The smell of Sichuan peppercorns and chilli oil rises skyward in virulent torrents, while the clinking of glasses competes with shouts of laughter from tables of well-dressed socialites. The new upscale hot pot restaurant at the stylish Rosewood hotel is a striking clash of familiar smells and an utterly unfamiliar environment. This is hot pot like we’ve never seen it, and we like it.
We follow our eager hostess into a dining room decked out in hushed tones of burnt crimson. It could have been gaudy and burlesque, like a stopover one might enjoy in a red light district, but it isn’t. The polished ebony tables glow with a warm, diffuse light, while latticework partitions provide a sliver of privacy to the outermost tables. There’s space for all sizes of party. A horseshoe-shaped bar sports individual pots for solo dining, while a few expansive tables are good for groups as large as 12.
Before we know it, our phones are slid into transparent red plastic bags to keep them free of grease and a server stands to attention, pen and paper at the ready, poised for an order. Overwhelmed by the trendy beats issuing from what seems like every surface capable of producing sound, we ask for a second to peruse – only to be approached an instant later. The service is undeniably eager to please, but we could have used a bit more space. Thankfully, the menu is easy to navigate, and you better believe there’s a member of staff just dying to answer any queries. Offerings span a mercifully short four pages and are broken into sensible categories that make it easy to cover a lot of ground.
After settling on a crowd-pleasing yin yang-style pot, half spicy Sichuan and half old-school Beijing ginger and leek (78RMB), we sit back to watch as bubbles begin to force their way through the fiery red oil. Without missing a beat, the procession of cold starters and neatly arranged veggies begins. A bowl of chilled, skinless red and yellow cherry tomatoes in sweet osmanthus dressing (28RMB) vanishes as quickly as it appears, its sweet freshness a light start to a meal of strong flavours.
At a happy boil, we shovel thick slices of lotus root, bundles of enoki mushrooms and crisp leaves of baby cabbage into the roiling cauldron. Next we attack fat tiger prawns (98RMB) and make quick work of slender cuts of Australian-beef short rib (138RMB) and handcut lamb (68RMB).
Both are served thawed and require just a short moment’s dunk in the hot soup. The ingredients are fresh and the flavours even manage to hold up to the mouth-coating heat of the chilli oil. But like any hot pot, a lapse in focus ends up in over-cooked victuals with no one to blame, and the array of liquid temptations don’t exactly help you concentrate.
The bar churns out a selection of Beijing-inspired cocktails that are worth a visit alone, particularly on Friday when pitchers are free-flow from 7-9pm after you’ve paid for your first. You’re not even safe on Mondays, when beer is free-flow all night. In fact, every night has a deal.
Red Bowl hasn’t reinvented hot pot, but it’s come pretty damn close. Casually upmarket and with style to spare, Red Bowl is sure to make a big red splash with Beijing’s It crowd – and we can see why.