What to you is sexy? Don’t worry, I’m not trying my hand at agony-aunting, but sexiness and food have always danced an ancient jig.
What can warm the cold, wet streets and the colder, wetter hearts of these misted isles? Fire and death are Temper’s answer!
If your idea of seduction is staring into the eyes of a decapitated pig’s head, this new Shoreditch outpost is for you.
A palace to the paleo god Carnivora, this basement of blistering meat and dancing flame is so out of pace with my normal fare it feels taboo, forbidden, sexy. My militant plant-eating mother would cry if I took her here, and isn’t that the very idea of sexiness? Something that would make your parents cry.
I digress. Temper was started in Broadwick Street in Soho in 2016 by restaurateur Sam Lee and chef Neil Rankin, who has since left the business. It burgeoned into a triple threat with branches in the City and Covent Garden, and now claims a thumping sunken space along Great Eastern Street.
Proximity to Spitalfields market and in-house butchery (such a lovely collection of words) means this chain is in an ideal area for barbeque lovers. Yet with St John in the area, the competition for dripping juices and smoky carcases is strong.
Down we are sucked, into this blazing portal, a little like hell but with more neon signs. It’s dark, it’s deep, it’s dangerous. A bar counter swings around, dominating the space, while tables descend outwards into the gloom. Like the altar to the great god Marduk, the six-metre-long central fire pit spits out tongues of red, warming the whole space.
Heads and a trotter or two are hung from a literal meat rack as handsome waiters scurry around making cocktails.
Unlike hell, the friendliness of all the staff thaws us almost as much as the ring of fire. Yet no amount of charm can make up for our first plate, the Cheeseburger Taco. This dish helpfully answers the question, ‘Can you put anything in a taco?’ If it’s cold mince and Dorito-flavoured cheese, the answer is no.
Drinks soften our apprehension. A Negroni for my friend, apparently with Mezcal, but although bitter and brash, it is not immeasurably different. My Pepino Picante is the right colour, deceptively milky white, but the experience is lacking in the needed Tabasco Verde Mezcal kick.
The taco-heavy menu is trying its best to twist the Mexican classics but for roughly £5-7 per taco, they are smaller than one would like.
The salmon, miso and smoked pineapple taco is a slushy, slightly cold affair, limp and lacking. The duck carnitas are dry and rather tasteless for the normally juicy fowl. The larger smoked goat taco is an improvement, the roasted and chewy sturdiness of the meat a welcome deviation. More goat for Great Britain I cry!
Following quickly is a rather sad, small, and simpering salad. Maybe our avoidance of the main meat of the venue (beef) is the reason for this lacklustre beginning? As other starters centre around the bull, with aged nachos, or beef fat cornbread gochujang. But we did as was bid.
An expertly chosen bottle of rioja blanco proves the importance of trust in your waiter, although at £48 this trust comes at a cost. Compared with a little more hazily chosen second bottle of house white at £26, the difference is as startling as the headache that set in the next morning.
Green curry mussels sit pretty in a luminous swamp of Thai goodness, the only way I want to eat them in the future. The prong of basil and lime elevates the salinity of the shy bivalves in a way that white wine sauce never could.
The American idea of surf-and-turf enlivens the menu’s land meatiness by giving us… meat of the sea! Cornish plaice and prawns in chilli and garlic are a nice optional deviation.
Although it may be obvious, I don’t know many vegans/vegetarians who would be happy sitting so close to the remnants of ruminants. Even so, the Burnt Squash Mole is (one assumes) the only vegan option on the menu, along with the goat cheese tacos for the veggies.
The Virgin T-bone is all umami warmth, and tenderly cooked perfection, and that’s the main draw for a BBQ venue, isn’t it? Although the recommendation for it to cover two people was maybe for thinner, sexier, less gluttonous people than my friend and me.
Having said that, Temper’s whole beast butchery concept avoids waste by using the whole animal, which makes up for any churlishness we might feel at the main’s size. Also, the price is refreshingly low for a high-quality product all the way from the North York Moors and Charles Ashbridge’s ancestral farm.
It all ends with a Deep Dish Brigadeiro Cookie. Although looking complex on the menu, it is all sickly Disney sweetness, served in a scalding pot (rather a danger in such a dark place?).
Peanut tart or lime sorbet proves that dessert is once again an afterthought, as it is in so many restaurants.
Temper’s attention to rare-breed British cattle, pasture-grazed and slow-reared, along with only buying the whole animal is commendable if not unique in the capital. The team clearly understands that with all this holiness around cooking, there is a pushback for real meat, real flames, and really good service.
Although the branding, main courses, and staff are all spot on, the dishes darting around the sides could do with some special attention. After all, when gazing into the eyes of the literal fatted calf, you expect a sacrificial offering of biblical proportions.