Sheep (1 of 1) © 2010 . All rights reserved.

Restaurant Review: Little Lamb in Chinatown

I had never had Chinese hotpot till the other week as I have a simple rule in life – the Japanese do everything better. Their cultural trait of obsessiveness lends to perfection. Therefore, why bother with Chinese hotpot when you can have Japanese shabu shabu instead?

What I wasn’t clever enough to realise is that Chinese hotpot is a different beast than shabu shabu.

However, I was ill and must have been quite run down as Jen managed to get me to go to Little Lamb for hotpot rather than me insisting on shabu shabu. She had had it a lot in NY so I left it to her to order. She filled out a form a bit like a bingo card (or a dim sum menu if you are being less flirtatious with words) and we sat back and waited.

The hotpot came with two broths – one chilli based one and one with a herbal tonic. To dump into the hotpot we ordered an array of thinly sliced meat and vegetables that I was already familiar with from my Japanese hotpot experiences.

Then came the glorious thing about any hotpot or shabu shabu – its slow stoking with various meats and vegetables and the swish swash of the thinly sliced meat through it. The difference between this Chinese hotpot and Japanese ones I have had before was immediate. The spice level was ramped up and started to cut through my cold.

I wasn’t an immediate fan of either broth but over time the spicy broth got better and better as it slowly deepened and toughened into a vicious little soup. The herbal tonic broth never quite went anywhere and was only used by my weak spice tolerance for a break from the proper one.

The best additions were the turnips which soaked up the broth and become unexpectedly delicious. Other highlights were the spinach, tofu skins, beef and lamb slices. The reconstituted prawn balls were a massive failure and a deviant bit of ordering by Jen. Thankfully I got to laugh at her as her vaunted chop stick skills led to one flying through the air and going on a Chinese version of a walkabout to discover itself on the other side of the restaurant.

The final touch were the sauces which you get to dredge your meat and vegetables through. We enjoyed the sesame and garlic one and also the Little Lamb special one (a kind of peanuty dip). Still none of them particularly wowed us.

In the end I enjoyed our meal at Little Lamb and left full and spiced to health. Still I wasn’t enraptured by the base broths and I don’t know whether this is a cultural taste thing (i.e. that is what Chinese hotpot tastes like and it will grow on me) or whether this is a Little Lamb cooking thing? Only the spicy broth had a flavoursome punch to it whereas the herbal tonic broth was a bit of a nothing. The meats and vegetables were all great quality but, in the end, they live or die by the broth.

From Jen’s experience in the larger Chinese community in the US their broths were more flavoursome and enhanced the meal to a greater extent. Again neither of us know what a traditional hotpot is meant to be but I can only assume they will easy to find in HK and I am looking forward to learning. Still, I am not a convert yet and, whilst in London, remain in thrall to shabu shabu.

One final thing, I was kind of expecting this to be cheaper than it was.  We didn’t really watch what we ordered but it ended up being £30- 35 with tip.

Price – £30 to £35 a head

PS for another view Mr Noodles’ thoughts are here.

Little Lamb on Urbanspoon

17 Comments

  1. Mr Noodles

    You will find this kind of hot pot in HK but there's also an indigenous Cantonese version that has a milder soup base and shedloads of seafood.

    BTW – it works out cheaper if you go for the £20/head set meal (min. 2 persons), where you choose a soup base and five dishes per person, rather than a la carte. You have to say you're going for this at the outset and the wait staff should've pointed this out to you.

  2. London Chow

    Excellent pictures taken! The last pic was riot! Did I see the Tiger beer bottle in the background? :)

    I'm never one for herbal (or tonic if you prefer) soup based hotpot or steamboat. Not sure whether there's a difference to begin with between the two. I've tasted some that was over zealous with their MSG and I had to go on a 'water parade' thereafter.

    Was it the case for Little Lamb as well?

  3. Dave

    That last photo sums up every meal I've had in China town. Excellent photo's.
    For me the Vietnamese hot pot reigns supreme, but may have to try a few more Chinese ones soon.

  4. The Grubworm

    Like you I have never really delved into the world of Chinese hotpots, I've had Thai version, but that's about it. Given that they seem to inspire the same level of devotion (if a little less hysteria) as pizza and burger in the food twitter- and blogo-spheres I really must fill this sad hotpot shaped gap in my foodie experience.

