Melburnians are spoilt for choice, with dozens of hot pot or huǒ guō (火锅) restaurants around every corner in Australia's cuisine capital.
Hot pot is more of an experience than a dish. Consider it the Asian equivalent of fondue, with a sizzling pot of broth in the centre of the table surrounded by platters of meat, seafood, and veggies waiting to be cooked in a cauldron of soup. Hot pot's lone rule is that there are no rules.
We've done the legwork for you and found Melbourne hot pot locations that are on fire. All that remains is for you to choose which one to plunge into first.
Order Up at Melbourne's Best Hot Pot Spots
Many people around the world like the unmistakably sensual high that comes from dropping meat and vegetables into boiling broth fueled by gas and flames at the dining table. China alone has at least ten distinct varieties of hot pot across its extremely complex regional gastro-map, but neighbouring countries Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand are also bubbling many of their distinctive broths.
- Order: Half mushroom and half spicy soup base
- Type: Sichuan/Chongqing hot pot
- Frenzy factor: 4
Chongqing and its neighbouring Sichuan Province are hot pot experts. Specially built tables feature a submerged hot pot receptacle housing an ornamental steel pot. The pot is frequently separated into at least two (sometimes nine or more) broth regions, with the scorching hot mala variation - usually a beef stock that growls with tonnes of chillies and Sichuan peppercorns - a must-order.
Patrons then order platters of raw ingredients from the menu, create their own sauce at the DIY sauce station, and get down to business.
We caught David's during a rare wet Tuesday break between lunch and dinner service, although it's usually packed with Chinese university students day and night. It's not the cheapest hot pot in town, but the depth of the mala broth alone is worth a visit. This is ideal for large groups.
- Order: Traditional Beijing lamb pot
- Type: Beijing hot pot
- Frenzy factor: 3.5
Hot pot in Beijing is significantly lighter than that found in and around Sichuan and Chongqing. The broth is traditionally lamb-based and much thinner than its West Chinese counterpart, which means it is far less fatiguing - and nowhere near as spicy. It's also usually served in a lovely copper pot.
No 1 Delicious Hot Pot & BBQ, another feather in the cap of Carlton's developing regional Chinese food scene, is located just south of the University of Melbourne and divides its culinary offerings by floor: Downstairs, chuan'er (Chinese street BBQ); upstairs, Beijing hot pot.
The exposed-beam, pseudo-warehouse gimmick at No 1 lends its large floor area a little cold edge, which is not usually associated with hot pot but is entirely welcome, and is matched by the intelligent presentation and quality of the hot pot ingredients.
With five distinct soup bases and little copper pots, each punter must order their vessel and broth, which isn't always a bad thing if you're dining with sharers.
We order the typical Beijing lamb hot pot with tomato and dates, as well as beef brisket, vegetables, and what must be Victoria's annual output of quail eggs.
The nourishing lamb foundation is subtle enough to allow the contents speak for themselves. The centrepiece at No. 1 is its comprehensive DIY sauce station, which includes beef paste and a basketball-sized bowl of unadulterated crystal MSG.
- Order: Seafood jeongol
- Type: Korean hot pot
- Frenzy factor: 2.5
The restaurant's interior is more modern than its vintage appearance suggests. On the dark brick and old stone walls, mod-Asian fixtures like red mesh pendant lights gleam. The signature brassy-hued exhaust pipes (the gold standard in Korean BBQ) hanging over each table appear delightfully futuristic.
Korean BBQ, at its core, is a communal dining experience, and Guhng's barbeque sets ensure that groups are properly accommodated for. The Angus set can comfortably serve four reasonably hungry meat eaters. Starting with an evenly marbled Angus cube roll, sliced into pieces over a cast iron pot of flaming hot charcoal, you obtain a combination of lean and fatty slices.
