That Hot Sauce Shop is a mecca for chilli enthusiasts. The concept, from co-owners Elle Bowles and Guy Lancaster, is dedicated to the vast universe of hot sauces – and for anyone unfamiliar with the fiery nuances, it’s the educational experience you never knew you needed.
“We opened the shop because we were frustrated there was no one spot in Sydney to reliably get a range of delicious hot sauces,” Bowles tells Broadsheet. “The sauces we carry have no added sugars, the heat comes from chillies rather than artificial heat extracts, and they put flavour first. Heat comes second to enhance the flavour, never to overpower.”
The industrial shelves in the shop on Manly’s busy Sydney Road carry a 60:40 split of Aussie and international drops. There are smoky barbeque sauces to enhance bacon and egg rolls and meat, vibrant fruity sauces bringing the likes of jalapeno, lime and pineapple to enliven oysters or fish, and smoky garlic options for those who want less heat. It’s also the only Australian stockist of the coveted (and exclusive) season 20 sauce pack from cult YouTube show Hot Ones.
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Hot sauce used to be the domain of thrillseekers facing the hottest of the hot. While there’s still space for that kind of palate, the industry has become more inclusive. “Ten or 15 years ago, it was very niche,” says Lancaster. “There was a small group of people who wanted to have the hottest thing imaginable, but producers are putting less focus on who can make the wildest thing, and seeing who can make the best-tasting hot sauce.”
The best way to see for yourself is at the shop’s all-Australian tasting bar. Against a dramatic terracotta curtain, under spotlights, is a line-up of five rotating flavours that build from mild to blazing hot. You might find Crack Fox’s lacto-fermented habanero, bush citrus and ginger sauce, an organic favourite spotlighting chillies grown in Byron Bay, or the punchy Uncle Mungo’s Mango Reaper, made from Australian-grown chillies. There are no accompaniments, just spoons.
“We thought about offering crackers or corn chips, but that would take away from the core flavour of the sauce and might limit the way people would use the hot sauce at home,” says Bowles.
In addition to hot sauces, there’s a small range of chilli oils, like DC Cartel’s textural crunchy chilli oil, and Sweet Heat Co’s hot honey, which Bowles calls “one of the most versatile items you can have in your pantry”.
That Hot Sauce Shop is keen to bring chilli to the masses, regardless of their skill in the kitchen. As an avid cook, Bowles says a good hot sauce can elevate complex meals, cheese boards and drinks. Lancaster admits hot sauce helps with his middling talents in the kitchen. “Hot sauce is great because I can make a simple dish, and with the right hot sauce it becomes really delicious.”