Sherman's Food Adventures: HaiDiLao Hot Pot

HaiDiLao Hot Pot

At one point in time, the hot pot game in the GVRD was limited to eating at home and the occasional AYCE restaurant.  It wasn't known as a destination at all and frankly, the lack of service and drab decor made for a basic experience.  However, as with most things, time has changed all that.  We now see a whole spectrum of choices when it comes to hot pot in the Lower Mainland.  Mixed in with the usual AYCE spots, we now find high end hot pot chains setting up shop, particularly in Richmond.  Haidilao is the most recent addition in the old HML location.  This Chinese chain boasts outstanding service as well as high-quality ingredients.  Miss Y and I decided to check it out early one evening before heading to Riverport for a movie.

When I say early, I meant we showed up at 4:30pm.  Even with that, we waited for 20 minutes for a table.  When we left at 6:30pm, there was a 2 hour wait!  Seeing that is a regular occurrence, they offer freshly popped corn, grapes and Werther's for patrons to snack on while they wait.  During this time, the staff was always checking in on us making sure we had something to drink and were comfortable.  Once our table was ready, we were seated and handed an iPad to do our order.  It was like buying something on Amazon, where we added things to our cart and then after we submitted it, the food began to arrive.  Ever since I spotted the 4 different soup bases in one pot on IG, I knew that we had to get it.  In addition to the basic Pork Bone Broth, we also had Tomato, Mushroom and Spicy.  We agreed that the tomato was the best being a bit thick and aromatic with a fragrant tomato essence.  The pork bone was pretty standard while the spicy was impactful, but not tongue-burning.  The mushroom was definitely full of umaminess, but probably the weakest of the bunch.

Before we even got to the food, we helped ourselves to the Sauce Bar that set us back another $3.99 per person.  In addition to the impressive array of sauce and ingredient options, we found some snacks such as spicy peanuts, pickled veggies and edamame.  Right beside it, there was some fruit such as oranges, grapes and pomelo.  Consistent with the service, the sauce bar was kept stocked and sparkling clean.  If someone made a mess (which they did), someone swooped in and got rid of the evidence faster than Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.  As for the food that we had ordered, we decided on the Beef Rib which was pricey at $26.00, but oh was it worth it.  Each medium-thick slice was buttery soft and tender.  It had a great meaty taste and the even marbling of fat created a certain richness.  We also got the Sliced Lamb and it was also very tender.  It wasn't super gamy probably because it wasn't too fatty.

We decided to go strong with the seafood starting with some Fresh Oysters.  At first, I thought we only got 5 oysters, but they carefully placed 2 small oysters per leaf.  These were really good being buttery soft, appealingly briny and sweet.  By virtue of being smaller, these cooked a whole faster than the large ones you'd find at AYCE hot pot joints.  Loved how they were kept on ice which meant we were in no rush to cook them all at once.  Beautifully arranged, the Assorted Seafood platter was also kept on ice.  There was a nice selection of shrimp, mussels, cuttlefish, basa and scallops.  Once again, the quality of the seafood was top notch.  This was especially true the scallops as they cooked up plump and sweet.  While we were enjoying our seafood, one of the servers offered to de-shell the shrimp for us.  She took the seafood away and brought it back with the shrimp perfectly de-shelled with the head still on.  Yes, the service rocks.

We also got a few smaller items including Lotus Root, Rice Cake, Beef Tripe, Napa Cabbage and Assorted Mushrooms.  These weren't particularly expensive in the grand scheme of things and really, the prices at HaiDiLao are not out-of-line with the rest of the higher end hot pot restaurants.  Nothing particularly special about the these items other than the fact that the beef tripe was rolled up and then sliced.  Overall, we thought the experience at Haidilao was special enough to warrant the higher prices.  The service was almost too good where we could've been left alone at most times.  However, we'll gladly take it over indifference.  Food quality was high while the seating arrangement was comfortable.  Definitely worth a try, just be aware that the lineup can be ridiculous during peak times.

The Good:
- Over-the-top service
- High food quality
- Comfortable experience

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Lineup is scary

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