 course set menu with cocktail pairings £25 or £30. Hotbox, 46-48 Commercial Street, E1. More info