As the old Exeter student adage goes, “one does not simply walk past John Lewis and up Sidwell Street” (except for the occasional Monkey Suit cocktail or two). But now, thanks to the opening of Exeter’s latest gastronomical offering, you’ll find the flavours of gourmet burgers, hot dogs and special craft beers luring you right up that road and into stylish new eatery “Hub Box”.
First impressions of the pop-up restaurant definitely betray its penchant for high Americana style: its name is displayed in luminous letters arranged like a 50’s cinema listings board while the interior is smattered with glowing signs nodding to that bygone era, only to be mirrored by the equally diner-esque menu.
But there is a twist.
Take a closer look, and you’ll notice a few irregularities: the exposed red brick, the obvious pipes, the hard floor, the tables like carpenters’ work benches. There is a kind of raw and unfinished edge to the place, affording it an altogether unique and enjoyable ambience in which to enjoy our (thankfully) not raw and unfinished meals.
After a few minutes of debate with my co-eaters, we designate the quirky urban interior “industrial chic”, which seems to please founder Richard Boon as we chat to him later – It seems that’s what he was going for.
Once seated, that familiar tinge of stress sets in, not dissimilar to a mid-exam panic over a multiple choice question: what to choose? In the end, we opt for:
- The resto’s namesake The Hub Burger: 7oz burger, Swiss cheese, crispy smoked bacon and “hub sauce” – manage your mastication, it gets better;
- (In the interests of fair and equal representation) vegetarian burger Betsy: falafel, sweet chilli jam, charred corn and avocado salsa;
- The Double Double: 100% free range pork hot dog, BBQ pulled pork and sauerkraut.
With nothing separating us but a few feet and some dangling steel chains, we can see right into the kitchen area. There is a both quite literal and figurative openness about this, attesting to the team’s pride in the fact that their food is totally “manmade by humans” and uses both locally-sourced and fair trade ingredients, as indicated on the rustic brown paper menu – seeing is believing, after all.
Yet more impressive, however, is the massive shipping container inside which the kitchen is situated, an idea drawn from the Shoreditch “Boxpark”, which helps maintain coherence between the Exeter and St Ives branches, Richard tells us as we await our food. We also learn of the newly-installed barbeque smoker, allowing for 12 hour smoking sessions to ensure maximum meaty tenderness, and that each platter was carefully amalgamates head chef Alex’s travelling experience – a lot to look forward to then.
The food arrives within 15 minutes – a short wait even for a not-so busy day – and my, is it beautiful.
The Hub Burger is soft and succulent owing to its ever-so-slight rareness, oozing with flavour with every bite. The Swiss cheese and “Hub sauce” – God, I wish I knew what it was – perfectly blend to compliment both the burger and the bacon, which is cooked to absolute perfection: thin streaks, crisp at the edges, and a little bite in the middle. Stunning.
Betsy is an equal babe of a burger. Though its main constituent is “falafel”, a name bringing connotations of the dry and unexciting Greek mezze dish, this version flaunts and wholly owns the homemade vibe, with its crumbly chickpea texture nicely held by the reasonably heated sweet chilli jam. The charred sweet corn pieces seemingly sheared straight from the cob add an unexpected textural juxtaposition, while the avocado salsa, though not contributing flavourfully to the dish, carries welcome moisture.
My favourite, though, is the Double Double. Here, the oak smoked nature of the hot dog shines through, giving it a gourmet feel, which perfectly intermingles with the tender strips of BBQ pulled pork.
Upon the recommendation of our friendly waiter, each is served with an aside of hand cut fries, onion rings, pickles and coleslaw. Despite our scepticism with regards to the onion rings and pickles, we are pleasantly surprised: the onion rings are crunchy, not greasy, with properly cooked onions on the inside (something none of us have ever experienced!), and the pickles taste fresh and juicy – nothing like the floppy grim gherkins to which we’ve become accustomed through years of festival dining.
Honestly, I have no idea why the coleslaw is so good; it just is (at this point we’re enjoying the food so much that we begin to think that we have been slipped something). And finally, the hand-cut chips: wow. Even as a team of self-confessed fussy chip selectors, we are swayed: the outer crunch and inner softness of a thick chip, but in thin fry format.
Utterly romanced by the food, we’re tempted to award a solid 5 stars for everything. But no, we must find something – constructive criticism is always good, right?
To the “Hub Box”, I award 4.75/5 stars. Why the 0.25 off, you ask? The wooden cutlery. Unable to get our small female hands around the vast burgers, we had to resort to ineffective wooden cutlery, which left our plates looking like a natural disaster had hit them; fine with mates, not great for dates.
Nonetheless, that’s obviously not enough to dissuade us from a second, third, fourth (you get the idea) trip – especially for some of that epic bacon after a Cheesey’s hangover.
Thank God, then, that this “pop-up” restaurant is actually sticking around for 3 years; long enough to see us until the end of our degrees.
Fiona Potignybookmark me