The bite-sized pieces of beef on the grill become smoky in a few minutes as the fat melts and sizzles off the coals, and they remove it from the flame while the juices are still running. The garlic herb beef tenderloin is best cooked to medium, and the marinade is extremely mild - it still needs a dip of light sweet soy sauce and chilli from the condiments cabinet.
Break up the meat fest with mixed veggies and king brown mushrooms, and then it's time to fire up the grill for the bulgogi, which has turned extra smokey thanks to the charcoal. The thinly sliced beef marinated in sesame oil and sweet soy cooks quickly, and a sprinkle of pickled onion on the delicate bulgogi offers a fresh bite to cut through the meat.
Guhng appears to be a little finer than your average Korean barbeque restaurant, yet it remains welcoming, even to large groups that can reserve the upper rooms for private functions. They also understand that part of the fun of Korean BBQ is being able to perform your own grilling, although they will gladly answer your queries or assist you before you set fire to your food.
It's the kind of place you'd take your parents to: a little bit impressive while still retaining the basic communal ambience that makes Korean BBQ so pleasurable.
- Order: Ishikari Nabe (pork belly and salmon fin hot pot)
- Type: Japanese hot pot
- Frenzy factor: 3
Japan's nabe, or hot pot, comes in a variety of flavours. Shabu-shabu and sukiyaki are two of the country's most popular dishes, the latter a beef-forward stew accompanied by a raw egg for dipping, while chankonabe is a protein-heavy dish that was designed to assist Sumo wrestlers gain weight but is not intrinsically Sumo-y when served in regular-sized servings.
- Order: Lau de (goat hot pot)
- Type: Vietnamese hot pot
- Frenzy factor 3.5
Vietnam, located south-west of Japan, has a proud hot pot culture of its own. Two of the country's most popular varieties are lau de and lau de Bien (goat and seafood hot pot, respectively). The former's strong aromatics are frequently tempered off by abundant greens and a harsh accompanying sauce.
It's another profoundly scented encounter, but the freshness of the greens and the distinct zing of the superb fermented tofu dipping sauce are enough to offset the mutton's bottomless depth.
Soi 38, which serves boat noodles by day and Thai BBQ at night, specialises in regional Thai cuisine; if you're looking for Australian favourites like pad thai or Massaman curry, look elsewhere.
Soi 38, despite being nestled away in an isolated nook of Melbourne - a concrete car park just a few storeys down from the latest incarnation of architectural space MPavillion - is not anonymous. It has been delighting office employees since 2015 with bowls of five-spice powder- and star anise-heavy boat noodles. Diners began flowing out into the parking lot when it first opened for dinner earlier this year. We, like them, welcome the chance to taste Soi 38's enlarged offerings without having to return within the hour. Still, if you don't want to waste time avoiding the fragrant smells from your wait spot, we recommend making a reservation.
On this occasion, we avoid Thai BBQ in favour of sharing multiple meals from the grilled, deep-fried, soup, and salad categories with either rice or sticky rice. You place your order using a paper checklist menu, which you bring up to the counter when you're ready.
The spice levels in Soi 38's dishes had us reaching for cool Singha bottles. If you don't want to drink alcohol, you can cool down with bottles of Chang or Leo, a chosen selection of organic wine, or Thai milk tea.
Begin with the Kung chae nam pla, a popular Thai drinking snack consisting of raw black tiger prawns drenched in Thai fish sauce and lime juice and served atop bitter melon tendrils. Every bite is an explosion of flavours and textures - fresh, spicy, rich, and sour from the chopped, deceptively fierce red chillies and creamy fish roe - and the ideal prelude to heavier meals on the menu.
The only meal on the menu with a'recommended' label is the tom zap beef and tendon soup, and for good reason: it's a tamarind-rich, thick soup with a heat that reaches the tip of your tongue first before radiating out to the rear of your mouth.
Cubes of gelatinous fat and cooked tendon will be served to diners, soaked in the flavours of this pleasantly sour, thick broth from Northeast Thailand.
