I was a little unprepared for how cold and windy Sydney would be compared to Brisbane. Queensland spoils us with such mild winters that we walk around with scarves and coast the minute the mercury drops below 20°C.
So doesn’t it make sense I would develop a hankering for szechuan hotpot while we were wandering Sydney’s Chinatown? Setting fire to one’s belly when your fingers are numb totally makes sense.
The SO whipped out his iPhone and did a quick scan on Urbanspoon for good grub and we committed ourselves to checking out Shancheng Hotpot King on Sussex Street.
Unlike many of the establishments in the area, Shancheng Hotpot King did not have someone out on the street hawking its wares or trying to coax potential diners to come up to give them a go. You’d think that an establishment as large as Shancheng Hotpot King would need to do that, given it is hidden on the 2nd floor of a small shopping arcade. The only signage they have is a rather tame signboard above the street and from street level, you wouldn’t think to look upwards.
Once you’ve climbed up the stairs to its entrance, Shancheng Hotpot King has a number of chairs set up out front for diners to wait for tables to become available. Thankfully we didn’t have any trouble getting a table and we were ushered straight through.
The amount of hustle and bustle inside is amazing. There is wave after wave of conversations, laughter and waitstaff moving ceaselessly between tables and trolleys. All this made us hopeful the dining experience would be as authentic as possible – none of this toning down the spice level to cater to Western taste buds.
The decor is a little old school – tables and chairs of heavy set deep dark wood. And everything else from the plates, bowls and water jugs to the trays loaded with fresh ingredients is pretty simple.
The SO hasn’t had szechuan hotpot before, so while he’s normally quite a champion chilli-eater (for a Westerner), we opted for a half-and-half pot (AUD$15).
The wait staff took us through the process of selecting an appropriate chilli and pepper level for the spicy half – which is a new experience for me. I hadn’t realised I can adjust these two aspects independently of each other. We were convinced to get the mild chilli and mild pepper, which as it turns out, is freaking spicy! When it arrived, I dug around to see what was in the soup and was shocked the bottom just full of peppercorns. If you’re pretty gung-ho about your spice tolerance, go for the motherload at your own peril.
The non-spicy half was a chicken broth that has red dates, gojiberries (Thanks @vix7!) fresh sliced tomatoes, spring onions, sliced shitake mushrooms and a heap of beansprouts. This soup base was amazingly flavourful and after the SO admitted defeat after one mouthful from the spicy side, stuck to cooking his food in this chicken broth.
Shancheng Hotpot King‘s menu was quite impressive. In addition to the commonly available selection of balls and vegetables, they also had fresh seafood awaiting their doom in fishtanks.
We ordered prawns (frozen and not terribly fresh) (AUD$9), two plates of sliced beef (also frozen and shaved thinly) (AUD$8 ea), fish balls (AUD$5), Shanghai cabbage (AUD$3), enoki mushrooms (AUD$7) and shredded dried beancurd (AUD$4).
Everything arrived quickly and laid on a trolley beside our table, so all we needed to do was pop them in whenever we were ready to cook them.
Just look at the amount of chilli flakes that come away with the food! Even after ‘washing’ the food cooked on the spicy side in the chicken broth, the chilli has already penetrated and left its spicy mark – it will not be denied from your tastebuds!
It is truly no wonder Shancheng Hotpot King is so popular and is frequented by so many Asians, looking for a true chilli hit that demands your awe and respect. All hail the king of hotpots!