Every now and then, my Instagram and Twitter feeds suddenly fill up with variations of the same photo from the newest restaurant to hit the London food scene. Recently its been Chinese hot pots at newcomer Shuang Shuang in Chinatown.
On a cold and windy Wednesday night last week, it shone out into the darkness like a bright shining beacon as my friend Tanya and I swapped the hustle and bustle of Shaftesbury Avenue, for the hustle and bustle of Shuang Shuang. It feels like one big open kitchen, brightly lit and filled with lots of chatter, with a Yo-Sushi style conveyor belt ferrying all the ingredients you need to cook your very own hot pot. Oh yeah, I should mention, its DIY Chinese hot pot.
We were seated at our own personal cooking stations, equipped with hot plate, temperature gauge, bowl, bib, chopsticks, tongs (for the raw meat), spoon, strainer…everything you need.
Shuang Shuang has a very straightforward concept. First, you choose your broth from a selection of 5 – Mala (Salty, fiery and numbing, made with dried chilli, Sichuan peppercor, house herb mix and fermented broad beans), Lamb Tonic (sour and gamey and made with lamb bones, pickled mustard greens and chilli oil), Temple Brew (vegan, made with soy milk, mushrooms, white turnip and dried liquorice root), Black Bird (Sweet and soothing, made from rare breed black chicken) and Fish Pond (Light, yet rich, with an intense aroma of prawns and fresh herbs).
Then you mix your dipping sauce. You can pick the House Sauce or you can create your own using ingredients such as Sesame Butter, Sha Cha Oil, Red Beancurd Paste, Garlic, Spring Onion, Chilli, Coriander and sesame seeds. If you’re not familiar, I recommend getting the House Sauce. You can customise it with the puréed garlic, spring onion, chopped red chilli, coriander and sesame seeds provided alongside. Go easy on that garlic though…we thought it was ginger at first and got quite a fright when the raw garlic hit us.
Next, you pick up the ingredients from the conveyor belt passing by before your eyes. The plates are colour coded to indicate the price, from £1 to £4.30.
They also have a set menu – ‘The Market Set’ – where you can get broth, dipping sauce, noodles and 5 green plates for £12.50.
This was all explained very clearly by our lovely waitress Emily, but the menu also comes with clear step-by-step instructions.
I opted for the Black Bird broth which was light and subtle, yet full of flavour. Like a clarified chicken consommé. Once our waitress had poured it into my metal pot, she switched on the hot plate underneath and we started to pick what we wanted off the conveyor belt.
The only complaint I had was that it wasn’t entirely clear what each ingredient was, going by on the conveyor belt. Sure, you can work out the veggies and the noodles, and there are symbols on the clear plastic domes covering each plate indicating if it was pork, chicken, shellfish etc, but there were a few moments of “What the hell is that?”. Better signage would be hugely beneficial.
For my hot pot, I opted for egg noodles, mixed mushrooms (needle, oyster & chestnut) and pak choi. Tanya and I shared pork belly, rib eye and chicken.
Once my broth was simmering, I added my ingredients and let them cook for a few minutes. Incidentally, you get one free refill of broth if you run out.
Then transfer to your eating bowl and enjoy! Tanya and I became slightly obsessed with the dipping sauce, so leisurely spooned it on top of each bowl we had, and actually each spoonful too! I’m not even sure if that’s how you’re supposed to use it. But that sesame butter was addictive.
I loved the taste of my broth, it was simple, tasty and comforting. Unfortunately, immersing the pork belly and rib eye in it doesn’t do much for the aesthetics, it just turns them a rather unappetising shade of grey. Its also too easy to forget about them when you’re busy catching up with your friend, and then you end up with rather rubbery, tasteless meat. The chicken and veg were a lot better. Saying that, this was just my first visit to Shuang Shuang. I’ll definitely be going back and next time I’ll know exactly what I’m doing, and will fish ingredients out a lot quicker!
I imagine its very easy for the bill to mount up here, so be careful. I was warned before going that it would be an expensive night out but seeing as Tanya and I simply had our hot pots with no sides or desserts, our total bill for two was £30. Its not usual for me not to have sides but to be honest, I found the hot pot pretty filling, and the perfect winter warmer for a cold February night.
Our waitress was incredibly warm and friendly and seemed really keen for us to have a good time, sharing stories of how she, her friends and family love to eat and share hot pots.
I enjoyed my time at Shuang Shuang, I had fun. Some critics have moaned that they had to cook themselves, others have said that the whole experience is overwhelming. But for a fun night out with your friend (you sit in rows so going with two friends might result in a sore neck), this place is ideal. Giles Coren suggested that this sort of food is ‘fun if you were five years old’ but I don’t care. I’m in no hurry to grow up anyway.