Phone: (09) 846 4842
Cost: $203 for four
Rating: 14 — good
Look at this address and commit it to memory — an internet search for Hot Hot Asian is NSFW.
Did you have to google that acronym? Nobody at this restaurant needed to.
I'm waiting for some of that text-speaking target audience right now. They're ubering to dinner from their own inner-city apartments and their recent stellar career advancements. I contemplate their general got-their-shit-togetherness and start sweating — possibly because I'm nearly 50 and forgot to buy a house but also because it is really bloody hot in here.
By 6.30pm the place is packed. Are these heaving tables of alpha female achievers eating before an evening of debauchery or does Team Millennial just go to bed very early? In any case, they can't get a cocktail here because the menu is in a state of flux and right now the lychee margarita, etc, is off the list. There is, however, beer and wine ($8-$14) and it is mercifully chilled.
I'm upstairs, by an open window and a fan. The restaurant is painted hot pink and bright teal. Did you just think Miami Vice? I bet everybody else here thinks Crockett & Tubbs is a craft beer label.
The fit-out is very chinoiserie, Kiss Kiss, et al. You could be forgiven for assuming you had stumbled into another of this hospo crowd's excellent suburban takeovers. In fact, one of its former chefs, Panawat Chotamungsa (better known as Erk), is going it alone, and making a pretty delicious job of it.
Our waitperson was quick to note that while much of the menu is prefaced with the words "hot hot", the beef curry ($17.50) was the only dish likely to really burn. Everybody, she advised, was loving the "hot hot wok fried". "We'll have that," I said, desperate to fit in with the young people of today.
Hot Hot's food provides variations on four proteins (tofu, chicken, beef and pork), prepared across a broad spectrum of Asian classics.
We started with generous chunks of springy tofu, adorned with crispy vermicelli noodles ($12 for four). Nice, but not a patch on the stuffed roti ($13.50). It has a gentle gingery chicken and potato filling, but you're there for the epically flaky layers of fried flatbread. So, so good. (Refresh your arteries with a salad. The $12.50 som tum was a sweet and sour tangle of julienned root vege, beans and tomato.)
Bahn mi rolls ($14.50) and bao buns ($9) are a major feature of the menu. Get the buns if you're on a date — the roll shattered like a crunchy cloud and landed on my chest like a pile of bread dandruff.
Also worth noting, the paté component of the bahn mi is legume, rather than liver-based. The white beans kind of smoodged into the bread, creating a textured layer akin to cold mashed potato. An acquired taste.
And so to the "wok wok fried" ($16.50). It comes with pork belly, but it was the rolled rice noodles soaked in sticky, garlicky sauce, and the crunchy quarters of bok choy, onions and more, that kept the formerly vegetarian member of our party coming back for more.
The larb? "Too meaty," she said, wilfully missing the point of a larb. It was lovely, $16.50-worth of well-balanced minced chicken with a little packet of sticky rice on the side. Yes, confirmed the waitperson, the chicken was free-range.
There is a theory that hot countries develop hot cuisines because spice encourages sweat and when that sweat evaporates, it cools us down. Another says we lose our appetite when we're hot and spicy food acts as a stimulant. I'm not sure. I was feeling quite stimulated but the only pudding option was a battered banana with chocolate sauce, peanuts and coconut icecream ($12). Too much, IMO.