I once went to a Korean BBQ restaurant. I’d heard great things. I like Korean food, I’m a fan of a barbie – what could go wrong? A lot. The soulless joint served strips of raw beef and seafood that you had to sauté yourself. With horror, I realised that I was paying to cook my own food. God knows I can’t do that in my own kitchen and half an hour later I had nothing to show for my efforts other than smoke and charred strips of dead animal clinging to the table’s metal grill and an empty stomach. So, until very recently, I was under the impression that one only goes to a restaurant to enjoy pre-prepared food served to your table. That was until I visited Hot May Pot Pot and I changed my view entirely!
If you’re not familiar with Hot May Pot Pot, allow me to explain. Think of it as a Chinese fondue, or a twist on the stone soup fairy tale. A simmering pot of broth is the focal point, into which you and whichever lucky pals you’re dining with dunk a variety of ingredients to cook. The more the merrier. And it gets better.
Hot May Pot Pot does things slightly differently. Instead of being observed from a judgemental distance as you attempt to unstick what was once a prawn from a scorched crater in your table, a cast of charming waiters do it for you (the cooking, not the unsticking). They orchestrate your dunking efforts, precisely timing each prawn and cut of beef and so that you get the experience – but without the hard work. I spent significantly less time blowing on my singed fingertips and a lot more time reclining on a leather banquette and gazing contentedly at the bespoke Chinoiserie wallpaper.
It’s an exciting concept to find inside a three-storey Knightsbridge townhouse. The scene is theatrical – the brass lamps and illuminated glass panels light up the steel hot pots, and the restaurant’s glamorous patrons. Hot May Pot Pot is the brainchild of Joseph and YuQian Nie, a husband and wife duo hailing from Northern China, and the striking interiors are their own work. Joseph personally oversees each menu, which gives the venue a family feel – even the potato salad, not a noted Chinese delicacy, is the Czechoslovakian head chef’s mothers’ recipe. It was also Joseph who guided us through our meal, introducing us to the hot pot experience with charm and expertise.
My broth – I chose oxtail – had been happily simmering for six hours before it was poured, majestically, at my table. There’s nothing quite like a spot of drama at dinner. I had asked to be surprised with ingredients. With hot pot the quality of the ingredients plays a crucial role. Hot May Pot Pot source theirs fastidiously. It was an ordered process. We began with premium grade Wagyu beef which melted on my tongue like a delicious meaty Wotsit, all marbled fat and subtle flavour.
Next up was seafood – balls of prawn, squid and scallop. These were immersed in the pot, plunging into the depths of the bubbling liquid and then bobbing seductively up to the surface when cooked. Mushrooms – king oyster and enoki, the strands curling in the heat – came next, followed by noodles, vividly coloured with spinach, doused in beef sauce and chopped coriander. The idea is that by the end of the courses, the broth will have been flavoured by all the ingredients plunged into it over the course of the meal. That means it’s time to be poured into a bowl and happily supped.
Hot pot supposedly originated when different villages came together, united over a shared love of food and a cauldron of broth. Each added their own ingredients to the mix, and that seems reflected in Hot May Pot Pot. A method that originated in China is now being cultivated by a European kitchen team, then finding its way to the tabletops of an international London audience. It’s a heartwarming concept, and the food is top-notch.
30 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge, SW3 1NJ