Just on the edge of London’s China Town in the heart of London’s West End, is the latest Chinese restaurant to open it’s doors – Shuang Shuang.
To say it’s the first hot pot restaurant isn’t entirely true but it’s definitely a breath of fresh air on the China Town restaurant scene.
I discovered Shuang Shuang when researching new restaurants for my post on the 10 must visit restaurants of 2016 and just two weeks in I’ve ticked it off my list.
Shuang Shuang is strictly no booking so we turned up freezing cold and hungry having been at the Lumiere Festival (more on that another day). Unsurprisingly there was a bit of a wait. We put our names down on the list, were given a wait time of half an hour to 45 minutes and took our seat on the window seats lining the down stairs of the restaurant.
While you’re sat there unobtrusively watching the other guests enjoy their dinner you really get to understand what Shuang Shuang is all about – communal eating where you can pick, dip and slurp a little of what you like and perhaps try something new in the company of good friends. It’s a really relaxed atmosphere and everyone is chatting away creating a real buzz about the restaurant.
By the time we got our table I was absolutely starving. I’d pre-prepped Jon (who usually likes to have over-analysed a menu before he goes somewhere for dinner) and was only expecting to have 4 or 5 “plates” each to dip into our hot pot. But watching the little dishes go round and round the conveyor belt I was soon grabbing dishes left right and centre before our choice of broth had even arrived.
But lets take a quick step back, I should really tell you what Shuang Shuang is all about…lets start with what is a hot pot….
Chinese Hot Pots
The whole basis of Shuang Shuang is the Chinese hot pot.
For those of you who aren’t so familiar with this authentic Chinese meal, the hot pot is made up of a simmering metal pot of stock at the centre of the dining table. This is heated throughout the meal, during which different ingredients are place into the pot and cooked at the table.
Sounds fun right?
Noodles, thin slices of meat, leafy vegetables, mushrooms, dumplings and seafood are all cooked in the broth at the table before being eaten out of a smaller bowl with a dipping sauce and garnish.
They are a popular wintertime meal but really can be eaten any time of year and are a fun communal way of eating.
It’s thought that the hot pot originally came from Mongolia and there are lots of regional variations across Mainland China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan. But the hot pot you’ll find at Shuang Shuang is unmistakeably Chinese with má là (meaning hot and spicy) being the star of the show.
But lets get back to the restaurant…that’s enough food history for now.
Having waited half an hour in the stylish, minimalist downstairs of the restaurant we were whisked up to the first floor where we found a fun, modern restaurant. You still have the conveyor belt upstairs but there are also more intimate booths which are perfect for groups. Downstairs definitely suits “grabbibg a quick bite” better than a long sit down meal.
We sat down and immediately made ourselves familiar with the controls. After a little wait and more pouring over the menu we picked our broths. Over the course of the evening we tried the traditional mala made with dried chilli, Sichuan peppercorns, the house herb mix and fermented broad beans; Lamb Tonic made with lamb bones, pickled mustard greens and chilli in lamb oil; and a mystery vegetable broth that wasn’t on the menu! Lucky us.
The broth was delivered to our hot pots in large milk pail style jugs, we set them bubbling and then started on the difficult task of choosing which of the 50 ingredients we’d use to make our dinner!
You’re pretty much left to your own devices when building your meal. There’s no manual here. Amongst others, we picked fried tofu, pork belly, lotus root, choy sum, flat noodles, and my favourite the pork and prawn balls.
Jon was freaking out about me cooking raw meat in my broth but helpfully all of the raw meat comes with a cooking guide time and you are given a set of bamboo tongs only to be used for touching raw meat. It was all well thought out so no concerns there.
The whole process of picking your ingredients, dropping them into the hot broth, watching it simmer away, mixing your dipping sauce (don’t skip this step the dipping sauce totally makes the meal) and slurping your combination of noodles, veggies and meats is LOTS of fun. Some may say its a bit of a novelty and the gimmick will soon wear off but the food itself is delicious (and fantastic value for money) that I know I will definitely be coming back.
Shuang Shuang was exactly what we needed on a cold winter night. The spicy Sichuan flavours are more than welcome and the wide selection of ingredients available to dunk into your broth mean that the combinations are both effortless and endless!
What’s more, they top up your broth for free. Woohoo! Having thought we’d finished our meal and feeling pretty full round two of broth came and we set off eating again.
At no point were we rushed to finish our sitting and we ended up staying almost until close!
Great value for money
Despite eating DOUBLE what we thought we would our bill still only came to £30 each – not bad considering the amount of food we had!
If you are trying to watch the pennies then you can most definitely make this a cheap meal out. Just like a sushi restaurant with a similar conveyor belt set up the plates the little dishes arrive on are colour coded according to price (from £1 to £4.30) meaning you can easily budget.
If you want to splash the cash then definitely go for round two on the broth and why not order some of the special dishes that are made at your request by the chef – these include pea tofu, pig’s ears with Xinjiang spice, jasmine tea egg and nest as well as scallop and prawn fritters with má là oil.
Shuang Shuang, the verdict
Overall we had a fantastic time – if anything it was better than I expected.
Each of the broth’s we tried had fantastic depth of flavour and it’s own unique character. The mala was spicy and salty as promised with fresh greens and the fried tofu working really well with it. the lambs tonic on the other hand was much lighter feeling almost virtuous. The mixed mushrooms and seafood working really well.
Next time I’m itching to try the black bird broth. I also must go back try the luncheon meat which I hear is already super popular!
Despite having only opened officially earlier this month the service was pretty smooth. The servers were all really helpful and keen to make sure we had everything we needed without being intrusive.
Go for the food, stay for the communal eating concept!
64 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1 (no reservations, shuangshuang.co.uk). Open daily 11.30am-11.30pm. Dinner for two (inc two rounds of broth) with beer, roughly £75 including tip. Lunch for two, roughly £40.