Hot Stuff is a small anonymous restaurant, so small and anonymous in fact that, on first glance, it hardly seems fair to describe it as a ‘restaurant’. Anyone walking down Wilcox Road (itself a rather nondescript thoroughfare that connects the South Lambeth Road to the Wandsworth Road in Stockwell) would probably dismiss the place as a café, that is if they even noticed it tucked away next to the off-licence and the chip shop.
It’s undeniable that this part of south London isn’t the prettiest (when we visited there was a police sign erected nearby asking for any witnesses to an armed robbery which had occured at around 5:30 the previous Sunday evening) but Hot Stuff stands out immediately as a small oasis of good cheer with its chintzy fairylight decorations and the warm welcoming smiles of Raj and his cousin Rocky.
And that’s your first clue that Hot Stuff is going to be good: it’s a family concern run with all the passion and pride that you would expect, and that family atmosphere seems to pervade the entire establishment. Hot Stuff is never quiet, no one ever eats on their own and conversation is never ‘hushed’.
As for the food, well there’s a basic menu with all the usual favourites (bhuna, madras, khorma, tikka masala etc) but to be honest it’s not even worth glancing at that unless of course you want to admire the design principles behind a menu which is shaped like an oversized, laminated red chilli.
No, it’s much better to sit back and pick away at your poppadoms and pickles until your waiter for the evening arrives (dressed inevitably in jeans and oversized trainers), plonks himself down on the seat next to yours and enquires how you’re doing this evening. After a bit of initial chit chat you’ll get a verbal tour through the specials board and this is where the real gems of Hot Stuff are to be found.
On the evening we were there (‘we’ being just two us) one of our starters, both main courses and a vegetable side dish were ordered ‘off menu’ i.e. they didn’t appear on the large laminated chilli. Dishes like lamb meatballs, kerala chicken, and green banana and chicken curry. All of them described so lovingly and mouthwateringly by Raj that you can’t help but order a little too much.
(And if there’s a problem with Hot Stuff that is it: your ears are always bigger then your stomach. But it doesn’t matter because the prices are ludicrously reasonable and if you ask you can take your leftovers away in a foil box for lunch the next day.)
So what was the food like? Well the lamb meatballs are beautifully succulent and packed with so many subtle spices and herbs flavours that you want to spend as long as possible on each golf-ball sized treat. Even the spicy vegetable sauce that covers them is extraordinarly good, not overwhelmingly spicy and laced with vegetables cooked to the point of ‘just right’.
Another starter of mixed bhajis will be a revelation to anyone who’s used to the kind of greasy, globular mess you could bounce off someone’s head. These are fluffy, light mounds of potato, herbs and onion that break apart under your fork and come served with a dark, sticky tamarind sauce. They’re amazing.
The kerala chicken is made with coconut, curry leaves and ginger but it has none of that coconut gloopiness that screams ‘out of a tin’ and the chicken is chunky and generous. The green banana curry doesn’t really have any overpowering taste of banana either…it just tastes incredible and it has more of a kick than the kerala but that’s because we asked for it to be on the spicy side.
All of this is accompanied by some simple boiled rice and a sensational naan studded with garlic and chillies (we know it’s hard to believe that a naan can be worth a superlative like ‘sensational’ but you’ll have to take our word for it).
Hot Stuff doesn’t have an alcohol licence so you’ll have to bring you own (the off-licence we mentioned previously hasn’t missed a trick and stocks a decent selection of Indian beers) and that just helps to keep the bill down.
And talking of the bill, we paid just over £20 for our mini-feast. That’s £10 a head for some of the freshest and tastiest Indian food in London.
Thanks to its location, its size and its opening hours Hot Stuff isn’t the type of Indian that only gets packed after 11 o clock. So if you’re thinking of going on a Friday or Saturday evening you will have to book.
As its reputation spreads Hot Stuff can only get more popular. We almost didn’t want to write this review because it’s the kind of place you want to keep under wraps and show off to a select few friends. But we feel we need to share the wealth. They deserve the attention after all.
Hot Stuff can be found at 19 Wilcox Road, London SW8. Phone 020 7720 1480.
Is the best curry in London really to be found in Stockwell? Let us know if you disagree.