We picked a cold and wet Friday night after work to check out Chinatown’s hottest new entrant on the food scene. This time I gave Husband a miss and enlisted the services of my three good friends.
Joining the ever growing list of trendy places to eat in London with no reservations, Shuang Shuang is certainly no different. However if you have a party of four or more, you can reserve a booth upstairs. I recommend getting together a group of mates for your night out here in order to avoid the hassle of queuing up. It will also bode well with the social theme of communal dining, normally associated with the concept of hot pot.
Unfortunately, one member of our group fell ill at the last minute. But the staff at Shuang Shuang were very accommodating and let us have the booth upstairs so extra points for customer service!
Upon arrival, the first thing that attracts you is how bright it is inside! I was well impressed by their clean, contemporary and fresh interiors – a far cry from the jaded and clichéd look normally associated with traditional Chinese restaurants.
Seating is soft shades of green leather nicely complimenting the light wood furniture and partitions, with pops of colour by way of murals on walls.
Having spent the last few dining experiences in very dimly lit restaurants, this was definitely a welcome change!
The marble table tops come fitted with the hot pots which can be temperature controlled. Each station comes with its own set of DIY equipment including the ubiquitous hot pot, bibs, chopsticks, tongs, metal sieves and mixing bowls.
If you are a smaller party, there are bar-style seats available with individualised hot pots, which is great for not sharing your precious broth but perhaps not so great for group conversations!
Control panels are located on the side of the tables and you can adjust the temperatures of the boiling broth accordingly. I had such fun turning up and down the temperatures throughout the evening!
For your meal, you are given five choices of broths. Given this is a mandatory part of the entire hot pot experience, it is surprisingly steep at £7-£8 per person. However there were some good options and the broths came with unlimited top up so I guess it balances out. We settled for the Black Bird (soulful with depths of flavour) and Tom Yum (spicy, tangy, dependable) and went for a couple of top ups throughout the evening as they were delicious and flavoursome, even on their own!
At this stage, you are also expected to choose your own dipping sauce (included in the price of the broth) to further enhance the flavours of your final concoction. Not quite sure what to go for, we went for the DIY sauce which was a medley of various sauces on offer. They do cater for allergies so do make sure if anyone in your party is allergic to gluten or nuts, please inform them immediately and they will try their best to suggest alternatives.
Once you have selected your broth(s) and sauces, they bring it to you in jugs and pour it into the hot pot (segregated by a metal divider) and switch it on. Sauces mixed, broths in and bubbling, chopsticks ready and you are now in business!
All around you, various mini pots of raw meat, fish and veggies continuously sashay down in conveyor belts. They are colour coded according to price, from £1 going up to £9 though majority of the dishes were reasonably priced at £2-£3. Each pot comes with cooking times which is quite handy.
Please be advised that if you have a strict vegetarian amongst you, they should not have a problem with raw meat or fish balls bobbing on their broth.
If the idea of selecting your own ingredients from a moving carousel sounds like too much work on a Friday evening, you can order the ingredients directly from the menu and they will bring it to your table. I would recommend doing that as most of the dishes don’t come with labels so its hard to guess which is what.
For my hot pot meal, I went for a selection of chicken breasts, pork belly, rib eye and some fish balls with pork. I must admit that amidst all the dipping, cooking, hunting and scooping, I did not keep track of what my friends ordered . But I know there were noodles, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, different kinds of fish balls and heaps of fresh squid (most reasonably priced at £1)!
The most difficult task I found was timing the cooking for each ingredient and remembering what you put into the broth. So be prepared to lose your fish balls or your perfectly poached chicken breast in the hot pot medley!
From all the ingredients we had, I would say the fish balls were the tastiest, followed by the meats. However, I would say the real winner here is the broth itself which is tasty, wholesome and comforting – perfect for a rainy, winter or spring evening in London.
It is quite difficult to critique the dishes as you are cooking them yourself so any praise for the food would naturally be self-directed!
In the end, it’s all a bit of fun and interactive cooking your own food whilst trying to have a conversation with your mates.
Shuang Shuang is a fun and novel experience, especially if you haven’t done hot pot before. However, its location in close proximity to London’s Chinatown where there are less pricy but equally authentic Chinese food restaurants could possibly put this place at a disadvantage, once the novelty wears off.
Overall a great first experience for me!
However, I did leave feeling quite exhausted by the end of it all (after a particularly exhausting work week) with all the choosing, mixing, dipping, cooking and scooping , not to mention the temperature controlling of the hot pot itself.
It was hard work and a bit difficult to keep the prices in your mind while choosing your coloured plates in order to not make it an expensive meal (I wouldn’t recommend Shuang Shuang for those on a budget).
Cooking your own food is never my idea of fun, whether at home or in a trendy restaurant. I was also constantly concerned about under cooking my food and giving our party food poisoning!
Shuang Shuang is definitely worth a visit to experience something different to the well-known establishments of London’s Chinatown. But be prepared to work for it!