The freezing temperature over the past few days really gave me cravings for all things comfort food, whether they be cheese fondue, raclettes, or more specifically, Chinese Hot Pot or any Asian Hot Post style dishes such as Japanese Shabu Shabu. My preference tends towards Chinese style Hot Pot because it is a healthy alternative to cheese fondue or raclettes which although I love them, I find the cheese to be too heavy and dare I say fattening? Also there is something about having spicy Schezuan pepper soup broth that is just so uplifting on a cold winter’s day.
Living in London, though, poses a few problems when it comes to Chinese Hot Pot hunting. Firstly finding a good hot pot place that not only taste great but also clean, i.e. not in basements of some buildings in Chinatown – where I am just not sure if the raw vegetables and meat on my table are actually a recycle of leftovers from other tables or not – is definitely a challenge. Then comes a matter of finding someone to go to a hotpot place with because most of my western friends are not so keen on the concept of going to a restaurant to cook one’s own food on the table in a communal pot with raw ingredients scattered everywhere. I usually get questions like ‘Shouldn’t the chef be the one cooking these for us?’, ‘Isn’t it unhygienic to be eating from the same pot?’ or ‘How do I know when the meat is cook?’ In the end, I reserve my hot pot craving sessions to be satisfied with strictly Asian friends or those westerners who have lived in Asia as expats because I do not want to be blamed for any food poisoning incidents, just in case! These days with most of my Asian friends are now in Asia most of the time, Hot Pot restaurant trips become a rare treat… Because the question is who to go with? It is not one of those dining experience that one can go alone.
Shuang Shuang, the new Chinese Hot Pot restaurant in Chinatown, finally has the answers to all my problems. Here, the fresh ingredients come in small portions on conveyor belts like sushi bar instead of piling altogether on a large platter. No more having to feel awkward that raw meats and fish mixing with raw vegetables can be seen as unhygienic by some, even though they are all going to be cooked in constantly boiling water. Tick! Each person has their own little pot where one can choose one’s own soup broth, so not a problem when someone does not want to share food from a communal pot. Tick! The kitchen is completely open and visible for all diners to see, so we can be sure that the raw ingredients served are not scraps from other tables. Tick! There is even a cooking instruction for meat, fish and meatballs so that Hot Pot virgins know how long they should cook these ingredients in boiling soup water before eating so they do not give themselves food poisoning. Tick!
The interior décor is minimalist, which helps to reinforce the emphasis on cleanliness by creating a bright, clean and airy space. I seriously wonder why has it taken so long for someone to think of opening a Hot Pot restaurant like Shuang Shuang? It is such an innovative way of introducing this much loved Chinese comfort food to international crowds. I went to this restaurant with my English friend yesterday for lunch and she really enjoyed the whole experience, albeit being a Hot Pot virgin. I had the extra spicy Schezuan pepper soup called Mala soup on the menu and my friend had Black Bird soup which was the traditional Chinese black chicken soup broth. Then we just picked any ingredients we fancied from the conveyor belt. Pricewise, it is very kind to the wallet too because the restaurant offers ‘The Market Menu’ for an average diner for less than £15 per person. In my case of having severe Hot Pot craving, I ended up spending £19 for the whole meal and felt so full that I had to skip dinner that day. Needless to say that I will definitely be coming here again for more Hot Pot adventures this winter. Finally, I found a place where I can bring anyone to have Chinese hot pot with me!
For those interested in trying Chinese Hot Pot for the first time, I highly recommend going to Shuang Shuang because the staff are very friendly and helpful, but the menu also comes with easy to follow diagrams of how to enjoy the cuisine. It is definitely a good place to introduce oneself to the art of Hot Pot. Once you are more confident with mixing and cooking ingredients, then I recommend dining on the upper floor for a more traditional hot pot experience with a communal cooking pot to share with your friends because cooking and sharing food is, after all, one of the major reasons why hot pot is so delicious and fun dining experience. There is nothing more uplifting than cooking, sharing and eating with family, friends and loved ones on a cold winter’s day.
Shuang Shuang can be found at 64 Shaftsbury Avenue, London, W1D 6LU.