Haidilao Hot Pot (Toronto)

The Haidilao Hot Pot experience is unlike others right from the start as diners can make reservations that are honoured. For those who couldn’t secure a reservation, their waiting area is stocked with snacks, games, and even a nail technician on the busy weekend periods. Maybe waiting isn’t so bad if you can have glossy nails afterwards?

Exemplary service is another distinguishing trademark, which starts right when you sit down. Things just kept coming out from drawers at the table: wet naps, hair ties for people with long hair, wipes for those wearing glasses, a plastic bag for mask wearers, and aprons to guard our clothes from any splatters. Discreet drawers also helped stow away jackets and purses to free up bench space and keep them from smelling like food. Chrysanthemum tea and a fruit plate arrived before we even ordered. It’s a frenzy of activity as soon as you arrive at the table.

Ordering is a breeze with the tableside tablet allowing diners to add things on a whim with a cart-style checkout that automatically tabulates the bill. We followed their advice and went with the four quarters soup base keeping one of them as hot water (free), which ended up being a smart choice as the water quadrant allowed us to store the soup and slotted ladles that were cumbersome and bulky to balance on plates while not in use.

The soup bases ranged from $5-$6 each with the three ringing in at $15.85. Their spicy soup base without sediment was great for my hesitant tastebuds as it allowed me to customize the numbness and spiciness levels. The less numb and standard spiciness was perfect so that I could get the heat without that slightly bitter aftertaste that comes from the Sichuan peppers, and I loved that the broth didn’t contain “sediments” that had to be picked out prior to eating.

Bowls of minced pork and diced celery arrived with the tomato soup base allowing us to create a starter soup by adding hot tomato broth into the bowl. It was a bit bland with just the tomato, in retrospect I should have gone with ¾ tomato broth and ¼ spicy broth to create a concoction that has a bit more pizazz.

A gigantic pork bone sits in the pork bone soup base, which by itself is nice and creamy. It does take up a lot of cooking area so be sure to fish out the bone and eat it before everything else arrives.

You will not go hungry at Haidilao. The $3.99 per person sauce charge sauce may seem like a rip off until you visit the station and see what it contains. There are countless number of sauces, herbs, and spices. I loved adding the finely chopped cilantro, green onions, and garlic into the sauces, but there were other interesting condiments like Chinese chive paste as well.

There’s also selection of things to nibble on including fresh fruits, boiled edamame, seaweed (you’ll need to season this yourself), and a great slightly spicy pickled daikon.

While I was way too full to try the desserts, they also have vats of glass jelly soup and a Chinese porridge (seems like the sweet white fungus soup). Needless to say, spring for the $3.99 per person.

This post won’t go through all the ingredients we ordered, but to provide a sense of pricing:

  • Finely sliced marbled beef ($10.95)
  • Sliced chicken ($8.95)
  • Boneless basa fish ($7.95)
  • Prawns ($10.95)
  • Squid rolls ($8.95)
  • Shrimp paste ($11.95)
  • Assorted meat balls ($7.95)
  • Glutinous rice fish tofu ($5.95)
  • Assorted mushrooms ($12.95)
  • Lotus root slices ($5.95)
  • Wintermelon slices ($3.95)
  • Watercress ($6.95 for a full portion)

The above is only a quarter of what Haidilao offers along with “combos” that provide about a 12% discount compared to ordering dishes separately. That is if you like ingredients like spam and seaweed.

Of the cooking ingredients a standout for me was the shrimp paste ($11.95), which arrives in a piping bag that you squeeze into the hot broth. I started doing it myself, only to realize that it’s a thick paste that doesn’t just drop out. Luckily, a server saw my struggle and with flicks of a chopstick created bite-sized shrimp balls in no time.

I also enjoyed the glutinous rice fish tofu ($5.95) where the centre is the soft chewy glutinous paste (like the rice balls served during Lunar New Year). The dish would be even better if they mixed finely chopped scallions and diced mushrooms into the rice paste to give it more flavour. Nonetheless, the combination of springy fish tofu and soft chewy glutinous rice was lovely.

The assorted mushroom fungus bowl ($12.95) was also a good choice. There were loads of different mushrooms (shitake, enoki, matsutake, and shimeji) along with vermicelli and napa cabbage leaves as well.

Except for the watercress - $6.95 for a bundle - Haidilao provides decent portion sizes for the ingredients. Eight large prawns ($10.95) arrive in an order. And if you don’t like peeling shrimp, the servers will do it for you before or after cooking. I found this out as someone asked if we’d like the shrimps peeled as soon as they arrived and someone else asked if they could peel the shrimp for me as I was about to eat it. They even offered me a pair of gloves to use after seeing me peel the prawns myself.

While I love the attentive service, I did find the sheer amount of waste created bothersome. It was thoughtful to provide the disposable gloves, but it’s yet another thing that goes into the garbage along with the wet wipes and other paraphernalia given. So, consider carefully whether you really need everything they are offering.

There to celebrate a birthday, our dinner finished off with the arrival of three servers holding signs and a fruit plate with a candle and ice cream cups to mark the occasion. It’s great that the servers don’t need to sing happy birthday, but the song they play with the Google home device is LONG… like really long so that it becomes almost awkward halfway through. I almost felt sorry for them standing around for three minutes per table waving around signs with fake joy.  As a plus, the birthday girl did get a gift – a handheld manual back massager.

The two hours flew by at Haidilao, great from start to finish. We left uncomfortably full, vowing to order less next time and add-on as necessary. Yet, I will be returning. And while hot pot is normally a once or twice a year festivity during the winter. At this rate, I may even go in the summer. 

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1571 Sandhurst Circle

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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