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Undercover Diner: Eating 3,000rmb Hot Pot for the Black Pearl Awards

By Jan 10, 2019 Dining


Meituan Dianping launched their own awards, the Black Pearls, about a year ago. I championed them as a counterbalance to the big French ones when they came out. This year, when it came time to pick judges for the 2019 awards — which come out today, January 10th — they tapped me. I got a budget, a shortlist of nominees and a direction: go out and review… Chinese restaurants?

On one hand, that’s obviously silly. On the other, I am uniquely suited to the task of incognito reviewing: who would a Chinese restaurant suspect of being a Black Pearl judge less than a white guy? It’s the perfect guise. So I went, undercover, to a Faigo Hot Pot a few months back, where I spent 3,000rmb on their luxury hot pot for three people. A large portion of that bill — 600rmb — was for a fish maw and chicken stock soup base. The fish maw, a texture food if not a flavor one, was overcooked to the point of mushiness and the soup itself tasted like the leftover water from cooking noodles. The rest was spent on expensive fatty beef and ocean fish, the former fine and the latter chewy from the chef’s decision to leave the skin on. The thin slices of foie gras tasted chemical. The best thing on the table were the chewy strands of tofu skin. The rest was unmemorable.

The bill stung but nothing more so than the 10% — 300rmb — fee for service, which was notable only for giving us a whole pack of Wrigley’s gum when we left instead of the usual single stick. I left my comments for the judging process and submitted my bill for reimbursement (the nicest part of the meal). The restaurant was still busy despite the general tone out there in F&B land that sales are slowing and luxury doesn’t sell the way it used to. Indeed, Faigo has opened a chain of lower-end hot pot restaurants called Little Faigo.

Will my opinion make a difference to Faigo? Of course not. The spotted grouper-eating demographic is not concerned by Undercover White Guy’s opinion of the food at their status restaurant. But in my dip into their world, I came away with a judgment for the rest of us: when it comes to hot pot, the rarefied restaurant has few secrets worth exposing. Sorry, Faigo. No pearls from me.



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  • 9 months ago Stonetable Unverified User

    These fashionable fish maw and chicken hot pot stock is all but chemical and yellow colouring..., as admittedly by one of the joints offering it. So don’t bother even trying.

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