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Monday, January 25, 2010

Haymarket Hot Pot Restaurant, Sydney

"Normal? Are you sure you want normal?"

Our waitress looks at us with scepticism as she takes our order. "It's very hot. Do you like chilli?"

We're ordering our soup base at the newly opened Haymarket Hot Pot Restaurant. The available options seem arbitary - normal or extra hot (presumably for the locals), or mild and ultra mild (presumably for the faint of heart). In other words, you're either a chilli fanatic or you're a spectacular wimp.

"Yes, yes, we'll have normal," we say, almost pleading for us to believe us.

She nods reluctantly, as though still unconvinced about our chilli tolerance.

Hot plate

By a happy coincedence, we've timed our visit to Haymarket Hot Pot with a sudden cold snap in Sydney. The restaurant, on the former Saigon Pho site, has been furnished with heavy-set chairs and tables set with inbuilt hotplates. Unfortunately the tables seem to be designed for patrons who are either short or thin - I'm neither, which means I have to sit back from the table lest I knee the metal support frame.

The menu is a DIY tick-list. First you choose your hot pot soup base: spice or chicken or half-and-half. Then you choose what you wish to cook in it. Choices are listed under meat, meatball, seafood, vegetables, tofu and noodles. Some of the more intriguing options include pork brains, duck tongue and blood jelly, but there are plenty of less adventurous dishes like wontons, prawns and slices of beef and lamb.

Half spice and half chicken soup $15

Our half-and-half soup arrives in a pot with a yin-and-yang shaped divider in the middle. The chicken soup comes with a mass of carrots, bean sprouts, shallots, Chinese red dates and goji berries. Our attention is more focussed on the spice soup which is an ominous crimson red, marked by floating dried chillies. The soups are placed on the burner and brought to a steady boil. The spice soup froths and bubbles until it is opaque.

Trolley delivery

By the time the soup has boiled, a metal trolley is noisily wheeled to our table. On it are our chosen dishes, each plated separately so we can cook them in whatever order we prefer.

Beef slices $8

We start immediately with the beef slices, scrolls of thinly sliced beef that are ribboned with layers of fat.

Cooked beef

We dip the beef into the chilli broth. The soup is spicy but clings only briefly to the swirls of meat we place inside. The heat builds slowly on the tongue until our lips tingle. There are a few sips of tea here and there, but we battle on. The heat can be tempered by dipping the spicy meat into optional bowls of sauce. We ordered the sesame seed paste (nutty and rich), sesame oil with garlic, shacha Taiwanese sauce and satay (the chilli soy bean version, not the peanut sauce) which cost $2 per bowl.

Scallops $8

It's up to you which side you want to cook your food in. We cook the subtler ingredients on the chicken soup side, but the joy of DIY cooking is you can do as you please.

Fish tofu $6 and beef slices $8

Frozen scallops don't have a whole lot of flavour, but the fish tofu is sweet and the lamb is decadently fatty.

Fish egg ball $8 and lamb slices $8

Inside the fish egg balls

My favourite dish is probably the fish egg balls, fish paste filled with a gooey paste of sweet and salty fish eggs - always a highlight.

Lamb slices $8

White radish $3, luncheon meat $7, fish tofu $6 and potato $2

Luncheon meat is pretty much like Spam, soft and fatty with the marks from the tin can from which they came, still clearly visible. I quite enjoy the juicy sweetness of the radish which act to cleanse the palate. The potato absorbs the flavours of the soup, and I'm told if you leave it in long enough, it will become super soft and creamy.

Luncheon meat $7

Quail eggs $5

Quail eggs seem innocuous, but once heated in the soup, the yolks almost liquify, contrasting against the firmness of the slippery egg whites.

Kelp $3

It's my first time eating kelp in hotpot and I find them quite addictive. The kelp seaweed has been cut into thick and long slices - they almost resemble belts. Some pieces are thin, others are thick. I love their slippery texture, especially appreciating their blistered and bubbled surface, presumably generated when the seaweed is deep-fried. Later when we drink the chicken soup, we find there's quite a pronounced seaweed flavour which is quite pleasant.

Tong ho choy $4

Tong ho is my other hot-pot staple. These pretty leaves of garland chrysanthemum have a slightly medicinal and bitter flavour. They cook quickly, wilting in the soup to a vibrant green, and seem to help offset the richness of the meal.

Fried red bean crepe $6

We share the fried red bean crepe for dessert. The pastry is hot and crunchy, filled with an oozing paste of sweetened red bean. It's quite rich and one serve is more than enough for the three of us.

