Machismo’s gentler side
Claim to fame: Acclaimed barbecue chef Neil Rankin’s more grown-up Soho restaurant
Reason to go: Original and surprising dishes served with a hipster-vibe
To look out for: Brilliant meats, off-beat flavor combinations, on-trend global dishes
Chef Neil Rankin made his name with a series of barbecue cook-offs at the now closed, tiny yet famed Pitt Cue Co. restaurant in a Soho basement. The barbecue king label has stuck with him, but his cooking has moved on to gather diverse new influences. Temper is also housed in a Soho basement, but this one’s altogether more plush and spacious with nearly 200 seats in green upholstered booths and at a marble-topped counter that surrounds the large kitchen.
Get a seat at the counter, if you can, to watch the dishes being prepared in an array of fire pits and ovens by predictably tattooed and leather-aproned chefs, working away to a hip-hop soundtrack. There’s delicacy here though, despite macho posturing and whole carcasses being carved; fish is gently probed with thermometers, burger patties are carefully weighed then seared on a charcoal grill, and tacos are nimbly hand-rolled. Those tacos are one of many nods to Latin American tastes, yet they’re twisted a notch; a crab taco with the consistency of coleslaw for instance.
Main courses are served on much larger flatbreads, such as the chili and bone marrow; a hollow thighbone reveals quivering marrow, smothered in a spicy meat sauce spiked with raw green chilies and diced raw onion, topped with an American-style cheese sauce. The flavors are full-on in this and many other combos, like a side dish of Thai-style larb made with burnt ends (of beef), served with a tangle of leaves and herbs; or smacked cucumber, the classic Sichuan salad with its double-punch of ‘ma-la’ (numbing and hot) Sichuan pepper and chili spicing.
Some customers make it as far as dessert, magically finding room for the Breton cake kouign-amman, served with a butterscotch sauce and dulce de leche ice cream. Many more are distracted by the wine list which is long and varied, with bottles brought from a huge glass-walled vault that lines the walls. Guests who arrive early might be shepherded into a basement anteroom cocktail bar, but don't rely on it, Temper is always packed in the evenings, and space at a premium.
To avoid the crowds, visit for lunch when, on most days, you can walk straight in and have a table to yourself. But midday you’re less likely to be interested in the mezcal list, which even has flight options. Don’t be fooled by all this Tex-Mex testosterone-bait; the staff is simpatico, and the cooking is more subtly nuanced than it might sound.