Hygge isn’t just for the Danes. Asians have mastered the art of warm, cozy, hearty eating with family and friends for centuries. Just peek into the window of any noodle or dumpling restaurant – oh wait you can’t, because in the winter months, the windows are completely steamed up. We just don’t have a fancy unpronounceable name for it – or is it ‘Shuang Shuang’?
I was invited to try their current collaboration with Som Saa, part of their signature hot pot series. Past guest chefs have included Uyen Luu and Neil Rankin. Now, hot pot is something you don’t mess with, it’s a centuries’ old tradition; a coming together of families over the cold winter months, but I was intrigued to try out the ‘Kuai Tiao Ruea’, aka Pork Noodle Steamboat, and jump at the chance to book a table for my boyfriend and I on a cold Tuesday night.
It’s hard not to notice the restaurant along the busy Shaftsbury Avenue by the entrance of Chinatown. It’s bright lights and high ceilings give it a very modern look, miles different from a firmly established Mongolian hot pot venue just up the street. We were greeted with lovely staff with big smiles and shown to our seats along a counter that runs through the restaurant. On the ground floor of the restaurant, everyone is privy to their own pot of boiling broth, more akin to the Japanese style of shabu-shabu. There are booths on the 1st floor with larger sharing pots which would easily accommodate 4-8 people, with pot splitters so that you can have two different types of broths.
If you’ve not been to hot pot before, there’s a guide on the menu, though it’s not the easiest to understand. Staff, once again, are on hand to explain it all. It took some nods and smiles before my boyfriend and I were able to comprehend what we would be eating and what we needed to order. We had a choice of broths with the Som Saa signature menu and we both opted for the spicy (vs normal) broth. If you were to order from the regular menu, you would choose from a selection of three broths, then grab colour-coded plates with a variety of meats, seafood, noodles and vegetables, off a conveyer belt system that whizzed above the counter.
We ordered a peach beer from Taiwan and an aloe vera drink as we waited for the food to arrive. A little suggestion if you go: skip the beer (it was an odd sugary weak beer) and order the iced oolong tea drinks instead. It complements the fiery hot pot much better.
Within 10 minutes, our broth was poured into our respective hot pots and a large bowl with the raw ingredients of our meal was laid out before us to begin cooking. The server explained how to operate the heating dial next to our pots. A large tray of Asian condiments also landed on our table: chilli paste, sesame sauce, chilli flakes, soy sauce, fresh coriander, and more. We were instructed to add these into our broths to adjust the taste to our liking, but to be honest, that broth was absolutely stunning as it was. The pork bone broth was so rich and full of umami, I just wanted to keep it the way it was. The boat noodle set came with: rice vermicelli noodles, tong choi (a leafy green vegetable), marinated pork shoulder, pork balls, crackling and bean sprouts.
Being a well-trained hot pot eater, I’m often aware that the element of timing presents itself as a risk to overcooking delicate meats and seafood, which I put to the test. I deliberately left my chunks of pork shoulder simmering away in the broth, sure that it would end up like chewy string of leather. But to my genuine surprise, it was marinated so well, it stayed tender and packed full of flavour of the broth.
We cooked and slurped our way through our portion of food and by the end, our hot pot stations loosely resembled a Pollock splattering of chilli paste and brown broth. By then, almost an hour of the broth simmering and bubbling away, it was now richly concentrated and it was hard to not slurp up the rest of it. For £10.50 a head, we walked away full and happy, having enjoyed the novelty of getting a bit messy.
Dessert wasn’t planned, but once I saw the words Mango Ice Cream Mochi, I wasn’t leaving without it. I’m a sucker for mochi and this stuff was the real deal.
We didn’t even realise there was a queue forming outside the restaurant – the staff didn’t appear to rush us out in any hurry, but it was time to go. As we walked back out into the cold chilly air, our bellies stayed warm and full of Shuang Shuang goodness. I like what they’ve done with the collaboration – hot pot certainly isn’t anything new to London, but creating a signature series with guest chefs? Ya, it’s got my attention. I’m listening. And watching to see who will be next.
Contact: Shuang Shuang – 64 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 6LU
NB: I’ve just heard that the Som Saa collaboration has been so successful, they’re extending their run to the end of the year. My advice? Go forth and treat yo’self.
‘A self-proclaimed vegetarian but will eat anything in the name of culture. Loves food, photography, people, and a slight unhealthy obsession with dogs’ -Michelle Chen