Sunday, 14 February 2016

Shuang Shuang, Chinatown

Shuang Shuang is a new-ish restaurant, taking over the space that used to be Mr Wu's buffet of woe on the corner of Wardour Street and Shaftesbury Avenue. When it was being built I wondered if we were getting another conveyor belt sushi joint, but I only got half of that right - conveyor belt, yes, but instead they specialise in hotpot. 

Hotpot is incredibly popular in Asia; some know it better as steamboat. It's especially liked as a style of meal for groups; its great fun and sociable, and you get a bonus face-steaming facial. It's a messy meal, as it involves dipping raw ingredients into stock, and then swooshing through various sauces and for that very reason Shuang Shuang provide bibs. I was a bit skeptical about the concept; it's meant to be a sociable dinner, so how would the individual stock pots work? Turns out they have both individual ones and ones to share, with a split for different stocks. Upstairs they have tables for parties of four. All bases covered, then.

The only cooked options are the 'snacks', and the jasmine tea egg was properly gooey. The pigs ears in Xinjiang spice were crisp, crunchy and addictive. That flavour built up incredibly, and before long we were gasping for water. They are a perfect little beer snack. 

We were invited to pick between the broths, and after having tasted them the 'fish pond', which was scented with lemongrass and reminded me much of a tom yum was selected, alongside the vegan soy milk base. I was hoping for a thicker, creamier broth for the soy milk, much like the gojiru that Koya Bar serve but as the broth reduces down, it typically gets stronger in flavour. I was a little taken aback that they charge £7 - £8 for the broths, as you can't really have a meal here without it. 

We got stuck into the ingredients, using the tongs to pluck the ingredients out of their plates and into our wire mesh baskets, to get dunked and cooked in the broth. All of the ingredients that whizzed past on the conveyor belt were of high quality, and we didn't feel there was any point in which we were lacking in variety. Other hotpot meals I've been for in London serve large portions of each ingredient which is great when there's four or six of you, but can be a bit filling when there's just two. This conveyor belt system means you can choose to eat a wider variety in smaller portions. Our favourite was the prawn balls; it arrives in a bamboo tube, for you to spoon into you broth, where it puffs up and bobs to the surface when its cooked. 

Roots like pumpkin, daikon and lotus stems need to go in early on, to give them plenty of cooking time. I usually forget about them and fish out a nice surprise when I'm sweeping the pot. Shuang Shuang has a guide to how long things need to cook for, but for anyone who cooks at home I imagine this would be redundant, as it were us. 

I like that they have more traditional ingredients, like tripe, and this blood tofu. It's pigs blood set and sliced - it has the texture of silken tofu. They also have 'luncheon meat' - aka Spam - which is really very delicious boiled. Trust me. Lots of vegetables went by, like choy sum, gai laan and corn on the cob. They also have very thinly sliced beef, available as wagyu as well which we didn't bother with; after all, you are boiling it and wiping it through a pretty intense sauce. 

Traditionally, once you're done with cooking your bits and bobs, noodles then go in for you to finish off with a noodle soup using the broth that's been enriched with all the flavours of your ingredients. I liked the knotted noodles, and trashy instant noodles hit the spot too. I'd like to see more options for the noodles as they were quite limited to these two on the night we went. 

And then we were done. Soy milk ice cream with crystallised ginger was a lovely, refreshing end to the meal. 

I've been reading the reviews trickle in with interest, and sure enough a lot of them quip about not wanting to cook their own dinner. Giles appears unable to gauge the heat of vegetables coming out of a cauldron of boiling stock. AA Gill confuses hotpot with soup. Bafflingly, a lot of them complain about the stress of so much choice. Have they been to Yo! Sushi? Is that heart-stopping too? Chill out, guys. There's much mention on feeling stressed about all the utensils on offer. Let me break it down for you - tongs for raw food, wire mesh basket for fishing, chopsticks for cooked food into the mouth. The critics seem to have broken down into hysterical children at something more complicated than ordering off a menu. Peculiar really, as I absolutely loved hotpot as a child, and I do now. It's meant to be fun.  

There is the delicate matter of the bill, though. As with any conveyor belt restaurant, one does have to be a little savvy with mental arithmetic. All the careful sourcing, house-made tofu and quality of the ingredients mean that to come to Shuang Shuang, feel like you've had a decent meal and maybe half a bottle of wine, you're looking at £50 a head. Not inconceivable for a Central London restaurant, but Little Lamb, a few doors down, has a hotpot set menu at £23 a head, whereby you order 5 ingredients each. (NB. this is most worthwhile if you are a party of 4 or more.) Quality and variety costs. 

Shuang Shuang,
64 Shaftesbury Ave, 
London W1D 6LU

I dined as a guest of the restaurant. 

EDIT from the PR: the prices have been altered since the visit to the restaurant and the average is now around £25-£30 a head. Shuang Shuang have now introduced a set menu ‘The Market Set” which is £12.50 for broth, dipping sauce, noodles and x5 green plates. 


Unknown said...

I'm glad you liked it, I thought it sounded fun and that the critics were throwing a quite stupid wobbly over it all.

Kavey said...

I've been very keen to visit since I saw the launch info. And agreed, some of the critic reviews are baffling and suggest a degree of ignorance and stupidity (the implements area hardly rocket science) that is really surprising.

Hollow Legs said...

Don Dons - I know right? It was a bit weird but hey.

Kavey - totally. it's not just the ignorance, it's also the staunch refusal to enjoy it for what it is.

Nick Beaumont said...

We went here last week and I was really impressed. I've been searching for an accessible way to introduce my family to Chinese food, and this might just be the most western-friendly hotpot eatery I'm been to - perfect to take the mother too.