Who loves hotpot? I love hotpot!
Seriously, I love the whole hot pot experience of getting to cook (ok, boil) the food you eat, creating your own dipping sauce, and mucking about with all the different kinds of flavors the different soups and broths have to offer. And with typhoon season just around the corner, the idea of tucking into a bowl of hot soup with your favorite ingredients sounds especially enticing!
Four Seasons Hotpot City along SM by the Bay is a new hotpot concept brought to us by the innovative folks from the Vikings Group. Not quite the traditional shabu-shabu restaurant most people would expect, Four Seasons is value for money, offering the eat-all-you-can hotpot concept with the buffet-style restaurant the company has been known all over Metro Manila for. Weekday Lunch (Php 588) is very affordable and weekday Weekday Dinner, Weekends, and Holidays (Php 788) all priced at the same rate.
After more than a few trips back, I’ve come to consider myself a bit of a hotpot pro or a guru of the ways of shabu-shabu if you will – Four Seasons style-y. For those of you whose first time it is to experience the new hotpot concept, it may look a bit daunting, as the space is laid out to look like a huge grocery store. Here are 14 steps to help you hotpot like a bawse:
1. Start with Appetizers
Yes, I understand you just walked in and got seated at your table, and the thought of shabu-shabuing to your hearts content may get you tingling in your seat from the excitement. Don’t be overzealous. Stop, take a step back, and pay the appetizers table a visit before deciding on what kind of hot pot experience you’d want to have.
It’s never a good idea to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach, and the same applies to hot pot buffet spreads (which ironically, also looks like a supermarket). Start with a small plate of sashimi, a salad, or some canapés to whet the appetite so you don’t rush through the next couple of steps because you’re hungry and throw you off your eating game.
2. Pick Your Soup + Mix
Each table comes equipped with an electric insulator and a hotpot with a divider, allowing for guests to pick two different base broths and mixes from where they plan on building their shabu-shabu on. They have four broth options: Pork, Chicken, Vegetable, and Sinigang; and then pick a mix for each broth: the very Filipino Tomato Paste, spicy Szechuan Mala, a smokey Sate, and Chinese herb, whose strong medicinal stench reminded me of my ex-boyfriend’s mother. And like my exes mother, I’m never going near that thing again.
I strongly suggest my favorite broth + mix combination: a pork broth with Szechuan Mala and a lot of Sate, making for a flavorful, spicy barbecue base. You cam opt that your server add in the mix for you or you can do it yourself, and put as much of each mix as you like. I can be heavy-handed with the Szechuan Mala since I like all things spicy, but that’s just me.
3. Veg Out, But Don’t Overdo It
Check out the vegetable station and load up on your 5-a-day with lots of green, leafy ruffage, taro, sweet potato, carrots, celery, corn, kangkong, spinach, mushrooms, broccoli, and a lot more. Everything is lined up like how you would see them in a grocery aisle, but presented in baskets for you to pick and choose how many of each item you’d want. Limit the veg to what you know you can finish off in 20 minutes – the last thing you’d want is tired, soggy greens at the bottom of your hotpot.
4. Add Dimension to Your Broth
Now, you didn’t go all the way to Four Seasons to be a basic bitch. Give your broth + mix combo some dimension by adding flavorful items like mussels, crab and shrimp to the pot. You can also add pork and beef tendon, pork belly, tripe, and smoked bacon add to the mix. They have a pretty extensive seafood station, with everything from mantis shrimp to gindara, and knowing just how expensive they can be, I filled up on the latter.
5. Try the Weird Stuff
Hey, what may be weird for me may be totally normal for other people, which is probably why they have a mini organ market by their meat station. You may want to add a kidney, heart, lung tube, blood rice cake, or intestine of the porcine variety to your shabu-shabu experience. Or maybe chicken liver, intestine, and gizzard floats your boat? They also have drunken chicken and black chicken wings for the folks who are looking for it – it probably goes well with the broth that smells like old, damp feet.
6. Stack ‘Em Up
Pick up a tray and stack it as high as you can go with all your choice of ingredients to throw into the hotpot that’ll add flavor and texture to your shabu-shabu experience. I got prawns, squid in tentacle, rings, and flake form, sea cucumber, quail eggs, beef, and pork tendon on my tray, giving my hotpot a unique, subtle taste. And I was just getting started.
7. Create Your Dipping Sauce
More popular in Taiwanese hotpot culture, you can opt to create your own special dipping sauce to add a whole new layer of flavor to your meat and veg. I like making a thick dipping sauce with peanut butter, sate sauce, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cilantro, chives, and dried chilies. Crack in an egg to the mix if you want to make it extra creamy.
