We went diving for gold on our first visit to Haidilao. The restaurant chain has made its expansion into Hong Kong with its first location in Yau Ma Tei, and we were excited to try it after hearing rave reviews from friends north of the border. The Chinese name literally translates to “dredging the ocean”, and we couldn’t wait to dredge the bottom of the pot for some flavourful goodies.

We were warmly greeted by a server even before we stepped off the escalator leading up to the restaurant. We’ve heard about the famous Haidilao type of service “culture” from friends, but we were still pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically welcoming and genuinely friendly the staff were. It should also be duly noted that we went on a private visit to get an authentic experience and the restaurant did not know we were doing a review.

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The decor runs along the lines of simple and modern, and everything is immaculately clean. We were greeted with fresh fruits (dragon fruit and orange to be exact) upon arrival while a staff member politely explained the direct ordering system via iPad. We wanted a split pot in order to enjoy both the numbingly spicy Sichuan chilli broth and the briny mushroom broth, and the server thoughtfully suggested we go for an option that gave us what we wanted but also minimised the cost by keeping some compartments in the pot with just plain broth. We were surprised at this ingenious suggestion since we always thought merchants would rather maximise profit rather than look out for the best interests of their customers. Even more surprisingly, we were offered complimentary hair ties to pull back our hair so that it didn’t get in the way of our hotpot feast!

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Everything on the menu can be ordered in half and full portions, and since there were only two of us, we decided to go big on the meat but cut down on the portion sizes for the vegetables and other ingredients in order to try as many options as possible. A few quick taps on the iPad zipped through our order and everything arrived promptly. It’s also worth mentioning that the restaurant is open 24 hours, making delicious hotpot a possibility at any time of the day. Two types of refillable drinks are offered tableside at a price of $15 per person. We opted for the organic homemade soy milk made even more luscious with a dab of black sesame. It was the perfect hot drink to complement the chilly weather.

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The main event arrived in the form of a four-compartment pot ($68) divided between clear broth, mushroom soup and a spicy Sichuan concoction. We piled our bowls high with a witch’s brew of dipping sauces ($22 per person), including fermented bean curd, XO sauce, satay sauce, fried garlic, chilli powder and sesame seeds. The self-serve dipping sauce station also comes with congee and fresh fruits, so guests can help themselves at any time. 

Between the Spanish pork ($168) and beef ($118), we preferred the former thanks to its rich, creamy marbling. Fish skin ($19 for a half portion) stayed addictively crispy after a quick dip in the broth and the crispy bean curd rolls ($21 for a half portion) soaked up plenty of the good stuff. We loved the crunchy yet spongy texture of the bamboo pith ($98) – just beware not to let it sit in the spicy broth for too long as it really acts like a sponge!

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Aside from the pork, another highlight was the fresh bamboo shoots ($14 for a half portion), which retained plenty of crunch and sweetness. We preferred the mushroom soup base over the Sichuan one as the overpowering spice notes overwhelmed and covered up the natural taste of each ingredient. We also highly recommend the chrysanthemum greens ($38), which had a sweet, mildly grassy flavour that acted almost like a palate cleanser against the savouriness of the hotpot broths. Along with fresh bean curd ($10), winter melon ($20) and enoki mushrooms ($38), the final bill came to just under $350 per person.

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The fresh ingredients, friendly staff and clean, modern ambience place Haidilao firmly at the top of our list of hotpot spots. But what really makes this restaurant stand out above all else is the incredible service. The genuine, heart-warming hospitality starts at the door and continues throughout the course of the meal. We’ve never encountered this level of thoughtful service in Hong Kong anywhere outside of a high-end restaurant. We almost had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. There are board games, free snacks and a manicure service provided for guests as they wait for a table. At Haidilao restaurants in mainland China, they even offer complimentary foot massages – now, that’s going above and beyond for any restaurant!

2/F and 3/F, Kowloon Building, 555 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei, 3996 7799/3996 8899

Editor-at-Large, Jetsetter Food Nomad

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