• Robot waiters work the dinner shift at Haymarket's Spice World. (Ryan La)Source: Ryan La
Plus, a wagyu-wearing Barbie and a melting Hello Kitty soup.
Jonathan Ford

13 Feb 2018 - 2:01 PM  UPDATED 14 Feb 2018 - 10:27 AM

There's a good chance that Spice World is now the largest hotpot restaurant in the city (and, perhaps Australia), boasting a 1330 square-metre floor plan. It’s one of China’s biggest restaurant chains with over 500 stores worldwide.

Diners flock here for an authentic yet relaxed atmosphere — plus, there's no shortage of memorable novelties to keep folks interested. Arcade games, more than ten private party rooms and a contrast of futuristic interior design against traditional furniture and fittings steal the show in the arcade-chic restaurant.

There's even a cold steam machine that deodorises patrons as they exit. And look out for the roaming robots — they work the dinner shift, stopping at tables to offer bowls of fruit to eaters suffering the fiery wrath of their hotpot.

With nine years at Din Tai Fung under her belt, Kitty Li is Spice World's floor manager. "Hotpot cuisine has one of the most flexible choices of meat, vegetable and sauce," she explains. "It's very spicy and you'll need to tell the waiter to turn the spice down a bit if you're sensitive to the heat."

The menu is extensive and works by adding extras to a bubbling base soup — first-timers should therefore start at this 'soup bases' section of the menu. The spicy soup is the most popular but you can double up by ordering a yin-yang pot with another soup like herbal chicken or tomato for two dollars extra.

Then, keep adding side dishes until your wallet starts to feel the strain. Popular ones include beef strips covered in red wine, fried pork belly (the ultimate lip-tingling, Sichuan pepper experience), mashed shrimp with caviar (it's essentially shrimp hand-cut into tiny chunks and moulded into a smooth ball) and the handmade meatballs. "The meatballs were renamed 'Prime Minister's meatballs' in China after David Cameron ordered them in Chengdu," says Li. "Now it's one of China's most popular restaurant dishes."

The next important step is to pay a visit to the sauce bar — this involves mixing herbs, base sauces (like soy or oyster) and to create the ultimate dipper. Grab the xiang you (one of the small black tins) — it's a fragrant sesame oil and will bump up the base flavour of your sauce creation.

There’s no shortage of novelties on the menu either; a Barbie doll wearing a wagyu gown (think Gaga's 2010 meat dress) and  lamb cuts served off a one-metre plate both feature. Spicy soup bases (stocks) can be ordered in the shape of a teddy bear or a Hello Kitty; once you drop them into the pan, they theatrically melt as the hotpot starts to boil. The effect is novel bordering on traumatic for youngsters.

Spice World's overseas manager, Haiyang Li, demonstrates two ways of cooking meat in the hotpot: by leaving it in the broth for about five minutes or until cooked, or by repeatedly immersing pieces of meat in the soup for a few seconds before aerating it by pulling it out with your chopsticks.

An avocado milkshake is the most soothing remedy to the Sichuan pepper. There are also Chinese white wines to try, and the fruity rice jelly is a refreshing treat to slurp down at the meal's finale.


Spice World

Daily, 11:30–2:30 and 5:30–10p

405 Sussex Street, Haymarket


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