We ended up paying $30 per head and we managed to eat "normal" without tongue paralysis. We'd like to think the chilli scale needs an edit or two because "normal" surely qualifies as "legendary". Perhaps "extra hot" should be renamed "Are you out of your mind".

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Haymarket Hot Pot on Urbanspoon

Haymarket Hot Pot Restaurant
1/93-105 Quay Street, Haymarket Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9211 0105

Opening hours:
Open 7 days
Monday to Thursday 12pm-11pm
Friday to Sunday 12pm-12am
26 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/25/2010 05:25:00 am


  • At 1/25/2010 6:13 am, Blogger Hannah said…

    Gorgeous shot of the yin-yang soups, Helen! It's funny how there are some ingredients showcased here that make me impatient with wanting (kelp, crysanthemum, fish egg balls, fish tofu), and others that I'd be happy to let someone else have all of (the meats, mostly)!

    Might I showcase my incredible novice status and ask what fish tofu is? I'm pretty sure I'd love it regardless though :P

  • At 1/25/2010 6:43 am, Anonymous Trissa said…

    I will have to remember not to visit your site so early in the morning - not the best time to break all resolve to start eating less! Fantastic pics - really really makes me want to try this place.

  • At 1/25/2010 6:45 am, Anonymous Trisha said…

    Oh that spicy soup does look ominous!!! Ooohhhh Helen... you hit the spot! When I go here I should definitely bring brave friends with even braver tongues and stomachs! :) Btw it was so nice to see you again at Suze's hen's... had lots and lots of fun woohoo!!

  • At 1/25/2010 7:27 am, Anonymous foodwink said…

    Those fish egg balls and beef slices sure look good. But I'm not sure about the spicy soup - it doesn't look "normal" to me :P

  • At 1/25/2010 8:06 am, Blogger Gastronomy Gal said…

    My boyfriend has the same problem. He wants chilli but restaurants always try to make him have mild- then when he receives the dish, he is disappointed with the lack of heat! Looks interesting!

  • At 1/25/2010 8:28 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Oooooohh, a new hot pot restaurant! Yum! The soups look fantastic and the scallops look really plump. Delish! Must try it in winter. A bit too warm for it at the moment.

  • At 1/25/2010 8:54 am, Anonymous Fiona said…

    I would have to have extra mild :p

  • At 1/25/2010 9:13 am, Blogger flexnib said…

    I like that the Chinese name is actually "13 Flavours Hotpot City". Don't think I have ever gone to a hotpot restaurant; only ever had it at home...

  • At 1/25/2010 9:15 am, Anonymous Minh said…

    Oh yum, I've never seen tofu fish egg before! Lucky you made it during the cold snap though, reading this post today made me sweat just looking at the photos lol

  • At 1/25/2010 9:28 am, Blogger A cupcake or two said…

    Hot pot is so good. Its just too hot at the moment to have it. The chilli side made my eyes water. I dont think I could have taken it. Thanks for posting I have been looking for a new hot pot place for a while now.

  • At 1/25/2010 10:09 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Ooh I walked past this place the other day! That spicy soup looks awesome, I always take that layer of red oil on top as a good sign. I'm such a chilli fiend. The fish egg balls sound delicious

  • At 1/25/2010 1:09 pm, Anonymous Chris said…

    ooooh hot pot sounds good, just not on the really hot days we've been having. I'll keep this place book marked for winter, i like the sound of being able to choose the ingredients (normally i think my parents just order the set packs)

  • At 1/25/2010 1:30 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    That's no soup! It's molten lava! LOL you and your chilli - I'm burning at the mere sight of that volcanic layer of oil :S

  • At 1/25/2010 6:53 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    haha just looking at the chilli soup is making my tongue tingle!

  • At 1/25/2010 7:11 pm, Blogger Yas @ hungry.digital.elf. said…

    Oh my gwad the colour of the hot soup!!
    To a person who has no tolerance for spicy food, that must be what torture would taste like.

  • At 1/25/2010 8:59 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    That always happens in London - they will never believe you when you want the spicy version but in London when the spicy version comes it is not spicy at all! (slighty different to your experience here)

  • At 1/27/2010 1:48 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - I often find myself enjoying the non-meat aspects of the meal too. I could have quite easily eaten a dozen of those fish egg balls!

