Say hot pot to most people and they’ll assume you’re talking about the Lancashire stew, the kind served by Betty in The Rovers Return. But, with another restaurant specialising in the Asian variety now open in London, it seems that is about to change…
Asian hot pot is as it sounds: a pot of broth bubbles away on a burner in the middle of the table, and diners toss raw vegetables, meat, seafood and fish into the soup to cook and eat. It’s a popular way to dine across Asia, from suki in Thailand to shabu-shabu in Japan and huo guo in China.
As yet, though, it’s not a particularly well-known concept in the UK, with just a few restaurants – like Shuang Shuang on Shaftesbury Avenue – specialising in it. New eatery Hot Pot, though, located in the heart of Chinatown on Wardour Street, is set to spread the gospel further.
The restaurant is the first UK location for Thai restaurant group Hot Pot, and is headed by chef and hot pot specialist Yong Cheng, who’s come all the way from Thailand to bring this do-it-yourself style of dining to the capital.
The restaurant offers five different types of broth. There are three Chinese varieties: a classic fiery Szechuan number and more soothing chicken and clear soups for the spice averse.
Hot Pot pays a nod to its Thai origins with a hot and sour version and vegetarians can enjoy a mushroom-infused broth. If you’re unable to choose then they also offer hot pots divided in the middle so you can enjoy two broths at once, and large tables come with multiple burners–so come with a big group if you want to sample as much as possible.
When it comes to raw ingredients Hot Pot has an impressive roster of over 60 items, covering meat (free range where possible), sustainably sourced fish and seafood, vegetables, rice and noodles. We spotted everything from marinated chicken, pork belly, mutton and kidney to sweet potato, fresh quail’s eggs and grouper.
There are also plenty of luxury ingredients to enjoy: wagyu and angus fillet beef, lobster and crab all make an appearance on the menu. Vegetarians have an abundance of choice, including six different types of mushrooms and seven tofu dishes.
No decent hot pot restaurant would be without a dipping station full of fresh ingredients that diners mix and combine to create dipping sauces for their hot pot. The restaurant comes with over 15 complimentary condiments – from soy sauce and black vinegar to chilli bean paste and crispy peanuts – that you can use to create as many sauces as you’d like.
What’s the room/atmosphere like?
The restaurant is spread over two floors, with an impressive 148 covers, yet seems surprisingly intimate. Lobster tanks filled with crustaceans greet diners as they walk in and the décor is restrained yet luxe: think gold tones, antique mirrors, polished brass wall lights and crackle-glazed jade tiles.
Menu must-orders and misfires
We ordered a half-and-half combination of the mala Szechuan, made with dried chilli, Szechuan peppercorns, fermented beans and herbs, and the chicken soup with black chicken, Chinese rice wine, goji berries and ginseng.
Of the two the former was the star; a spicy, vibrant stew with a robust kick of chilli heat that was balanced by the wonderfully tingly, numbing qualities of the peppercorns. Just be sure you don’t crunch down on too many of the latter at once, as they can disconcertingly make you feel as if you’ve just paid a visit to the dentist.
It was difficult for the delicate chicken soup to compete with this bolshie broth, although we did appreciate how refreshing it was when we needed a respite from the fiery assaults of its neighbour.
Plump, coral-pink fillets of salmon resting on beds of shaved ice, wafer thin slices of rib-eye beef, nicely made seafood wontons and skewers of fat king prawns were some of the highlights of the raw ingredients that we picked, but the favourite was the dinky wooden crate packed with vegetables, including lotus root, greens and lots of different of mushrooms, from skinny enoki to meaty shiitake, all of which soaked up the juices of the broth beautifully.
Diners have an extensive menu of wines and cocktails to choose from, but we recommend sampling one of the several sakes Hot Pot has on offer, or, if you’re feeling brave, the baijiu, China’s famously dangerous national drink.
If you’re looking for a new dining experience then Hot Pot could be just the ticket: expect skillfully made broths, well-sourced ingredients and lots of fun.