When winter seeps deep into your bones, it’s just the time to get cosy so warm up in Shanghai with a steaming hotpot. TKHUNT picks the best hotpot restaurants in town, from Shabu Shabu chains to spicy Sichuan style broths and even one with a completely organic menu.
AQ Shabu Shabu 阿久
AQ Shabu Shabu is a Japanese institution, constantly packed with locals who come for the 90RMB all-you-can-eat deal on shabu shabu and bubbling sukiyaki hotpots. As well as sweet and savoury sukiyakis (the former is the speciality), there are eight kinds of broth, from kelp to curry, tomato and Korean-style.
Order as many pots as you want, and then choose from over 50 ingredients, including delicious fatty Australian beef, local ‘milky beef’, Welsh onion and eight types of mushroom. The charming and hyper-kinetic waitstaff bring the well presented portions almost immediately, and it’s delicious, with the sweet broth so flavourful you don’t even need the array of sauces.
Average price per person: 120RMB
Add: 351 Wuyi Lu, Changning District
Chongqing Xiao Tian E 重庆小天鹅
One of the few places in Shanghai for genuine Chongqing hotpot. The vast numbers of Sichuan peppercorns floating in the oily, bright orange broth tell you this Chongqing hot pot spot, opened in 1996, is lip-tinglingly authentic. On offer are reasonable sets of meat (a generous plate of beef and lamb rolls is 58RMB) and mushrooms (a heaping variety bowl is 22RMB), while the standard broth is a tad pricey at 42RMB. The food is good, but unless you happen to catch one of the frequent tour bus groups, the often half-empty dining hall lacks the real Chongqing rowdy atmosphere.
Average price per person: 70RMB
Add: Second Floor, 687 Jiaozhou Lu, Jingan District
Dong Lai Shun 东来顺
This Northern-style hotpot chain is perhaps the most popular and famous in China. Founded in 1903 by Hui minority cook Ding Deshan, its restaurants have reputedly been used by Chinese leaders to entertain guests such as Henry Kissinger. Fortunately, the food doesn’t come at VIP prices, with a large pot of clear broth costing 38RMB, their specialty lamb just 30-35RMB and a good range of vegetables for 10-12RMB.
The plain broth grows richer as you dip in more meat, and its enriched by a dip in Dong Lai Shun’s renowned sauces – with peanut satay, chopped coriander, red fulu (fermented tofu) and chilli oil provided for you to mix your own. The food is tasty if not spectacular, but with the chain’s history and a great atmosphere fuelled by their steamy, coal-heated cloisonne pots daubed with dragons, it makes for a great hotpot night out.
Average price per person: 85RMB
Add: 215 Shimen Er Lu, near Xinzha Lu, Jingan district
Lao Li Shuaiguo 老李涮锅
With cracked bare concrete floors and paint-chipped walls, old Li’s traditional Beijing-style hotpot joint (he also owns a shengjian spot around the corner on Xi Jiangwan Lu) is rustic, but this only serves to heighten the hearty feast-like atmosphere. Although you’ll find most parts of a lamb on the all-Chinese menu, including the tail (65RMB), the thick-sliced reqi lamb (60RMB) is the best to dip in your coal-heated copper brazier. After absorbing flavour from your lamb, the clear broth is ready for vegetables (5-12RMB), which you dip in a delicious peanut, spring onion and chili oil sauce. Lao Li may lack frills, but it’s charming, cheap and filling.
Average price per person: 60RMB
Add: 114 Tongxin Lu, near Xijiangwan Lu, Hongkou District
This Beijing-style hotpot restaurant from Korean brand Pankoo is popular not for its slightly sterile location in a mall but for the seriousness with which it takes hotpots. There are eight broths and almost 20 meats to choose from including Japanese rib eye and American sirloin, and everything from selected mutton (23RMB) up to ‘extra superior abdominal meat’ (139RMB).
Most meats even have a description of their origin and suggested sauce pairings. There’s also a massive sauce bar, and interesting extras such as decent oysters (29RMB/portion), scallops (36RMB), fresh abalone (26RMB) and duck blood (8RMB). This one’s perfect for picky purists.
Average price per person: 80RMB
Add: Fifth Floor, Cloud Nine Shopping Mall, 1018 Changning Lu, near Kaixuan Lu
Mo-Mo Paradise Mo-Mo牧场
Founded in 1994 in Tokyo, and now with around 100 branches in Taipei, Mo-Mo Paradise opened its first branch in Shanghai last month. Unlike many hotpot restaurants, the interior is tasteful and immaculately clean. A friendly, on-the-ball Taiwanese manager keeps staff focused. They offer an all-you-can-eat deal (77RMB-88RMB lunch, 138RMB-150RMB dinner) of superior quality meats and veggies.
