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Where to eat hot-pot-for-one in Melbourne

Malatang has taken China's eastern seaboard by storm, and now this fast-casual take on huoguo is booming in Melbourne

By Frank Sweet |
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An individual serve of hot pot with vegetables
Photograph: Supplied

One of the great modern innovations of Chinese fast casual dining, malatang, or ‘hot numbing soup’ has at last taken root in Melbourne’s increasingly detailed regional Chinese food scene. Malatang is an abridged take on classic Sichuan hot pot, streamlined into a single bowl for the solo diner. A favourable price point and a high vegetable content also make it a good call for any night you don’t want to cook.

It works like this: customers grab a pair of tongs and a basket and line up in front of a series of shelves holding vegetables, carbs, seafood, meats and vital organs. You fill your basket with whatever you would like to eat, then it is weighed, charged per 100 grams and whisked away to be plunged into one of several rich, secret spice-laden broths that range in intensity from mild to ruinously hot. In most malatang venues your meal is then served in a fabulously ornate bowl ‘dry’ (without broth) or ‘wet’ (with) minutes later.

For new players, malatang restaurants generally mandate a minimum per bowl—generally somewhere in the area of 300-400 grams. This information will be available somewhere near the counter, so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into before you begin assembling your meal — 400 grams (plus soup) is nothing to sneeze at.

Dedicated malatang stores are opening across the CBD and out into the suburbs of Melbourne. Here’s our pick of the top five spots to get your hot pot fix.

Prefer dumplings? Here's Melbourne's best. If you don't know what you fancy here's Melbourne's best cheap eats.

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Melbourne's top five malatang

A bowl of ingredients for a hot pot
Photograph: Supplied
Restaurants, Chinese

Dragon Hotpot

Melbourne

Price $3.20 per 100 grams
Minimum order 400 grams
Veggie broth option No
Dinner for two From $25.60

Arguably the overlord of malatang in Melbourne, Dragon Hot Pot has franchised aggressively over the past year and change, with six stores now open between Box Hill and the city. All of its locations close late, but the snug Russell Street outpost is open 24/7, with lines out the door a common sight during conventional dinner hours. A vast selection of ingredients, slick branding and Mandopop hits mean Dragon Hot Pot is busy around the clock, but its powerfully beefy soups, a drawcard for some, will not be for everyone. It’s also one of the more expensive options for one-person hotpot – bring a friend and share if you’re feeling the pinch.

Generic hot pot image
Photograph: Creative Commons
Restaurants, Chinese

Malu Bian Bian Hot Pot

Melbourne

Price $2.98 per 100 grams
Minimum order $10
Veggie broth option Yes
Dinner for two From $20

Just a couple of doors north of Dragon Hot Pot Russell Street lies beloved Chengdu chain Malu Bian Bian Hot Pot. This comparatively laid back, 22-seater serves three delicate and nuanced broths: Sichuan spicy (pork and chicken), pork, and pickled veggies. The broths here smack more of the subtle flavours of Sichuan’s neighbouring province Yunnan than the heavier, meatier varieties common in Sichuan and Chongqing. While Malu Bian Bian Hot Pot also offers a solid range of meats, the ingredient cabinets here skew more to the vegetable side of the malatang equation, making for a lighter, fresher experience, and it features the warmest service of the bunch.  

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Generic hot pot image
Photograph: Creative Commons
Restaurants, Chinese

Hot Pot Plus

Melbourne

Price $2.80 per 100 grams
Minimum order 400 grams
Veggie broth option Yes
Dinner for two From $22.40

You’ll find Hot Pot Plus on Elizabeth Street’s lively, market-adjacent restaurant strip. Here the $2.80 per 100 grams price tag is about as cheap as it comes for malatang in Melbourne. Cute cartoon-drawn symbols of luck and abundance cover the walls in this sub-40 person nook, and while the restaurant does a vegetarian broth and has a decent veggie cabinet, Hot Pot Plus is decidedly more suited to the beast eater, with comprehensive offerings of meat and offal that includes pig blood, pig ear and chicken gizzards. The standard beef broth here is excellent but beware the heat — we ordered medium hot and left humbled. 

A selection of fresh ingredients for hot pot
Photograph: Supplied
Restaurants, Chinese

Little Sichuan Melbourne

Melbourne

Price $3.28 per 100 grams
Minimum order 300 grams
Veggie broth option Yes
Dinner for two From $19.70

This subsidiary of Melbourne chuan cai kingpin Dainty Sichuan features ink-black bowls, tiled tables and abundant ingredients that come together for a rather elegant malatang experience — no mean feat for such a lowkey dish, but no great surprise given the restaurant group’s pedigree. It’s likely Melbourne’s widest range of ingredients and includes malatang rarities like chicken and duck wings, and five distinct broths. The ‘Chilli Sauce’ option is very hot – approach with caution.  

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An individual bowl of hot pot with prawns
Photograph: Supplied
Restaurants, Chinese

David's Malatang

Melbourne

Price $3.20 per 100 grams
Minimum order 400 grams
Veggie broth option No
Dinner for two From $25.60

Intricate blonde wood lattices and ornate lamps set a fun Chengdu-kitsch ambience at David’s — a pun in Mandarin meaning ‘big flavour’. It’s the most design-led of the bunch, and this Sichuanese chain and sister restaurant of LaTrobe Street’s David’s Hotpot also excels in the broth departrment, where pork is the base in each bar the spiciest: a pork and beef blend. The ‘ma’ in malatang means Sichuan peppercorn — a unique and divisive numbing heat common in a lot of Sichuan cooking, and while it’s often conspicuously absent in a bowl of malatang, in David’s rendition, it’s present in full force. Your dish also comes topped with crushed peanuts, coriander and spring onions.

Don't eat meat?

Food at Neko Neko
Photograph: Carmen Zammit
Restaurants, Vegetarian

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