Winter and hotpot are a perfect combination. Let it snow outside, we keep warm around a hotpot.
Hang Ka Club 行家薈 is the latest kid on the high-end hotpot block. The brainchild of M-Gor, the mysterious mastermind behind some of the original HK-style hotpot restaurants in Shanghai, this is the second Hang Ka Club. But the average price per person here is twice (or more) of what you would pay at the original.
Like all hotpot restaurant, you pick the soup base and then the ingredients you want to blanch with the stock.
Once we finished ordering, we were presented each with a pre-meal fruits of longans. This was winter and I was surprised that they still have longans now.
The most important part of the hotpot meal is to get the right condiments that suit your tastes. The HK-style hotpot has a less elaborate condiment combination. If you are undecided, you can ask the waitress to conjure up the restaurant’s specials.
And then the soup based was promptly served and we waited for the stock to boil.
We ordered chicken en vessie with fish maw 气球花胶鸡汤 for the hotpot stock.
En vessie refers to a cooking method in which a meat or other dish is cooked in a (pig) bladder. A well-known application is with the famous Bresse chicken from France: Poularde de Bresse en vessie. Here the chicken is poached in the pig’s bladder with fish maw to produce the stock for the hotpot.
It was just a very elaborate presentation of the hotpot base. The chicken has been poached to death, the fish maw (a very expensive ingredient in Chinese cooking) was added separately into a soup base that was boiled separately.
And before we blanched our ingredients in the hotpot, we were served the original creamy, sticky chicken fish maw soup. You can taste the collagen extracted from the fish maw in every mouthful. The chicken taste was strong in the soup, but one cannot distinguish if it was the chicken or the chicken extract that did the trick. It did not have the delicate fragrance of naturally boiled chicken stock.
Since it was lunch, we just picked a few items – my favourite goose intestine 鹅肠, the must-order wagyu 和牛 and live prawns 基围虾, the bamboo fungus 竹笙 to soak up the stock and bamboo clams 竹蛏 to enhance the soup. The sequence of blanching – clams, prawns, fungus, wagyu, intestine. You leave the intestine last in case there’s residual smell in the offal.
The hotpot is one of the simplest yet difficult Chinese dining concept. It only involves a boiling pot of stock and any ingredients you like to blanch in it. However the art of preparing the stock was the most difficult part of the meal – too heavy the ingredients get destroyed in the stock, too light the meal becomes forgettable. So getting the stock right was paramount.
And then there’s the cooking time for each ingredient. The waitress was not as well trained as some other high-end hotpot places I have been to in recent times. The intestines and clams were overcooked. So was the delicate wagyu sirloin.
The best part of the meal for me was the rice in soup 泡饭. I asked for a bowl of steamed rice and poured the soup for an excellent ending to the meal.
The hotpot came with complimentary Cantonese (HK) desserts and fruits. There were six kinds to choose from. We had the double-steamed milk custard and sago with sweet potato.
And the fruits were equally nicely presented and everything sourced in China. One has to be amazed at how far the fruit cultivation techniques have improved in China. Surely have caught up with Taiwan, and not far away from Japan.
Devil’s in the Details
I have to say these high-end hotpot restaurants have been doing a one-up against each other, pampering the hell out of consumers with the money to spend. The ingredients were good quality, but a hotpot is still a hotpot. So they have to innovate based on the service and the hardware around the dining environment.
The utensil used here were of the highest quality – crystal water glass from Baccarat, tea cups from Liuli Gongfang, and wine glasses from Spiegelau. However luxe the combination was, the pairing was rather rude and uncouth.
Even the toiletries used were carefully selected. Note to oneself – this 000 Tambusrin Hand Sanitizer really smell good, get some for the house.
The hardware was really good with this one, but the ingredients would need to catch up with some of the others in town. One cannot survive on hardware along, especially if you are catering to the tip of the consumer pyramid. These gourmands would have been pampered by tip-top ingredients everywhere, so for the price we paid for lunch, it was underwhelming. In conclusion, Hang Ka is impressive for a business meal, not good if you are looking for a good hotpot. A couple of steps further down the road, there’s already a much better competitor.
Hang Ka Club 行家薈（新天地）
Date visited : Dec 2021