A burger place in shipping container, inside an old bakery, between a bus station and a bus stop. It conjures ideas of a place with bare brickwork covered in graffiti, food served on MDF tables, eaten with plastic cutlery from metal trays and a good foot of sawdust on the floor to soak up grease and beer.
Just like HubBox… (apart from the sawdust). Funny that; but don’t think for one minute this is a coincidence… hear me out.
I LOVE BURGERS. (I don’t attempt to hide this from anyone, and even if I did my growing gut would give me away quicker than I could say Big Mac). So imagine my delight to be working in London for much of the year in which England discovered how good a good burger can be. It seemed that every time I had any free time in the city I was hunting out the new “best” burger place. The story of Yianni Papoutsis epitomizes this rise in popularity. He began serving bastardised versions of classic American diner food from a converted airstream caravan on an industrial estate in Peckham (MeatWagon), before being offered a pop-up in the upstairs of a derelict pub in New Cross Gate when the MeatWagon was stolen (MeatEasy).
Talk about a phoenix from the ashes, it was RAMMED. 2 hour queues for a table were commonplace with Yianni following the already growing trend of not taking reservations. Equally as common was the sight of lost souls slumped on the street outside with little to distinguish them from the local homeless, bar the glisten of burger juices round their cheeks and the yellow and red stains on their t-shirts (they did take-away).
When MeatEasy closed its doors for the last time on 16th April 2011, a lot of people were left asking “What now for Yianni?” Well, nearly 3 years later the answer to that question is abundantly clear.
MeatLiquor, MeatMission, MeatMarket and the recently opened MeatLiquor Brighton are the answer. Some clever investors were clearly paying attention to how successful MeatEasy had been in a less than ideal location. Replicating this format in Oxford St, Covent Garden and Hoxton, has created 3 of the most successful restaurants in London for Yianni and Co. Thankfully and as a testament to Yianni’s passion for good ingredients and simple cooking, the quality hasn’t suffered.
Anyway, back to HubBox. The reason I love both the Meat empite and HubBox is that they epitomize what eating burgers is all about. Simple but edgy decor, inoffensive enough for a family to have lunch during a shopping trip, yet interesting/cool enough that the “after-work crowd” may stick around for a beer after their burger, Where a builder, lawyer and doctor can sit at the same bench and talk only about “how good the special is that day” or “which is your favourite of the craft beers”. Burgers should be enjoyed by everyone and these places are pioneers of that belief!
The food is fantastic. So fantastic in fact that I had filled up my loyalty card (10 stamps) within 2 weeks of them opening.
With a small menu, the focus is on quality rather than quantity. There are 8 burgers with 3 non-meat options meaning that veggies are well catered for and with the bread coming directly from Real Food (around the corner on Paris St) they can also cater for those on a Gluten free diet. Of the burgers, 5 are variants of a beef burger, 1 chicken and the last 2 are plays of the trump card, their in-house smoker.
The Smokey B and Boston Butt (pictured below) burgers are comprised of pulled pork and smoked brisket respectively – both cooked for 12 hours. The brisket is melt-in-the-mouth tender, with a perfect smoke ring sat beneath the crust, the type that is impossible to replicate without wood smoke. The pulled pork is juicy with a satisfying tang and leaves your mouth coated in a layer of porcine greasy goodness that is only revealed when cooked low and slow.
The veggie burgers consist of 3 non-meat opinions, whilst the sides have 2 surprises among their standard (though excellent) fare of chips and onion rings. Both the chilli-cheese fries and the burnt-end beans would make a good sized meal on their own, however when served as a side they are simply too good to leave, although containers for both come with a lid should you want to finish them at home (after-all you should have the opportunity to try things this naughty in private). The chilli-cheese fries are (as the name suggests) stirred through with a fiery beef chilli then topped with cheese and grilled, whilst the burnt-end beans are their own recipe BBQ beans laced with chunks of beef brisket. Both are as good, if not better, than they sound… Honestly!
The menu is rounded off by 3 excellent hot dogs, each made with top quality, oak smoked pork frankfurters and toppings (a good choice if you have eaten 5 of their burgers in the last week or just fancy a top-quality hot dog).
Beer is supplied by Bristol Beer Factory and they stock a great range of their own craft beers, as well as some good lagers including Brooklyn and my personal favourite, Brewdog IPA. The only thing I think they could add is a milkshake machine, maybe with the option to add a shot of something for after dinner.
All in all, I love HubBox. It is just what Exeter has needed for a long time and feels like a fitting subject for my first blog post.