    At a recent visit to Chilli Cool, I saw what can only be described (but in a good way) as evil looking hotpots steaming their way to tables. They were brimming with chillis, oil and all manner of numbness inducing spice by the smell. Can;t wait to dive into one of those.

  5. David J

    Not bothering with Chinese food because Japanese is essentially a similar product honed to perfection? My God. Is the only Chinese food you've had up until now the stuff accompanying your beer during a particularly lethargic night in? This being a food blog and you having a working knowledge of David Chang's food, I am assuming it is not.

    While at the top end Japanese food has evolved into something else (delicious and artful but bordering on the tedious, some might say), there isn't a chance sukiyaki or chirashi sushi could match the flavour and textures of even the most pedestrian Cantonese food, without even getting into the true peasant classics, the regional varieties a nation as massive and diverse as China could produce. I would have not have expected such a vast oversimplification from a site as usually excellent as yours.

  6. Tom

    David J – apologies sometimes my English schoolboy humour doesn't translate. However, I wasn't talking just about food. I was also talking about architecture, technology, their seasons, gardens, history, art, calligraphy etc.. However, it was only meant as a jokey oversimplification and was not focused on China but against all the varieties of Western culture as well.

    The reason (well 80%) that I am moving to HK is to gain a greater knowledge and experience of Chinese (and I suppose Cantonese in particular) food. I am starting to look for my first books on Chinese gastronomic history right now as I want to learn from the ground up about Chinese food and the influences which went into it.

    That said, I think it will be interesting as there are certain flavours or textures that are culturally difficult if you are non native. Almost like the culinary equivalent of trying to roll your "r's" in Spain if you are an English speaker. I am not sure I will ever be able to appreciate the joy that Chinese natives evidently have for bones and texture.

    As yet and on the experience that I had with Chinese hotpot at Little Lamb it doesn't yet do it for me. However, my adoration of shabu shabu only came after 4 weeks of walking round Tokyo searching it out so I expect this view to evolve.

    London Chow – the Tiger beer was Jen's. I went authentic with TsingTao. : ) (though I will probably find out when I go to China that that is tourist stuff). It actually wasn't MSG heavy – the herbal one just wasn't much of anything. Like they made it on the day when I can only guess that good ones are the result of more work.

    Dave – I actually love that way of ordering. It is simple and effective. I would be interested to see it in French restaurants…

    My love of Vietnamese food is rather intense. Especially after visiting it. Any country that combines Asian and French cuisines that well should be respected.

    Grubworm – all I can say is I think I have a lot of learning to go. I expect , like most culinary nations, there is no such thing as a Chinese hotpot but that each region, ingredient by ingredient, influence by influence, spice by spice, turns out something different and special each time.

    Mr Noodles – I generally adore seafood and seafood broths so am particularly excited about Cantonese food in general as I understand that seafood is a focus of it. It almost makes me forget all the jamon serrano we have been eating here in Spain

  7. Anonymous

    Am I the only one who doesn't like flavoursome broths for hotpot?

    A broth with too much flavour drowns out the taste of the individual ingrediants and make everyting taste the same.

    Also, for me the whole point of the hotpot is drinking the broth at the end of the meal after it's taken on all the flavours of the different ingrediants. That broth tastes incredibly rich and yet cleansing. A strong flavoured broth at the beginning of the meal doesn't give you this. I think that's why for me, my favourite hotpots are the homemade ones you have with your family where we just use a light lamb stock made from bones and a bit of ginger.

    Of course if we are going for the spicy version then the above doesn't apply.

  8. Tom

    Anon – I like broths which have the capacity to develop greater flavour… so I am with you on the development of it and how, at the end, you have an entirely different and magnificent beast (compared to what you started with).

    The herbal tonic one seemed resistant to the development of flavour. The spicy one did grow and grow.

    I think I have a lot of learning to do with these hotpots. However, going on what I like I think a light one with lots of seafood could be the best.

  9. David J

    It's admirable part of your desire to move to HK is for a greater understanding. I wish you the best of luck on that endeavour.

  10. hk

    its great that you're willing to learn more about the culture. If you really want to get to know chinese food beyond cantonese food, you should travel to Shenzhen, the boundary city between hong kong and mainland China. The food is really cheap and extremely good! Love hong kong though, its such a great city!

  11. Tom

    @David J – well it will definitely be an experience. Though I am still looking for a good historical guide to Chinese food which seems to be lacking. I think I am going to have go major regional cuisine by major regional cuisine.

