Since arriving in Shanghai, Mary has been wanting to show us Hai Di Lao 海底捞火锅, the famous Chinese hot pot (known as steamboat in Singapore/ Malaysia) chain here. Founded in 1994 in Sichuan, there are now over 250 Hai Di Lao outlets around the world including two in Singapore. This was my first time in a Hai Di Lao restaurant.
The obligatory braised fried tofu stick appetiser.
Crunchy seaweed and spicy chili.
For the broth, most people opt for the safest choice - the yuan yang 鸳鸯 which means black and white or the spicy Sichuan broth on one side and a sweet savoury milky chicken broth on the other.
The greasy and spicy 麻辣 Sichuan broth is only for cooking the food by dipping or brushing 刷 as they say in China. The spicy Sichuan broth is not for drinking - it's loaded with spices, flavourings and grease, and is used for cooking only!
I like a full bodied sweet savoury broth with a fresh fish head thrown in for another layer of sweetness and the gelatin :-D
We had both thin slices of marbled beef and lamb. It's cooked by gently brushing the meat in the hot broth seven times each.
Enoki mushroom is popular for hot pot. Don't put this in the spicy pot as the grease will cling stubbornly to the stems.
One of the key features of Sichuan style hot pot is the wide range of blended dips and sauces with flavours to suit every palate. Hai Di Lao's sauces is at least on par with any hotpot shop.
The food at Hai Di Lao is good but it is not what stick in our minds - similar standard or better hot pot joints are not hard to find in China.
But stuck in my mind was the over-the-top, slightly pretentious service. The moment we stepped into the dining hall we were led to our seats by a very friendly waitress and she did that in a way that made us feel extremely welcome and special. We were handed plastic pockets for our handphones, cleaning paper for our glasses, aprons to keep our clothes clean, towels and plastic gloves for our hands - we felt we were at luxury spa. For waiting customers, there were complimentary manicure services and board game tables.
When we were nearly finishing our meal, a young gentleman came in and performed a flamboyant dance to produce a bundle of ribbon noodles.
The clump of doughy floppy noodles weren't pretty nor particularly memorable in flavour, but we will always remember the noodle dance. We can say the same about the other food too - the food wasn't much different from other hot pot places but the impeccable service is what stays in my mind. So, among hotspot restaurants, Hai Di Lao provides the superior overall experience.
Hai Di Lao has dozens of outlets around the world but I have been only to this one in Shanghai. I do not know the price of today's meal as it was a treat by Mary but I understand Hai Di Lao charges a substantial premium from the average hotpot restaurant.
->> Hai Di Lao is in part dining and in larger measure, entertainment.
Restaurant name: Hai Di Lao 海底捞火锅
Address: Shanghai No.1 Department Store 5th Floor, 830 NanJing Lu (第一百货商店5层, 830 南京东路), Shanghai, China
GPS: 31.234885, 121.474897 / 31°14'05.6"N 121°28'29.6"E
Hours: 10:00am to 3:00am
Date: 9 Oct 2013
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