Dragon Hot Pot has taken up residence at yet another popular thoroughfare in the city at 251 Swanston Street, a short 10 minute walk (650m) from Flinders Train Station. Opening in August 2018, it seems long lines of customers waiting to get in are a common sight at this and their other restaurants (213 Russell St, CBD (open 24/7); 435 Elizabeth St, CBD; 108 Kingsway, Glen Waverley) in the CBD, especially at meal times, during their opening hours of 11am to 1am, seven days a week.
The restaurant as a whole, has built up a loyal following since opening their first, late 2017, and have already grown to four restaurants across Melbourne; Swanston Street being the latest addition, with a further two planned to open at QV and Box Hill in the eastern suburbs. It seems it's not just location, location that they're well versed in, but have done their research and fostered an environment that puts customers in control of the ingredients they choose to put on their plate, and the amount they want to spend. It's obvious, customers are loving it!
This unique concept with a supermarket-style setup, where customers can pick and choose from over 100 ingredients, provides hot pots based on almost any budget and appetite. Five broth bases and a huge amount of ingredients makes for endless combinations. That's value and taste right there! Whoa! Let's talk taste! They work from recipes and tradition that's been passed on from centuries and their broth is made from fresh beef bone and marrow meticulously cooked for 12 hours, with over 16 traditional Chinese herbs and spices. The result is a golden fragrant broth, rich in flavour!
So here's how it works. Grab yourself a huge rustic metal bowl and a pair of tongs and head for rows of over 100 ingredients. Choose from a huge variety of vegetables, protein, seafood and more, then head to the counter to have your food weighed and pay. It's $3.20 per 100g ($32 per kg), with a minimum weight of consumption set at 400g. The scale is set at minus 295 grams to account for the weight of the pot. Choose whether you want yours as a hot pot soup or stir-fried style. Do you want a Signature Ma La Tang hot pot or a Ma La Spicy Stir Fry?
They also have Collagen Bone Broth, Sichuan Hot and Sour and Pickled Mustard to choose from. Next comes your level of spiciness. You have a choice of Not Spicy, Mild, Hot, Fire Hot and Dragon Hot. Let me tell you, I chose Mild, and that was spicy enough for me and too spicy for my friend; her plate was peppered with chillies. Only the brave will tread the boards of Fire and Dragon Hot no doubt.
My broth was absolutely delicious. It was not your normal hot pot broth taste which is generally a good stock with added flavours from the meats you boil in it, in little mini mesh baskets hanging off the sides of the pot. I could taste subtlety of flavours and from all accounts, my friend was also salivating and giving her stir fry high praise. We have vowed to come back again and again, as it'll always be different each time, depending on the combinations of ingredients you've picked. Plus the choice of spending what you want is a big drawcard. Though be warned, with so many delicious choices, you could be opting for a heavier meal than you realise.
That wouldn't be a problem, as you can always just fill one big pot to share with a friend. The bowls that come out, especially the soups, are enormous. Perhaps I over filled a little as I was not thinking quantity but madly picking all the things I wanted in my hot pot. There were so many temptations, as they don't differentiate whether you add seafood or make it all seafood if that's what you love.
This is a great time to be adventurous and try out all you've not eaten before. Have you ever had konjak or lotus root? Quail eggs, or duck's blood? I'd never tried the Asian root vegetable konjac, with a potato texture but without the starchy carbs, protein or kilojoules, and it was surprisingly delicious. Plus think about all the new and good vitamins and minerals you could be introducing to your body in a rainbow of colours.
The staff who took care of us were attentive and helpful with information, especially young Joey (on the right in picture). If you've never done this before and a little lost about what to put in your bowl to bring it all together and taste good, remember that all 100 ingredients are there, because they all go well in a hot pot. The rest is up to you as to how much protein to vegetable ratio you'd like to taste in your hotpot. The beancurd noodles were amazing too, so you don't have to load up on carbs by having beancurd or no noodles in your bowl. It's truly an amazing experience as are the choices.
Some may baulk at chickens feet and duck's blood, but blood sausages and Polish ducks blood soup and such like has been around for a long time. The good news is, you put what you want in your bowl and the rest is for the intrepid foodie who wants a journey of adventure on their palate. Opening till the early hours of the morning, its the place to get spicy after midnight, and go home satisfied.