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.
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.