8. Get Ballin’
Alright, so you’ve got your vegetables, your seafood and meat, and dipping sauce all laid out on the table. The next corner of Four Seasons you’ll want to hit up is the dumpling station. Fill ‘er up on cuttlefish balls, fish cakes, Shanghai wanton meat dumplings, shrimp balls, all kinds of tofu, seaweed, black fungus, beancurd stick, bamboo shoot, fish paste, and fried tao pao. My favorite is their cheese balls and cheese tofu, both oozing with Mozzarella and cheddar centers when bitten into.
While you’re there, pass by the noodle corner and experiment with flavored noodles that come in carrot, mushroom and squid ink or keep it simple and Korean, mami or ramen. Personally, I skip this as I find it fills me up faster than I’d like and I don’t get to eat as much as I’d want to.
Toss in the shelled crustaceans and vegetables that take a while to cook (like corn) in first, throw in your balls and tofu a few minutes later, and the last in the pot would be the noodles, followed by the vegetables that only take seconds to cook through. Turn the heat way down and enjoy!
9. Meat-ing Expectations
One of the best parts about your Four Seasons experience will definitely be the freshly cut meat you can request to get sent to your table. Choose from beef short ribs, beef striploin, beef shortplate, pork jowls, pork neck pork belly and lamb – or just get a little bit of everything! My favorite is definitely the lamb, which, when sliced thinly, marries incredibly well with my nutty, spicy dipping sauce. I went through two plates of this, easy.
If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, Four Seasons also has a Premium Meat section where you can buy cuts of Striploin (Php 1,056/ 100 grams), Ribeye Rolls (Php 1,056/ 100 grams), Chuck Rolls (Php 880/ 100 grams), Beef Clod (Php 840/ 100 grams), Chuck Tender (Php 840/ 100 grams) or Top Blade (Php 280/ 100 grams). These are all optional meats you can add to your hotpot experience, but being an addition to the all-you-can-eat price, I would rather just stick to my cuts of lamb.
10. Get a Drink
Four Seasons stepped up in the drink department, with the addition of milk tea, fruit shakes, and Chang beer to Viking’s usual assortment of iced teas, coffee, tea, and soda. I find their Chrysanthemum tea goes exceptionally well with all things hotpot and that you can never go wrong with a classic milk tea with tapioca sinkers!
11. Take a Break from Cooking
Once you feel your taste buds turning numb from the shabu-shabu, switch it up and explore Four Seasons hot, ready-to-eat dishes as well. The Vikings Group has kept their usual favorites like tempura and added a row of Chinese dishes for guests to enjoy. Take your pick from hearty dishes like Pork Humba, Pancit Bihon, and Lemon Chicken.
12. Switch It Out
Tired of your hotpot? Switch it up and try a new combination! Better yet, get their Sukiyaki – a broth that already comes with accompanying meat and vegetables and vermicelli noodles – all you need to do is heat it up. I like to add a few more vegetables to the mix like sweet corn, an assortment of different mushrooms, and black fungus to the hotpot for added flavor.
13. A Sweet Finish
Of course, as far as the Vikings Group is concerned, you must always leave room for dessert… because they have so much on offer! Kids go gaga over the chocolate fountain and ice cream, while kids of an older persuasion (a.k.a. me) indulge in crêpes and yogurt. There’s a section for Filipino kakanin (more of that puto-bumbong, please!) as well as their usual assortment of cakes, tiramisu, pudding, and brûlées – a little bit of everything for everybody.
14. There’s Always Room for Tea
Lastly, before getting ready to roll out the door, take a few minutes to enjoy a cup of tea (or coffee – that works, too.) to just wash everything down. Tea, like they say, is like a warm hug. Choose from Jasmine, Lady Grey, Chamomile and Peppermint and take a breather before stepping out of hotpot city and back to your old routine, with fond memories of cheesy tofu, warm, comforting broth, and delicate slices of lamb to keep you occupied until your next visit.
I have gone back to what is now my favorite hotpot place three times in a month, which for me, is really saying something, and unlike your usual buffet place, you can change the flavors and choice of combinations every time you visit, which always makes for a new, exciting dining experience!
Four Seasons Hotpot City is located at Building E, SM by the Bay, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay and is open from 10am to 2pm and 5pm to 10pm. For inquiries and table reservations, please call +63 2 831 7777, +63 2 835 7777, +63 998 988 1888, and +63 917 539 1888.