Review: Shuang Shuang
Never had a Chinese hotpot? You’re missing out. It’s essentially a big pot of simmering stock into which diners plop their chosen ingredients: seafood, meat, vegetables, tofu, wayward chopsticks and the odd stray earring; it’s a messy, sociable splash-fest involving mini wire fishing nets, unknown cooking times and low-level anxiety around food poisoning for the less adventurous eater.
Shuang Shuang claimed to be London's first dedicated hotpot restaurant, which is something we let them get away with, despite it not being true. There are cheaper, grittier hotpots to be found nearby, but it seemed like a harmless enough way to make a statement about their dedication.
What Shuang Shuang has done is filled a gap in the market by appealing to the kind of diner who might not approach the more spit 'n sawdust places; the kind who might be put off by slabs of Spam on the table (although they do offer it here), the personality type who might Google the hygiene rating of a restaurant before deciding whether or not to eat there.
It is a shiny, white space like something from a science fiction movie, thanks to the combination of bar style seating and a great sweeping Yo! Sushi style conveyor belt, populated with the familiar colour coded domes of ingredients (priced at £1-4.30). You choose your broth and dipping sauce, then pluck pods from the conveyor belt as desired and cook them yourself at the table.
We were there, specifically, for the lobster hot pot (£19), because Shuang Shuang was not comfortable that they were already the swankiest hotpot in town, and so stepped things up a gear to make sure. It comes with a tom yum broth, fragrant with lemongrass, galangal and chilli, sloshed into our table cauldron by a waiter who swiftly beeped the underneath induction hob into action, setting the broth rolling.
A very fresh lobster arrives, thankfully, in pieces. We know it’s very fresh because although it has been separated into various parts, some of them are still twitching. We’re instructed to add the head first to the broth and leave it there – it will flavour the stock throughout the duration of the meal. Cooking times are given for the other parts and then, well, it’s up to us to enjoy ourselves, and oh, we do.
What followed was an hour of cracking, plunging, slurping, steaming and the occasional burning of mouths and fingers. Once done with the lobster, we slipped in some bouncy fish balls which emerged glistening, hotter than the sun. We work through choy sum, an excellent stalky vegetable like a cross between broccoli and spinach, tubes of minced pork and prawn, tofu, beef, mushrooms, squid, noodles and yes — Spam. The Chinese have a real taste for this luncheon meat and we're glad they've not turned their noses up at it here (seafood sticks also feature).
At the end, we rip off our (optional) aprons and look at each other through glazed eyes. It is hard to stop sipping the broth which by now is intensely flavoured with lobster; parts of its viscera eddy and swirl. We could go on but it’s time to leave, and that’s the real problem at Shuang Shuang — knowing when to call it a day. Crunching on snacks of crispy pigs ear fuzzy with cumin-heavy Xinjiang spices, picking at lobster claws, fishing for titbits well, it’s all rather enjoyable, isn’t it. And that is what sums up Shuang Shuang, it’s just very good, unclean fun.
Shuang Shuang, 64 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 6LU. Londonist was invited to a preview at Shuang Shuang.
Last Updated 21 April 2016