These guys were apparently the first to bring Szechuan mala hotpot to Singapore. Sequestered up on the fourth floor of musty old Tanglin Shopping Centre, it's attracted a following over the years and is still going strong despite the competition from newly opened mala steamboat eateries islandwide.
One unique feature of this place is its emphasis on the three holistic-sounding steps to enjoying spicy hot pot. Firstly, you have both sweet and savoury tidbits (really just dim sum items) served in-between to refresh and cleanse your palate. Secondly, there is this combination chili-sesame dip (see photo) to enhance the flavour of food cooked in the hot pot. I must say this sauce was quite tasty. Thirdly, they recommend their Eight Treasures Tea to help restore the yin yang balance in your body after consuming the spicy broth. They don't mention it but this tea (S$4) comes free-flow! However, the more you drink, the more you'll fill up.
I reckon the spicy mala soup has been toned down to suit local tastebuds. It isn't the tongue-maiming and lip-numbing sensation you get with some Szechuan hotpots elsewhere. Even though it may be less authentic, I think it's wiser as you can still taste your food. I like to combine a bit of both soups to make a spicy but rich chicken soup.
You can choose from buffet or a la carte for the steamboat. The online menu shows items but prices may be out of date. We took the lunch buffet (S$17.90) which also came with an appetiser of edamame (S$2), their version of the obligatory pickles. Service was polite and quick as it was a slow Monday (I hear quality can drop during weekends and peak periods). The manager gave us a starter set (we can decline any ingredients we don't like) to begin the buffet with, while we peruse the menu for further orders.
First course of tidbits are savoury dim sum items - I found these really nice. Triangular meat and chive dumplings pan-fried like gyoza. The xiao long bao weren't bursting with soup but were still tasty. The manager encouraged us to eat them while they were still hot. In fact, he was rather a little too proactive, and (before I could say anything) even changed my pot of Chinese tea because he saw from the cups that the tea had steeped too long and become too thick and "bitter". Heck, I didn't mind. I quite like my tea strong, actually.
The second course of tidbits are sweet. I didn't care much for the water chestnut jelly which didn't have very much chestnut. The glutinous rice square was too sticky for my liking too. However, my friend enjoyed these both and didn't like fried buns, so I happily swapped.
I'm glad I got to try this place. Food is fairly fresh and the soups are tasty. The buffets can be pretty good value for money if you are a big eater. Even though we didn't have any rice or fillers, we ate til we were really full. My favourite steamboat place is still Paradise on Earth at Tanjong Katong though their mala soup is not as tasty.
THE MAGIC OF CHONGQING HOT POT
19 Tanglin Road
#04-06/07 Tanglin Shopping Centre
Open daily: noon - 3pm, 6pm -11pm