Well, it has finally happened. I have, after years of unrepentant, seemingly bottomless gluttony, been defeated by food.
How it happened: Mere weeks after experiencing my first taste of Dainty Sichuan at their South Yarra restaurant, Steph invited me along on a food bloggers expedition to Dainty’s new hotpot-orientated outpost in Box Hill, in the company of Cindy and Michael from Where’s the Beef, and W from The Simple Eater.
Up on the first floor of a building a street back from Box Hill’s Centro and train station, this new Dainty is HUGE. And it is constantly bustling, steam curling up in billows above full, chattering tables. Hotpot is a very social eating activity, and best enjoyed with a group of friends over a few hours.
There’s a variety of stock bases on offer to start your hotpot, with the most obviously vegan ones being the mushroom base, and the chilli base. Being wracked with indecision as per usual, I decided to cut my loses and and go for the half/half option so that I could have half a pot of each (they don’t mix them together – instead a divider in placed in the hotpot to keep the two stocks separate). When your pot is delivered, you then turn on the little hot plate set in the table in order to keep your stock bubbling away through the evening. Each person has an individual pot, and the waiters will refill it for you throughout the evening as you eat it/it gets evaporated into steam.
There’s a vast cornucopia of vegie things you can order for your hotpot. Here’s what we went with, following Steph’s lead:
- potato slices
- lotus root
- seaweed threads
- vermicelli noodles
- pumpkin slices
- Chinese cabbage
- mushroom combo, involving oyster, enoki, and lord knows what else, it was a BOUNTY
- extra oyster mushrooms, because
- potato noodles
- cubes of frozen tofu
- dried tofu sticks
I made the very quick discovery that while everything I put into the mushroom side of the pot to simmer away in turned out incredibly tasty, only certain things worked well in the flaming heat of the chilli stock. The potato slices made the most use of the chilli stock, soaking up the heat and becoming molten discs of intensity. The pumpkin slices worked equally well, leaving me with the impression that chilli and starches were clearly the best of friends in this situation. With the other ingredients though the chilli was definitely too much for them and didn’t lend anything complimentary, so I ended up sticking most things in the mushroom broth. The potato noodles were a particular favourite, as well as the lotus root and the oyster mushrooms, which just soaked up broth like tasty fungi sponges.
Make sure you also visit the enormous condiments station to whip together some wee bowls of sauce to dip all your hotpot ingredients into. I ended up being very boringly anglo and just mixed together some soy sauce, sesame oil and sesame seeds (which WAS delicious, I stand by the obviousness of it), but there is so much for you to play around with, seriously, go wild.
To drink, nearly all of us went with a lychee ice. Cool and refreshing and definitely required if you go with a chilli stock base – being able to cram a cooling whole lychee in my mouth became necessary at certain chilli-numbing portions of the night.
Also if you end up with any leftover hotpot ingredients, Dainty will actually pack them up for you to take home with a small 20c fee to cover the plastic containers. Waste not want not!
Over the course of nearly three and a half hours we ate and chatted, and this is the deceptive nature of hotpot coming into play – it is very easy not to realise how much you have actually eaten until it is too late. In my case, I didn’t realise until I got home and laid down on the couch to watch some Rage.
Yeah. That was a mistake.
Cue me spending the next 24 hours gingerly only imbibing lemon-honey tea and the occasional Ryvita, while my tummy ached and made many upsetting sounds.
Touche, Dainty Sichuan, you bested me with your endless spread. I’ll be handing in my Glutton’s Card now with the requisite amount of shame.
Level 1, 2a Cambridge Street, Box Hill
Ph: 9041 4318
You can read Where’s the Beef’s account of our visit here.