Soup, stock, stew, bisque, broth; for many years I’ve been in the dark about all of these. Little did I know that a trip to Hot Pot, Chinatown’s latest exponent of pan-Asian cuisine, would open my eyes to a new, appreciation for these dishes. Whilst I still might struggle to tell the difference between (cover your eyes now if you are French) bisque and soup, I will never wrongly identify soul-nourishing, belly-filling broth again.
Situated along Wardour Street on the doorstep of Chinatown, Hot Pot is easy to miss, hiding itself behind an unassuming red door. But, once you’ve made it insid,e you’ll find a tardis-like world dripping with authentic atmosphere complimented by the smell and heat of steamy hot pots. The buzz from the street filters into the restaurant and is helped by being (literally) touching distance from Chinatown’s largest and most impressive gate - bag the private room on the first floor for the best views. The decor inside is modest because the attention is focused on the food, which helps this West End spot avoid the clutches of the cliche Chinatown tourist trap found at other restaurants nearby.
The Food and Drink
Table sizes vary but the idea of Hot Pot is to sit in large groups, be it with friends, family or complete strangers and immersive yourself in a banquet-style meal. Whilst the concept has been tried and tested through the ages, the process of ordering food may prove to be unfamiliar and difficult to us unknowing Westerners. You’ll need to discuss with those sitting at your table if you’re going to share broths, then decide if you’ll have a split pot, then the flavour of the broth itself. My friend and I opted for a Chinese inspired split pan with explosive Mala Sichaun complementing a well-trodden Chicken Soup recipe. The broths are placed onto hot plates on your table in (funnily enough) hot pots and brought to the boil. We were lucky enough to sit on a table with people eager to explore and share the rest of the menu so also managed to get our hands on soothing Vegetarian Broths and a hot and sour Tom Yum from Thailand.
You’ll then need to decide on the ingredients to boil in your pan and we’re warning you now, over-ordering was never so easy. We split Angus fillet beef, sesame oil and peppered marinated chicken, scallops, fried tofu, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, salmon and mussels between the table; shared large vegetable selection boxes that would make farmers blush and ate enough udon and egg noodles to make the rest of Chinatown stand up and take notice of this DIY spot. The ingredients were consistently succulent, had no let up in the standard of quality and scored extra brownie points for being significantly healthier than the fried grub that has become synonymous with the pan-Asian market.
Despite the food being pretty messy to eat the venue is a good spot for couples to get hands on, sinking into an alcove behind a wall of steam as they do so. With that said, the main focus of Hot Pot is to create a traditional, inclusive atmosphere whether you’re after an intimate meal or sat with complete strangers. Broths, noodles, sauces and mains (as well as the odd the chopstick) all get shared so be prepared to pass, lean and shuffle your way around the entire table.
Dining with complete strangers is an idea normally reserved for supper clubs and private sittings, so the staff were (and will continue to be) crucial in creating and maintaining an atmosphere that involved everyone. Whilst the quality of food is undeniably high and boiled to your own personal taste, the authentic concept and sociable table dynamics will help ensure Hot Pot continues to rival its competitors for the foreseeable future.