Saturday, February 21, 2015

Beauty in the Pot- the Spa of Hotpots

One cannot speak of Chinese New Year and the accompanying reunion dinner/s without mentioning hotpot (or steamboat). This piping hot communal dining experience was traditionally enjoyed by families in China during the cold Spring months, and has come to symbolize togetherness, shared joy and for at least one Foodprints writer, a “magnificent obsession”.  

And so we find ourselves at Beauty in the Pot, where hotpot is not just a tasty indulgence, but also a highly nutritious one. Opened in the spanking new One KM mall by local F&B powerhouse, The Paradise Group, Beauty in the Pot presents two broths that boast the curative powers of Chinese herbs, and rejuvenative qualities of shark bone collagen.

The Nourishing Spicy Broth

In many places, you would find that the herbal soup is little more than just some chicken stock with a couple of tokenistic wolfberries thrown in as an afterthought. With Beauty in the Pot, the spicy herbal soup is served with generous chunks of dan gui (Chinese Angelica Root), goji berries and dried longans amongst the Szechuan peppercorn, and a light touch of chili oil for that added spiciness. 

Point of clarification: this is not a mala soup, so if you’re looking for that familiar numbing sensation, then this is not the place. You will, however, find a spicy soup that is delicious to drink, full on flavour and does not require you to sieve through layers of oil or a flotilla of peppercorns, garlic and chili. Of course, if you prefer yours with more of those, red hot versions are available as well.

The Beauty Collagen Broth

Collagen has long been touted for its health enhancing properties and proponents believe that these benefits include improved skin quality, joint repair and healthy nails. No surprises then that collagen has entered the food industry, from yogurt drinks to health supplements, and yes, even hotpot.

Where other collagen based broths are derived from chicken (as enjoyed at another hotpot joint, Tsukada Nojo Bijin Nabe), Beauty in the Pot uses Shark Cartilage which gives the soup a lighter, less viscous, consistency but never stingeing on the flavour. Bottles of fresh stock were readily available at our table to add to the pot as the soup reduced so we were never left with a thick, overly rich, gravy.

The service
Arguably, it’s getting easier to find great food in Singapore, but difficult to get great service. Bucking the trend, Beauty in the Pot is almost obsequious in its display of service. Every staff member is required to greet and address customers with a full 90 degree bow. Every dish served is accompanied by a short explanation of preparation methods and health benefits, then placed into the hot pot for you with a gentle suggestion of optimum cooking times.

Attentive servers will then leave you to your dinner conversation until they return with a new dish, or to meticulously skim off the layer of froth that has risen to the top of the broth. In all honesty the constant bowing gets a bit disconcerting after a while but if you want to feel like a king, this place is hard to beat.

The food

Beauty in the Pot stood out for having the most extensive range of specialty home made meat and seafood pastes amongst the hotpot restaurants we have tried. These range from the basics of fish and scallop, to prawn topped with shrimp roe. We had the latter and found the combined textures from evenly blended prawn flesh, punctuated by the crunchiness of individual beads of shrimp roe, led to a delicious nugget of goodness that held really well in the broth, and did not taste or feel mushy. 

No visit to Beauty is complete without trying their signature Homemade Fish Tofu, made fresh daily, from yellowtail fish (typically used in hamachi sushi), soya bean and egg white. This comes in little fish shapes and readily absorbs all the flavours of the broth while maintaining its own. At $1.80 a piece, this is a must-have. 

Freshness defined 

Live drunken prawns are available for order and they are sent to your table, freshly immersed in Shaoxing wine. Like with many things, Beauty did not scrimp on the alcohol, so add these in later in the meal, lest the strong alcohol alter the taste of the broth. We really enjoyed this one. Do ask the servers for help if you’re new to cooking live seafood.

We also enjoyed thick slices of fresh red garoupa. These did not flake off in the soup and were good with either the spicy or the collagen broths.

The Meats 

No hotpot is complete without a robust selection of meat and Beauty did not disappoint. A full range of pricing options are available across beef, chicken, lamb and pork. We went straight for the US Wagyu beef. It was indeed melt in your mouth (to pull an oft-overused food blog cliche). The light fat around these choice cuts can only be described as sublime.

The thinly sliced US Kurobuta Pork remained tender throughout longer cooking times as we left it in the simmering pot. It was fresh without tasting like it came straight from the abattoir and had a clean finish.

The lamb was subtly more dense in flavour than what some might prefer, but nevertheless did not infuse the soup with its distinctive taste that others may not have yet acquired.

The condiments

As the self-claimed Duke of Dips, Colonel of Condiments and the Sultan of Sauces, I found myself resisting the usual habit of taking any of the sauces. After all, why risk masking the flavours already embodied in the fresh red garoupa, wagyu beef and kurobuta pork, our main acts for the meal.

A short visit to the self-serve sauce station to satisfy my curiosity revealed a straightforward selection of the basics (sesame oil and sauce, soy, chives). Where most competitors confuse with a dizzying array of options, Beauty has confidence in its purposefully selective range of sauce staples. When I did imbibe in a little bit of the house soya sauce, I found it to be more fragrant and sweeter than at other places. It seems that even with something so minor, Beauty had not scrimped on quality. Just a small dash of soy with chives went incredibly well with the freshly cooked garoupa. 

One final act
Do not leave the restaurant without ending your meal with the Yuzu and Shaved Ice Shots. These were absolutely perfect as palate cleansers, and a welcome conclusion to an over-indulgent meal. 

The ambience
Beauty in the Pot is opened by the Paradise Group, which also owns Seafood Paradise, Paradise Pavillion and over 30 restaurants in Singapore and 21 overseas, including London and Japan.

The restaurant seats 132 pax and is tastefully designed in a manner that merges contemporary dining with visual cues that hark back to old Beijing. Its mixture of light and dark adds a certain character that is at once classy and yet not foreboding. Abundant booth seats ensure you can enjoy a private evening with a date or a casual meet up with some friends without the chaos and activity that usually accompanies a hotpot restaurant.  

Given we are still in the 15 days of the Lunar New Year, why not usher in the year of the Goat with a visit to Beauty in the Pot. Better yet, do it after 10pm (restaurant closes as late as 3am) before 28 February and enjoy a promotional rate. Call the restaurant for more details.
Beauty in the Pot
11 Tanjong Katong Road
#02-21 OneKM
Singapore 437157
Tel: 6702 2542

Opening hours:
Mon-Thu: 11am to 3pm, 530pm to 1am
Fri, Sat and eve of PH: 11am to 3am
Sun and PH: 11am to 1am

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