What does Lady Gaga have to do with a Chinese hot pot restaurant? Not much you’d think, but they do things differently at Spice World, Haymarket’s very own truly quirky and ultimately delicious eating experience. It’s a sprawling space that fits up to 330 diners (including swish private rooms), and it’s the first Australian outpost for one of China’s biggest hot pot chains (there’s heaps in China, plus Singapore, New York, and London have their own iterations).
Remember when Gaga wore a dress made of meat to the 2010 MTV Awards? That shocking protein couture look appears to have inspired how Spice World serves up slices of marbled beef. A small Barbie doll comes to your table draped in meaty glad rags, which you pick off and dunk into a boiling soupy hot pot. The meat dress isn’t the only kooky star of Spice World – you’ll also find a giant soup-based stock cube fashioned into the shape of a Hello Kitty or a teddy bear; robots that glide around the venue serving up digital smiles and mints; and there’s also a sauce banquet.
The condiment buffet is a truly trippy choose-your-own-flavour-adventure. Fill your bowls with rich, earthy diced mushroom paste; bitey, salted pickled grains; smoky shrimp paste swimming in chilli oil; umami-fied soy bean sprout sauce (that interestingly tastes a bit like sun dried tomatoes); soothing liquefied peanut butter; and fragrant flowered garlic. It’s like a mini saucy Sizzler, and it’s worth loading up on a bunch of different sauces while your hot pot reaches a boiling point.
Then onto the hot pot – once our Hello Kitty stock cube has dissolved into its spicy boiling death, it’s time for a totally messy (they’ll sort you out with cute bibs) textural adventure. Crunchy rolled sheets of bean curd transform in to a squidgy hunk once dunked in the soup, while chewy hand cut noodles take on a slick of the Sichuan chilli flecked broth. We also throw in gossamer thin slices of potato; fried doughy bread, sprigs of enoki mushrooms and crunchy fresh cabbage for good measure. The Sichuan broth heats up to a rolling boil, and its appearance and heat (both taste and temperature) do reach lava hot levels, so it’s good to mix it up with another lighter broth base. Spice World has options for personal or communal hot pots that can hold two different flavours of soup bases. We opt for a warming herbal chicken broth, that’s akin to a homely chicken and veggie soup and the signature spicy soup, which even with the dial set on ‘mild’ packs an addictively explosive punch. Fresh slices of fruit act as another spice extinguisher – complimentary wedges of sweet watermelon have never tasted so excellent, courtesy of the stark flavour contrast to the fiery Sichuan hot pot.
While this place stands out thanks to its idiosyncratic menu items, flash interior stylings and playful elements, the fun of sharing a hot pot is half the adventure. Add in a total textural and flavour-filled journey, and you’ve got a restaurant everyone should visit at least once this winter.