Some people hate hotpot, seeing it as a waste of good ingredients and a uniform experience in which everything just tastes like your dipping sauce. Others, like me, see it for what it is; a meal in which both the lip-tingling, bowel-shattering food and the act of dining itself are equal end goals. It’s participatory, communal, an occasion in and of itself like Korean BBQ or fondue. Great fun when you’re drunk.
The best hot-pot places, obviously, are the ones where the food isn’t just an afterthought. Lao Wang is one such spot. It’s difers from common go-to Hai Di Lao by shedding the over-the-top service for a more refined vibe and gentle décor (the wait staff are still on point, though). You also get higher-quality ingredients – just try the beef balls here and tell me that’s not the case. That all comes for a slightly higher price point, but you’re still spending comfortably less than a RMB 200 a head.
The main selling point here is the unique chicken and pork tripe cooking broth, basically an intensely peppery and rich chicken soup. This was a revelation to me on my first visit. Once it’s heated up, the first “course” of your meal is a bowl of this, spooned out by a waiter. Then you help yourself to the chicken and piggie bits floating around in there before getting to cooking your vegetables, sliced meat, tofu, and whatever else you like. After the broth, it’s the aforementioned quality of these ingredients that take Lao Wang over the line and make it a truly top-tier hotpot joint.
As a glutton for punishment, I like the pot split half/half between a standard, numbing, Sichuan-style spicy broth and the signature chicken elixir. I’m also very partial to the Cantonese-style crispy claypot rice, mixed table-side with cured meats and greens. It’s a great, flavor-heavy way to add a bit of bulk to the meal.
The place gets busy, especially on weekends, but it’s worth the wait and manages to keep hold of its pleasant atmosphere even when things get convivial. Next time you’re looking for a hotpot place, this should be top of your list.
(Also, everything only tastes of the dipping sauce if you don’t mix your dipping sauce right. To step your game up all you need to do is keep a light touch and go easy on the peanut sauce).
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