17 Wardour Street
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Hot Pot or to give it its original Mongolian name ‘huo guo’ is a traditional form of cooking that has been around for a 1000 years. It can now be found across Asia with regional variations. It is a simple way of communal eating – bringing people together but eating and ‘cooking’ at the same time.
My dining companion J was wary to say the least when I ran it by her as a place to meet. She is a self-confessed ‘non cook’ and proud of it, so “If it doesn’t come in a bag with instruction or film to pierce I don’t do it” she told me. In fact I had to persuade her to come along as she thought it was some sort of culinary trap.
She arrived before me (those of you who read me regularly will remember that J used to sometimes be late and on one occasion spectacularly late, she has since always been on time) So I was a bit thrown to see her there happily ensconced and perusing the menu.
The interior is fairly typical China Town London with a large selection of ingredients on a counter at the end of the restaurant next to an open kitchen and plenty of helpful staff to explain what to do. This I thought was good for J as she still seemed a bit worried. I needn’t have been concerned she grasped it quicker than I did.
Boycie was our expert guide who told us what to do. First choose your broth this could be one of six options. The Mala Sichuan is the spiciest (this is a warning) with plenty of chilli and peppercorns we chose this but could have had Tom Yum or Chicken Soup or a sharing pot with a divider down the middle of the wide metal bowl so you can have two different types.
The next stage is making your own dipping sauce, not as daunting as it sounds just select ingredients from the ‘sauce station’ these are to add to your ‘cooked’ ingredients. This all takes a bit of time and here’s the beauty of Hot Pot it’s slow eating personified. There is no rush at all, chat, eat drink all at your own pace.
Then you get to the meat of the matter (of vegetables if you’re a veggie). Beef (seven types including Wagyu which was delicious), pork, chicken lamb and mutton, fish, seafood (there are water tanks on the way in where you can watch your potential dinner lurking in the corner hoping not to be chosen) And as if that wasn’t enough there a whole bunch of vegetables, soya beans, mushrooms and rice and noodles to add to the mix.
Then the real fun begins. Using chopsticks you place ingredients in your chosen broth and wait for it to cook. Chicken, pork etc needs to be cooked right through but beef can be as brief as you like. The vegetables can take a while so it takes a bit of planning to get this element right. I was fearful that at this point J might just throw her chopsticks down and say enough is enough and order from the more conventional side of the menu which offers all the usual Chinese fare. But no, there was no stopping her enthusiasm and in fact she was far more competent than me (constantly losing food at the bottom of the broth etc).
By the end of this delicious meal I had learnt a few things. The first was that cooking your own food out of one’s comfort zone of home can be great fun, two never over think a guests reaction to the type of restaurant you’re meeting at and three choose carefully (take advice) about the type of broth you order. I had to change my order of Mala Sichuan for something milder, I can normally manage hot spicy food but this was on another level. Boysie was charming and gracious about all of this and happily provided me with chicken soup, which was perfect. J kept on going at the Mala Sichuan as if it was the mildest thing she’d ever eaten.
Hot Pot is a fantastic if not entirely new type of eating. It ticks all the boxes of modern dining, social, full of choice and great for groups as well as couples. The food was good with fresh ingredients being the key to its success. And as it turned out J taught me a thing or two about cooking. No bad thing.