Beijing: Hai Di Lao 海底捞

1 Aug

Hai Di Lao 海底捞 is a popular chain hotpot chain in Beijing that originated from Sichuan. I actually dined here twice on my trip as my first experience was so good I had to bring the husband there. Some of the outlets are 24 hours! Steamboat as supper after clubbing – how awesome is that??

It’s insanely popular so there is a rather elaborate queuing/waiting system. After we first got a queue number, we sat at this waiting area outside of the restaurant with makeshift tables where we were served snacks, drinks and there were TVs and games such as Chinese checkers and playing cards (bearing hilarious pictures of steamboat ingredients no less). Though we had to wait at least half an hour on a weekday night (and it was almost 9pm), time passed quite fast with all that entertainment. I read online that they even provide free manicures but I guess it differs from branch to branch.

Once our number was called, we were ushered up to the restaurant, to another waiting area where we were presented with herbal tea and a very long menu to peruse and order while they got our table ready. Half-sized portions of each item were also available to cater smaller groups. Though we ordered usual portions since we were hungry, the staff informed us that we had ordered too much and advised us to cut down since we could always order more if we were still hungry later. I was quite impressed and this almost never happens in China.

Finally, we were shown to our table. The actual dining room was quite posh, and very large and spacious. It looks nothing like the crummy hotpot restaurants in Singapore’s Bugis area. By now we were really hungry and had pretty high expectations after all that suspense. After our soup was boiling, the waitress scooped a bowl of the clear soup for us to taste. It was good! Flavourful but not in the salty or MSG-laded way. Our waiter opened and poured in the mala packet in front of us, perhaps to show that it’s a fresh batch since some steamboat outlets in China reuse their soups. I didn’t touch much of the mala soup 麻辣汤 but my friend seemed to be enjoying himself, albeit the sweats and swollen lips ;)

All the items we ordered were fresh and of pretty good quality, but the prawn paste 虾滑 was exceptional! I always order this in hotpot if they have it and this was miles above anything I have tried before.

If you order la mian (hand pulled noodles), a la mian master will pull your noodles in front of your very eyes while busting some hip-hop moves at the same time. I was insanely tickled by this.

The food’s good, but service and hygiene were really where Hai Di Lao stood out from the rest of the steamboat places in China. The service was prompt, friendly and just overall excellent – they even cooked our food for us :) I can safely say Hai Di Lao was the best hotpot experience I had so far. Try it and you won’t be disappointed!

Price: $-$$ | Locations: Many. I went to 2 Yan Jing Xi Li in Chaoyang and A2 Baijiazhuang Lu in Sanlitun | Website: http://www.haidilao.com | Reservations recommended

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