December 20, Harajuku
December 19, Shibuya
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It must be hard to stand out on Hiroo's Sanpo Dori, a relatively short street on which almost every other building is a restaurant. Hot Stuff Barbecue Ribs sits on the same spot that was, until very recently, Ore no Hamburg Yamamoto, which didn't even last long enough to get snapped on Google Street View's last round (check the spot and you'll see that it still displays the prior occupant, a massage parlour – this address is destined to work with meat of one form or another forever more). So why open here? We're guessing that the owners of Hot Stuff were banking on Hiroo's reputation as an expat hub, and the presumption that expats have an insatiable appetite for barbecued ribs.
However, the place hasn't exactly been heaving so far. When we visited for an early lunch, there was only a couple of OLs propping up one end of a lengthy counter, while a solitary salaryman balanced things out at the other end. We sat in the middle and waited less than three seconds for a waiter to arrive - the staff outnumbered the customers two to one. The stereo pumped out American country as a translated menu dropped in front of us. We could only hope that there are enough meat-loving foreigners left in Hiroo to support all this.
At ¥1,300, 'Today's combo lunch' looked like a reasonable deal, and we watched as the chef grilled up the ribs of an American pig (its nationality was well advertised on info cards across the counter), dunked them in a dark red barbecue sauce and plated them up alongside a serving of pilau rice and a small side salad. A preliminary poke around the selection confirmed that this was no place for vegetarians. Two large ribs, the entire breast of a large chicken, pilau garnished with pork bits, and a side dish of unidentifiable white flesh; meat with extra meat and an order of meat on the side.
In truth, the ribs were fine, though it would have suited our tastes had they been charred a bit more. They had the right amount of flesh on the bone, and we weren't left gagging on fat, while the chicken had obviously been pummelled violently to ensure tenderness. The sauce went everywhere, which is just as it should be, covering fingers, face and (as we discovered later) clothes. Very satisfying indeed. The rest of the meal, however, suffered from being utterly average, though very few people turn up at a ribs restaurant with a good salad in mind. If it's a straightforward belly full of meat you're after, Hot Stuff has you covered.
Bill (for one)
Today's lunch combo, ¥1,300
Coca Cola, ¥200