We used to go for steamboat a lot when I was a child. One particular memory I have is of gazing down at some sort of shellfish and poking it with a toothpick, watching it quiver, before promptly dumping it in the broth. I was never destined to be a vegetarian.
Four of us, plus my parents took a trip to Little Lamb in Chinatown for dinner one night. If I'm honest I'm surprised my parents agreed to it. My dad always muttered that he couldn't understand why anyone would go to a restaurant to pay to cook their own food, but it's all in the fun of it. We were given a tick sheet and for 23 of your finest pounds per head, you get to choose 5 dishes each .
Given we were 6, we chose 30. Firstly, a huge bowl, split into two, yin-yang style. In one side, a spicy, oily broth, the other was a mild, mushroom stock. And then the plates started coming. Wafer-thin slices of pork, beef and lamb were dipped lazily into the broth until just cooked. Fish balls of all type, our favourites being the Fuzhou (stuffed with minced pork) slopped in to bob around. An onslaught of prawns, squid, sweet meaty crabs, various vegetables joined, and soon we couldn't move for the plates.
My favourites? The 'ham', which as we suspected, was Spam (stop grimacing - I bloody love Spam). Who would have thought boiled Spam would be so tasty? It was. Those Fuzhou fish balls and the crab came in at a close second, as well as the turnip, which was daikon, that soaked up the flavours beautifully. Mongolian flat bean noodles were wonderfully slippery, and none of us escaped without splattered selves - do not, under any circumstances, wear white. Pak choi and lettuce were refreshing in simplicity, and the only real duds were the fried gluten which were much like deep fried bread puffs, and a really tough plate of beef tripe.
For £33 a head with a few beers and service, it really was a feast - 30 dishes! 30! - and although yes, you are cooking the dinner yourself, it's a fun way to share a meal with friends. Highly recommended; but you will emerge stinking of meat.
72 Shaftesbury Avenue
London W1D 6NA