Soho and Chinatown are my most frequented neighbourhoods in London. So, my eye is quite quickly drawn to new places opening up. On the corner of Wardour Street and Shaftesbury Avenue, there used to be a cheap touristy all you can eat buffet but I spotted a new conveyor belt restaurant had opened in that spot.
I popped in to enquire and was told it was a hotpot restaurant. It’s the brainchild of a Thai restauranter and it’s the first conveyor belt hotpot restaurant in Europe. I caught them during their soft opening where there was a 30% discount on food and drink.
There are many cooking-at-the-table traditions – hot oil fondue in France, cheese fondue in Switzerland, shabu shabu in Japan, steamboat in Malaysia and hotpot from China. In all of these cases, these meals are communal, often boisterous affairs with people gathered around the cooking vessel engaged in bonhomie and gregarity while cooking their food.
As I often dine alone, I have been known to lament the difficulty of not being able to join in some types of meals as it’s not conducive to serve it for one diner. One such meal is hotpot where restaurants usually stipulate a minimum of 2 diners.
Hotpot involves a central pot of broth – most places usually give you 2 broths in a group setting. You then chuck in raw meat, seafood and vegetables to cook, fish them out when ready and dip them in sauces to eat.
At Shuang Shuang, each diner has their own pot of broth with individual controls – there’s a choice of 5 broths and I plumped for the Black Bird, described as sweet and soothing, made from rare breed black chicken, jujubes and Chinese wolfberries. It was subtle and if you’re oriental, it has that slight Chinese medicinal quality which will be familiar. For me, I added soya sauce to boost the salt content. Free top up of broth is available.
You have your own individual heating controls for your pot of broth. The menu has a guide to help you identify the paraphernalia that you’ll find at your cooking station. Tweezers to put the raw food into the broth. A wire mesh scoop to fish out the cooked food. A ladle to scoop out the broth. It’s quite a science!
You then choose raw ingredients from the conveyor belt to cook in the broth. The ingredients are on different coloured plates which identify their cost ranging from £1 to £4.30. Other more expensive ingredients such as monkfish and Japanese marbled beef can be ordered from the staff.
I tried a varied selection of plates including steak, pork belly, fishballs, liver, luncheon meat, tripe and a selection of vegetables. I finished off with some egg noodles to have with the broth at the end. Overall, I think the suggested cooking times in the menu are too long but I suspect they’re erring on the side of let’s-not-get-sued-for-food-poisoning.
So, how was it? To be honest, the food tasted no better or worse than the usual hotpot fare. It’s boiled food that gains flavour mainly from the sauces. The broth can gain interesting complexity as the various bits of food are cooked in it and my favourite part of the meal is enjoying the broth with noodles at the end
I also had a starter of crispy pig ears, which were excellent. Reminiscent of pork scratchings, they were flavoursome and moreish.
However, having said I like more single experiences to be available to me, I have to say that I may be wrong in the case of hotpot. I miss the communal experience of cooking and eating together. I like to see innovation in food and I hope Shuang Shuang haven’t mis-judged demand for conveyor belt hotpot.
However, I believe there’s one further problem – the cost. Even with 30% discount, my bill came to £24.81. With hotpot restaurants a stone’s throw away in Chinatown offering all you can eat deals for £20 a head, they may struggle to compete on price.
I found Shuang Shuang to be a fun experience on my visit but to be honest, the next time I want hotpot, I’ll probably round up a few friends and head out for a communal fun group evening out at a traditional hotpot restaurant.
Food: ★★★★☆ Service: ★★★★☆ Ambiance: ★★★★★☆ VFM: ★★★☆☆ Overall: ★★★★☆
Price: Expensive compared to other hotpot options but this is innovative
Shuang Shuang Restaurant
64 Shaftesbury Avenue, Chinatown, London W1D 6LU