    @HK – I can't wait to do a bit of dinking around and go to the more out of the way cities. I am incredibly excited at using HK as a transport hub to see the other areas.

  12. Lizzie

    Did you order noodles to dump in at the end to slurp up with the soup which should then be flavoured with meaty seafoody goodness?

    I think part of the reason hotpots / steamboats are so popular is the communal aspect of the eating too.

  13. Tom

    We kind of forgot about noodles but then ordered them at the end. Normally in a shabu shabu they would be the utter best of the meal but here the broth didn't turn into somehting that was as slurpable which was the biggest disappointment.

    You are right, it is all the little fights over I want to put this in now, not that which make it so fun

  14. BritChineseFoodie

    Hi Tom,

    I think it is great that you want to research into all the regional food, and to have a solid distinction between the various regional cuisines. I myself is also contemplating in understanding my own culture a whole lot more, and really write down memoires, experiences, and my own family culture to a good understanding of how Cantonese cuisines have slowly developed and merged in HK itself. As I think you will realise that, with migration of people, comes a time where dishes are served at one go.

    One thing, which I find odd, and is quite interesting also, is how some dishes in HK preserve its ingredients, and do not follow the “fusion” route. You will find many style of cuisines in HK stick solely as a particular region, and many chefs pay tribute and honor in keeping the recipe and ingredients very strictly. At best, they may better an element of this, but they do not tend to cross-fuse it with something else.

    On the note about you wanting to find a book on Chinese cuisines and its region. I am not quite sure if such a book indeed really exists. Considering that migration of different ethnic groups in China over the past 100 years or so have been quite high, and the various internal conflicts and wars that happened. You may find possibly snippets of a certain era, but maybe not the development of the cuisines over the past 100 or 50 years or so. Ironically, some of the dishes that are served in this day and age, are descendended from Emperor’s Banquets. Yet, some dishes, are derived from simple peasant food, and are given good well-meaningful names to designate as good fortune for the farmers. Though, I do wish you the best of luck in finding out about all this. I also find this so fascinating too.

    I think Chinese food in the UK is not really known as the regional deviation of Cantonese food. As that is what it became because of supply and demand of the ingredient lists. It is not as unauthentic as one might think, as adaption to local taste had to happen, and nor is “Chinese” food that badly done. I mean, Japanese food is what it is due to part of their religion within the country. Zen Buddhism ? Whereas in HK, Taoism, Confucianism is strong, and the idea of eating well by having nutritious food is VERY high, up and over that of aesthetic display. I know that sucking on chicken bones are really not a done thing in this day and age, but, I think if you study the religion and understanding of why and how people view food, then you may appreciate the difference objectively of how different kind of food came about. Although, personally and individually, we may all have our own biases and preferences.

    I myself hope to really go back to my own roots a little and study the art of making Cantonese soups. Which is really where the TRUE element of “eating fresh” is at the heart of true Cantonese food. The nutrition element is quite high. Although, in this day and age in HK, the commercial dishes are less healthy than home-made ones!

    A British Chinese Foodie

    • @BritChineseFoodie

      Many thanks for the expansive and knowledgable comment and apologies for the much slower than usual reply. It has been slight chaos out here in HK.

      I very much agree with all of your points and despite having lived in Hong Kong for a whole year now don’t have much to offer in educated response.

      However, as to your point about Chinese soups, this is one type of food which doesn’t really exist in London and I didn’t really know existed. Which is interested as they are the focal point of most Cantonese meals out here. The level of cooking and heritage which goes into them is a force to be reckoned with.

      And one interesting thing I have realised about food in HK is that it isn’t “Cantonese” per se. It is HK food through and through. Bad Italian food and strange soy western is as much a part of “Cantonese” food as a steamed fish etc..

      A new place called Cantopop has opened here which does the Wagamama thing to HK food. Interestingly it has launched in HK which slightly misses the point (as you can get it better elsehwere). I think the real market would be for the masses in the West who would love this slightly pastiche food!

      Tom

  15. Shana

    You should come to HaiDiLao hotpot when you come to Shanghai, China. There is a popular saying in China, Human Could not Stop HaiDiLao. http://www.haidilao.com/

  16. Shana

    Little lamb is much cheaper in China, about 100 Yuan (10 pounds)a head

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.
Required fields are marked:*

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>