Hot Hot is the hot new modern Asian fusion eatery in town. Seems that everyone is talking about it and going there. So my Cheapeats colleague Kate, her partner and I ventured out one mid-week evening to check it out.
I arrived early at 5:30pm and snagged a table upstairs next to a window. Hot Hot is only open for dinner, and being a small venue, fills up very quickly. A friendly server followed me upstairs with a jug of water, glasses and the menu. We had heard that the service is prompt and that the staff are friendly, and this certainly proved to be the case during our visit.
The concise menu covers all the corners of Asia: Thailand, Viet Nam, India, China and Malaysia, rather like a “top hits” of Asian food. I ordered some nibbles to share once Kate and her partner arrived: fresh spring rolls (3/$12) and stuffed roti ($14), the latter recommended by the server. We were looking forward to trying out the eclectic tastes as promised on the menu.
Unfortunately, this is when our anticipation turned to disappointment.
I love the fresh herb zing of well-made fresh spring rolls, something that I enjoyed years ago in Viet Nam. I continue to search for the same standard here in Auckland, and unfortunately my search continues. The rolls were bulked out with noodles, there were few herbs and rather than the traditional inclusion of shrimp and pork, Hot Hot offers pork or tofu. We chose the pork and found it quite tough to chew.
On to the Stuffed Roti. This was described as being stuffed with organic chicken, curry powder, ginger, potatoes and onion. It was attractively presented and cut into four pieces. We dug in, but none of us could taste the spices or even the chicken described on the menu. It was very greasy.
Our main course choices favoured Viet Nam cuisine: Banh Mi Roll ($14.50); Cold Noodles with Lemongrass Chicken ($16.50) and Wok Fried Noodle with pork belly ($17.50).
The Banh Mi Roll had been conveniently cut into three pieces for us. The pork in this dish was meltingly tender, but the flavours of the pickle, chilli and coriander were very muted. The Hot Hot version of this roll is served with a bean pate rather than the traditional liver pate, and we felt that the bean pate flavour was essentially non-existent. We agreed that we all prefer Banh Mi made with a crunchy French baguette, rather than on soft bread as used at Hot Hot.
The Cold Noodles with Lemongrass Chicken featured several pieces of delicious chicken served on a bed of noodles. However the chicken had been marinated or basted with a soy or teriyaki type sauce, and there was no flavour of lemongrass.
The most successful dish for us was the Wok Fried Noodles, which tasted very much like the Malaysian smokey flavoured fried noodle dish Char Kway Teow. The noodle dough had been rolled up and then sliced into chunks. For some reason we again chose the pork version, but chicken and vegetarian versions are available.
We pushed on to dessert: I love black sticky rice, so despite what I felt was a rather high price, we ordered the Egg Coconut Custard with black sticky rice ($12.50). The Chocolate Brownie with salted caramel ice cream and peanuts ($12.50) spoke to Kate, so we ordered that, too.
The egg coconut custard on the black sticky rice mystified us. Rather than a silky baked custard or a smooth pouring custard, the custard was a firm, rather grainy textured topping. We pushed that dish to one side and dug into the brownie and ice cream. This was a real treat of a fudgey brownie with delicious caramel ice cream and we fought over sharing it. All it needed was a cup of tea to wash it down, but Hot Hot does not offer hot beverages (the irony is not lost on me).
Hot Hot has a lot to recommend it: funky, brightly coloured decor; friendly staff; prompt service; varied and delicious-sounding menu. However for us it is all about the food, and on the whole, we were disappointed with our experience. Sadly, a return visit is not something we will contemplate any time soon.