There are four broth choices including sukiyaki (our favourite) and spicy miso. The imported beef and local pork are beautifully cut and delicious. The manager says he tried 15 varieties of pork before he was satisfied with the quality. A veggie cart is wheeled to your table and you pick from a nice variety including pumpkin and corn on the cob. Overall, a great place to sample shabu shabu sans grunge or a sauna-like atmosphere.
Average price per person: 150RMB
Add: Second Floor, 35 Shaanxi Nan Lu, near Changle Lu, Luwan District
Qimin Organic Hotpot 齐民有机中国火锅
One of the few restaurants in Shanghai offering a completely organic menu, Qimin is a bit pricier than the average hotpot, but you get value thanks to the quality produce from the restaurant’s own farm and the ultra-clean, calm atmosphere. Portions are delicate but satisfying – and above all, super fresh.
A good choice for two is the couple’s set (488RMB), which includes a tasty appetiser plate (with chicken, deviled egg and cucumber), lamb, beef and seafood (regularly individually priced at 48-228RMB), plenty of veggies, a fun package of noodle dough (which you hand-squeeze into the broth), dipping sauces and a choice of two broths. A chilled vinegar drink with pudding for dessert leaves the palate refreshed afterwards.
Average price per person: 244RMB
Add: 407 Shaanxi Bei Lu, near Beijing Xi Lu, Jingan District
Shi Dao Yuan 食道园
This small, centrally-located shabu shabu joint offers a steam-filled, budget interior and tray after tray of delicious juicy beef. Considering how busy they are, the staff are remarkably chipper and on task. Order the Japanese-style sweet hotpot (rishi tian huoguo, 118RMB/person) and you get all-you-can-eat off the menu (sans beverages) including veggies, tofu, beef and pork.
There’s also an 88RMB option with limited choices of beef. The beautifully striated sukiyaki beef from Dalian is the most luscious; it’s not on the menu so you must request this thick cut. The ‘court belly beef’ is also fatty and rich. As is traditional with shabu shabu, the dipping sauce is just a raw egg, which lends a silky mouth feel.
Average price per person: 118RMB
Add: 433 Changle Lu, near Xiangyang Bei Lu, Huangpu District
Three Travellers 三人行骨头王火锅
Founded in 2001, with 12 branches in Shanghai, Three Travellers has won accolades for their hearty pork leg bone hotpot. The bones are boiled for more than 10 hours with Sichuan spices, creating a rich broth. Although you can order the typical lamb and beef slices and fresh vegetables, the giant terracotta pots come to the table already jam-packed full of delicious tofu skin noodles (houbaiye), crunchy bamboo shoots (sunjian), various dumplings and, of course, the pig bones.
Once you’re done feasting on everything else, you lug the bones out of the pot, pull on plastic gloves and put your straw in to suck out the luscious marrow. Different branches have varying levels of cleanliness. The older branch on Zhaojiabang Lu is pretty shabby, while the newer one on Julu Lu is decently clean. Service is extremely casual.
Average price per person: 60RMB
Add: 879 Zhaojiabang Lu, near Wanping Nan Lu, Xuhui District
Yi Pin Ju 一品居热气羊肉馆
Look only for the butcher furiously sawing at a hunk of bloody lamb on the sidewalk and you’ll know you’ve arrived. This is the real freshly-slaughtered deal, not for the squeamish nor the hygiene-obsessed. This tiny Beijing-style hotpot joint is packed to the rafters come cold weather when everybody, from club kids to local families, lines up for some of the freshest, most flavourful lamb in town.
Inside, coal-fired braziers fill the battered room with steam and heat, and the floor, especially the astonishingly narrow and steep staircase for those eating upstairs, is fearsomely slippery – we have only admiration for the servers barrelling up and downstairs with the boiling hotpot cauldrons. The only pricey thing on the menu is the lamb (66RMB/jin) – note that you can request leaner (shou) or fattier cuts (fei). Other than lamb, all you need are a clear soup pot (12RMB), the fantastic sesame dipping sauce (3RMB/bowl) and some veggies (4-6RMB).
Average price per person: 55RMB
Add: 352 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu, Xuhui District