Remember when Cadillac was the benchmark of excellence, the brand finding its way into conversation as a comparative constant against which other things were measured? This, my friend, is the Cadillac of kitchen faucets. Wow, looks you got the Cadillac of lunchboxes there, Billy.
Well, Legendary Hot Pot is the Cadillac of hot pot restaurants, a polished, dialled and sometimes even swish haven for the Chinese interactive cooking tradition. I took The Boy for an early dinner there one recent Sunday and we got into the meal so much that nearly two hours elapsed with barely a glimpse by either of us at the time.
For the uninitiated, hot pot dining involves cooking a wide array of raw ingredients yourself at a table furnished with a large vessel (a hot pot, even) of broth that is heated from below, maintaining a steady boil throughout the meal. At Legendary, every place setting at every table is equipped with a convection range that can be adjusted on the side of the table to increase or decrease the boil of the broth. Diners choose between small pots of broth (which results in each member of the party receiving their own pot) or large pots that are placed in the centre of the table for communal cooking. The large pots are partitioned down the middle, permitting two flavours of cooking liquid in a single pot; The Boy and I watched a neighbouring table of eight guests expertly employ their large pots to cook an enormous spread of food that occupied a rolling cart placed next to them.
Simply put, hot pot represents an exciting way to eat. It is highly interactive and enables countless combinations of flavours and textures; no two bites need taste the same. An extensive menu with close to 120 items from which to choose is furnished to each table along with a pen to tick the boxes of the items you want. The menu is divided into sections, which include the foundational soup bases of the meal (there are nine), meats, vegetables, soy products and noodles, a range of edible fungi (from enoki to bamboo fungus), hand made meat balls and meat pastes, exotic items like ox throat, pork blood, beef omasum (the third compartment of the stomach in ruminant animals), house specialty items (including snacks that are not to be cooked in the broth), staple side dishes like rice, and a smattering of desserts. Complimentary tea is provided, but the restaurant is also fully licenses and even serves beer on tap. High-end items like wagyu beef, spot prawns, king crab and abalone can help elevate the experience to something quite posh, but the majority of items are $11 or less.
One of the most fun components of the meal was a self-serve sauce blending station, which was a buffet table with more than a dozen oils, herbs, spices, and pastes that can be mixed in small ceramic bowls provided. Armed with a one-page Sauce Blend Reference sheet, The Boy and I concocted some potent dipping sauces for our meal, including a Sichuan- style sauce made of sesame oil, chilli oil, fresh chillies, cilantro, green onion, and garlic. We also whipped up a Beijing-style sauce of chive oil, sesame paste, peanut paste, and fermented red bean paste.
I ordered the Legendary House Special Spicy Soup Base in which to cook our selection of sliced and portioned ingredients, and checked the box next to the single chili pepper icon (there were also two and three chili options). I’m glad I went conservative on the spice because by the end of the meal my lips were on fire anyway. The deep, reddish broth contained whole red chilies and spices from which more and more heat and flavour was extracted as the broth boiled steadily throughout the meal. Servers wandered the room with pots of a basic stock to replenish the hot pots as they were depleted through cooking and eating, but somehow this additional stock did not dilute the heat of my broth. The Boy ordered pork rib soup base and was glad to have chosen the tamer option, preferring instead to augment the heat with the dipping sauces.
Our lineup of goods included a beautifully presented platter of nicely marbled, paper-thin slices of pork belly shaped into roses, crisp leaves of Chinese cabbage (which worked exceptionally well in the spicy broth), long, fresh, handmade noodles, pork, ginger and cabbage dumplings, handmade beef meatballs and Chaozhou fish balls (spherical morsels of super fine white fish paste). We were thankful to have also selected deep fried buns as a snack, as the delicious doughnut-like bites, served with condensed milk for dipping, helped to temper the heat of the meal.
With my inaugural Legendary Hot Pot meal now behind me, I look forward to my next experience, which will definitely include a larger group of diners; hot pot is a social affair and variety is the key to a successful meal. The Boy and I did our best to sample enough items for me to give an adequately informed impression of the hot pot experience but we are mere mortals, after all, and I think you need four or more diners to really scratch the surface of the possibilities here. Our meal, including a beer and soft drink, was $80 before gratuity.
Legendary Hot Pot, 796 Main Street (Park Royal Village), West Vancouver. Legendaryhotpot.com. 778-279-7888