Call it food blogger dominoes if you will. Mr Noodles first dragged bellaphon to Little Lamb, and then meemalee paid a visit which prompted my calling up and making a booking. Then Sharmila also went, causing me to start drooling incessantly and checking each day to see if it was Sunday yet, dammit! I wanted hotpot (also known as steamboat)! If you’re not familiar with this fabulous meal for cold days, it’s essentially a big pot of boiling hot stock (can be mild, can be spicy) in the middle of the table and a whole lot of raw ingredients to cook in it. The meal becomes quite a long and very social affair in which the food gets cooked little by little (the whole lot would never fit in the pot at one time) and after all has been cooked and eaten, the broth is so lovely to drink as it’s taken on all the flavours. Of course, you shouldn’t dare drink it if it’s red and spicy, with a thick layer of oil on top!
Finally last Sunday came and six of us descended on Little Lamb on Shaftesbury Avenue, where I had reserved a table, which turned out to be a little tight for six but you know, we managed. Luckily for us, it was on the ground floor (there are tables downstairs) and next to the bar, which would prove a boon.
Like the previous foodie visitors, we opted for a huge twin flavours bowl of herbal tonic and spicy broths. And then we got to work deciding on the 30 dishes of raw ingredients we’d have between us. Yes, that’s right – 30 plates of food. For £20 a head, you get the broths of your choice plus five ingredients to toss in there. Multiply that by six and you end up with more food than your table can handle. Thank goodness for that extra space at the bar!
It’s just easier if I list everything we had: classic lamb slice, special beef slice x 3, side pork x 3, ham (really luncheon meat) x 2, prawn on shell x 2, fresh squid, cuttlefish, crab x 2, beef meatballs, fish meatballs, Fuzhou fish meatballs, prawn balls, fried fish roll, pak choi, pea shoots, potato slice, dry tofu, tofu knot, Chinese mushrooms, needle mushrooms (enoki), oyster mushrooms, Mongolian flat bean noodles, soft noodles. This may not sound like a lot but it sure looked like a fair bit.
We were particularly impressed by the lovely porky filling in the huge Fuzhou fishballs. Likewise the chewiness of the thick Mongolian flat bean noodles, the bite to the Chinese mushrooms and the slipperiness of the cooked dry tofu skins and knots were wonderful. I’m glad not to have missed the crab, which had meaty bodies and not so meaty legs. Less successful were the cuttlefish (not at its freshest) and the lamb slices (made the broth too lamby for me to drink).
And while I surprised myself by enjoying the herbal tonic broth (just a few Chinese aromatics tossed in the soup), the spicy side just didn’t have the same kick and burn as that at my local Sichuan place. Shame.
Little Lamb’s central London location is a winner though and the set menu deal is really good value. And overall, hotpot/steamboat is a great social dinner with arms darting towards the pot, chopsticks flying everywhere and everyone stinking of meat afterwards. I might take my brother there, he being a huge hotpot fan.
All the photos from the dinner are in this Flickr photoset.
72 Shaftesbury Ave
London W1D 6NA