August 2nd, 2018 Chris

Double Trouble: 2 minutes with Mark and Rupert from Hot Sauce

The army of maneki-neko figurines dotted around Hot Sauce are working overtime to beckon Wellingtonians in, but it’s the fresh, vibrant food and luxurious cocktails that makes them stay. 

Packing as much swag as the hot sauce in Beyoncé’s bag, Hot Sauce brings some much needed heat to ward off the winter chill with a versatile menu that offers snacks and small plates (think baos, dumplings and skewers) and more substantial fare (curries, crispy soft shell crabs and Adobo-glazed lamb ribs), all immensely shareable with friends.

Head chef Mark Hsiong and sous chef Rupert Palaroan have designed a menu that brings together their own upbringings in Singapore and the Philippines, respectively, while also borrowing from Japanese, Korean and Thai cuisines. Both have extensive experience in kitchens around the world and Wellington – Mark was most recently head chef at Ancestral and Rupert joins after stints at Apache and Mr Go's.

Mark and Rupert see Hot Sauce as a chance to show off what they both have to offer, bringing together their western training with a thorough knowledge of Asian ingredients and flavours. They want to avoid the stereotype of "Asian fusion" and instead go back to their heritage. This is the food they grew up with – dishes cooked by their mothers and grandmothers – and they want New Zealanders to give it a go, albeit with a modern twist.

For Visa Wellington On A Plate, Mark and Rupert have embraced this year's festival party theme and drawn inspiration from celebratory customs in Asia. Spoiler alert: it involves a lot of food.

After a couple of beers at a party one night, the two concocted a Festival Dish worth celebrating. The Boodle Fight, takes its name from the Filipino style of meal that encourages forgoing cutlery and eating with your hands, featuring a hearty serving of festive favourites: coconut rice, chilli crab, charred vegetables, pork skewers and cured-egg salad. It's a lot of food, but it's been designed to be shared by two people, so the $30 price tag is a bargain.

Rupert is no stranger to burger success, having worked at both Apache and Mr Go's, Burger Wellington winners from the last two years. He's gunning for a three-peat with Hot Sauce's Burger Wellington entry, the Double Trouble featuring an Adobo beef patty with Singaporean bak kwa jerky, pineapple achar pickles and confit lime mayo in a housemade milk bun, kūmara crisps and Sriracha mayo. Rupert has always wanted to incorporate rice into a burger, so the milk bun has been dusted with crushed toasted rice before it's baked.

Hot Sauce's Cocktail Wellington entry is The Arrack Attack, a refreshing and sprightly concoction of burnt pineapple-infused Arrack ("Indonesian rum"), galangal syrup and fresh lemongrass topped with soda. The galangal syrup adds a hint of earthy spiciness and emphasises the citrus notes of the lemongrass. The cocktail is accompanied by a bite-sized version of their Double Trouble burger, so this is one of those rare opportunities where you'll get to enjoy both – the ultimate happy meal.

I was struck by how well each of these dishes complements each other – dynamic flavours with a careful balance of salty, sweet, sour and spicy.

Mark hopes that guests will leave Hot Sauce with a greater understanding and appreciation of how ingredients from different countries can be used intelligently, and in doing so learn a bit more about other cultures. He says the openness of chefs experimenting with Asian ingredients speaks to the evolution of New Zealand cuisine and New Zealanders in general being open to new things. Rupert says that all culinary scenes around the world are evolving, and New Zealand is no different. He wants Hot Sauce to embrace and promote a "new culture", one that isn't defined by any single national cuisine or trend. From what I've seen and tasted, Mark and Rupert are just two of the chefs in Wellington leading the way – and this VWOAP promises to introduce them to a whole legion of new fans.