Liu’s Chong Qing Hot Pot, a global restaurant chain, prides itself on its over 1,000 locations worldwide. It’s now arrived in Hong Kong, landing at Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong and managed by Gaia Group. The brand’s chilli-laden “mala” (numbing and spicy) hotpot has whipped crowds into a frenzy in recent years, and even Cantonese people who are not accustomed to eating fiery Sichuan cuisine are drawn to this spicy and flavourful dish. I was ready to be smothered by the spice-bombed aroma as soon as I arrived at the eatery.
The interior of Liu’s Chong Qing Hot Pot is decorated in bright crimson, in contrast to the light wood, and embellished with large prints of Sichuan opera face masks, alluding to the restaurant’s signature red-hued, spicy hotpot broth.
While glancing at the menu, I was drooling over the extensive offerings of top-notch ingredients; diners can tick off as many items as they are tempted to try, from thinly sliced Wagyu beef and pork belly to a wide array of fresh seafood and vegetables.
In addition to the brand’s speciality spicy mala soup ($98 for ½ or $168 for full) made with chillies and premium beef oil, non-spicy choices are also available, including traditional Chinese century egg and coriander soup ($78 for ½ or $138 for full), fish maw and conch chicken soup ($128 for ½ or $238 for full), which is known to be good for the skin, fragrant coconut chicken soup ($118 for ½ or $228 for full), healthy wild mixed mushroom soup ($88 for ½ or $158 for full) and sweet and spicy satay soup ($78 for ½ or $138 for full). Diners coming in a group can select up to three different soup bases separated by a metal divider, allowing one pot to have multiple flavours.
Although hotpot is usually known as a social meal to be enjoyed together with a table of friends or family, Liu’s also offers mini individual pots for those who are flying solo.
Our table chose three types of broth so that our individual preferences could be fulfilled. If you want to try Liu’s classic mala soup but don’t have the genes to tolerate spice (like me), it’s better to go with a milder option – the longer the chilli-infused soup is cooked, the more fiery it becomes.
While waiting for the broth to be boiled, it’s the perfect time to create and mix your own dipping sauce from a variety of different sauces and seasonings on the table, including vinegar, soy sauce, coriander, spring onion and garlic, as well as a small jar of Liu’s house-made vegetable oil flavoured with soy and sesame.
I was impressed by the exquisite presentation of the raw meat and vegetables as they arrived at our table. The three types of sliced meat are beautifully arranged on a vertical platter (coincidentally, emulating the Wind Fire Wheels of the teenage deity Nezha from Chinese folk religion). The assorted vegetable garden platter ($128) with mushrooms and tofu is artfully stacked in a wooden container.
The trio meat platter ($638) with Kagoshima A4 Wagyu chuck rib, Kagoshima pork belly and USDA Prime short rib was my favourite and a must-try for meat lovers. The fatty pork belly was the overall winner, really soaking up the flavours of the broth, while the juicy and buttery Wagyu beef was equally scrumptious.
There are also exotic items, such as offal, for more adventurous eaters. I enjoyed Liu’s signature beef tripe ($98), with its naturally rubbery texture becoming well infused with the flavours of the soup base and dipping sauce.
The seafood platter ($798) with grass carp fillet, Alaskan king crab legs, prawns, squid, white eel, jumbo scallops, fan scallops and clams is aesthetically appealing – another highlight of our hotpot dinner. The taste of the sweet and succulent fish and seafood married with the tangy chilli soup base is an electrifying dining experience. We loved slurping the slippery sweet potato vermicelli, which also become infused with the essence of the broth.
As the saying goes, no meal is complete without dessert. Our hotpot dinner ended on a high with Liu’s chewy brown sugar glutinous rice cakes ($68) and refreshing mango shaved ice with soy pudding ($88).
While there’s room for improvement in the efficiency of the restaurant’s service (it took longer than it should have to get another round of draught beer, so we recommend asking for a refill when your glass is half-full), the quality of food served up by Liu’s Chong Qing Hot Pot is as good as I remember from my travels, well deserving of a thumbs up. I went home with the scent of chilli on my hair and fingers, and for once, I found it more divine than the fragrance of my favourite perfume.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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