    I'm sorry, I should have explained the fish tofu. It's simply fish paste shaped and fried so it looks like tofu. It's firm and sweet and yes, I think you'd like it too :)

    Hi Trissa - Food blog surfing is always a hazardous affair :) They say that it's best to eat like a king for breakfast so maybe early morning surfing is to be recommended after all?

    Hi Trisha - Ha, I was tempted to order some of the offal dishes but not everyone was keen. I guess the joy of hotpot is you can always have one side chilli and the other side mild. Choice of ingredients can be easily negotiated too.

    Hi Foodwink - I'm not sure how it gets classified as normal either, but when in Rome... lol

    Hi Gastronomy Gal - It can be difficult trying to ascertain the exact chilli scale used by retaurants. In authentic Thai retaurants, for example, I know to order medium or mild which actually veers toward the hot category for most Australian palates. We need a standardised heat scale. Otherwise perhaps your boyfriend should order additional chilli/chilli sauce if it's not hot enough?

    Hi Joey - It has been very warm lately - not exactly hot pot weather! The weather has been all over the place though - on the next cold snap you know where to go!

    Hi Fiona - Nothing wrong with extra mild :)

    Hi CW - Good call on the restaurant name, and spot the banana who can't read Chinese. lol. Hot pot is easy at home but usually we can't be bothered and end up going out instead!

    Hi Minh - The fish egg ball is sooo good. I always make sure to order it, and yes, I wouldn't normally want to eat hotpot on a hot day although there is that Asian mentality that eating hot foods on hot days will cool you down? Madness I say. lol

    Hi A Cupcake or Two - It has been crazy hot lately. We were lucky we coincided our visit with cooler weather. The chilli side looked hotter than it was but a drink on the side is always handy anyway :)

    Hi Stephcookie - Ahh now that I've seen firsthand your fondness for chilli, I'm guessing you'd be straight into the extra hot chilli soup. The fish egg balls are great - highly recommended.

    Hi Chris - Choose your own hot pot ingredients is always fun but it can also be dizzying - so many choices! I agree, hot pot is best in cooler weather. Always fun to huddle around the pot when it's cold outside.

    Hi Karen - Ha, molten lava is a very good description! I'm not as chilli mad as some, but hey, the endorphin rush is what makes it so addictive :)

    Hi Chocolatesuze - I can only imagine your terror if you were served the chilli soup. Baby steps, I say, and one day you too will be a chilli fanatic!

    Hi Yas - lol. But think of the endorphins! And as Chrissy Amphlett wailed, it's a fine line between pleasure and pain :)

    Hi Gourmet Chick - I found the only place you can find spicy food in London was in Indian restaurants. We need to have an international scale of heat so there's less confusion for diners the world over!

  • At 1/27/2010 10:10 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    hmm looks good, I think ill have a good time there sipping the "normal" soup. And the fish egg balls are interesting, first time I've seen it.

    Keen to go back for a "extra hot" soup with me, Helen? ;)

  • At 1/28/2010 1:54 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There's this place called Shabu Shabu; it's a Taiwanese (yes, despite its name) hot pot restaurant in Burwood. New-ish and probably the best the hot pot I've had with the exception of home hehe. You should really give it a go.

  • At 1/29/2010 2:57 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Billy - Maybe the fish egg balls are a Taiwanese thing but they're really very good. And lol, always happy to eat with you but not sure about extra hot!

    Hi Anon - Thanks for the tip. I haven't heard of it but always appreciate info on new restaurants or suburban gems. Will have to keep it in mind next time I'm in the area :)

  • At 9/12/2010 1:17 am, Anonymous Alice said…

    hi helen,

    after seeing your post, i went there today for visit with my hubby. we only dared to order 'ultra mild' which was already very very spicy. They've introduced a 'all you can eat' menu, which is quite good. $28 dollars for everything including seafood, meat, balls and vegetables dishes. but soup is not included, so we end up getting the half n half for an extra $15. Btw, the fish egg balls was amazing, totally loved it. Thanks helen

  • At 9/12/2010 6:18 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Alice - That's a great deal and yes, aren't the fish balls great? Glad you enjoyed it!

  • At 2/22/2012 2:19 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi, is the hot place a buffet? OR do you have to pay individually on each plate of food?

  • At 3/07/2012 1:32 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - You pay per plate of food. I've provided the costs per plate beneath each photo.

  • At 5/31/2014 10:51 am, Anonymous jo said…

    have you checked out their takeaway menu pamphlet? they used your red bean pancake pic off your blog :)

  • At 6/15/2014 9:16 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Jo - Heh. Thanks for letting me know!


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