Don't skip the grilled menu; the crying tiger's thinly sliced black Angus beef is melt-in-your-mouth delicious. If you're looking for a fun fact, the Thai name for this meal translates to 'weeping tiger' since the accompanying fiery dipping sauce is supposed to make you cry, but don't let that put you off - Soi 38's crying tiger sauce packs a punch without causing us agony.
We can't finish our lunch without trying Soi 38's larb, a salad that is considered the unofficial national cuisine of Laos and is popular in Thailand's Isan province. It's available in three variations, and we went with the larb moo with ground pork heaped over a fresh bed of lettuce. It has it all: the nutty flavour of roasted rice powder, the crunch of sliced red onions, and the exquisite acidity of makrut lime and lemongrass.
Japanese hotpot (shabu shabu and sukiyaki)
Sukiyaki and shabu shabu are the two main forms of Japanese nabemono (hotpot). Momo Sukiyaki & Shabu Shabu is the city's sole Japanese hotpot establishment. Shabu bases include soy, konbu, tonkatsu, and others; sukiyaki may be based on soy or tomato, and wildcards include black truffle.
WeLive for Hotpot features timber separators and single-serve hotpots for introverts.
Takumi is better for group dining, with an all-you-can-eat $45 per person menu for a minimum of two.
Southern Chinese hotpot
Hotpots vary greatly throughout China. Guangdong, China's southernmost coastal region, places a premium on seafood. Wu Mi Zhou at the top of Lonsdale Street specialises in the region's calm and comfortable congee hotpots. Yunnan hotpot is unique in that it incorporates a variety of wild mushrooms and flowers as well as the province's famous rice noodles.
The only difference nowadays is the usage of thinly sliced lamb. Marrow is simmered in the eight-hour broth at Happy Lamb on Exhibition Street. There are six bases and a variety of lamb cuts and platters, as well as a selection of handcrafted seafood balls and pastes.
Korean hotpot (budae jjigae and jeongol)
There are a few different types of Korean hotpots, but the most popular are budae jjigae and jeongol. There are numerous types of jjigae, but budae jjigae, also known as army stew, is typically cooked over a flame. Jeong observes broth being poured over items prior to simmering and sharing.
These meals are available at the majority of Korean eateries in the city. Darac on A'Beckett Street serves a massive army stew. Han Guuk Guan, located near the intersection of Victoria and Exhibition Streets, offers a wide range of classic Korean hotpots, including sundae (Korean blood sausage) and trotters with potato.
Rather than just a meal, having hot pot is an experience in itself. Boiling broth sits in the middle, surrounded by platters full of meat, seafood and vegetables. At the very least, there are two broth compartments in the pot, but this number can go up to nine or more. Exposed-beam, "warehouse" style gimmick at No. 1 lends a chilly edge to its large floor area. If you're dining with a group, you'll have to order a separate vessel and broth for each person, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Despite the restaurant's vintage exterior, the modern interior is anything but. Your typical Korean BBQ joint isn't quite as good as Guhng. If you're looking for a place where you can still feel at home, this is it. Shabu-shabu and sukiyaki are two of Japan's most popular hot pot dishes. One of Melbourne's most hidden gems, Soi 38 is located beneath the most recent incarnation of architectural space MPavillion, in a concrete car park.
Only the tom zap beef and tendon soup has a "recommended" label on the menu. Ground pork is piled high on a bed of lettuce in Soi 38's larb moo. Takumi's all-you-can-eat $45 per person menu for a minimum of two people is better suited for large groups. When it comes to the Yunnan hotpot, wild mushrooms, flowers, and rice noodles are all part of the mix.
- In Australia's culinary capital, Melburnians have an abundance of hot pot (hu gu) restaurants to choose from.
- To save you time, we've scoured Melbourne for the best hot pot joints.
- More than a dozen distinct hot pot varieties can be found throughout China's vast and diverse regional food map, but China's neighbours Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand are also known for their own unique broths.
- First and foremost Just south of the University of Melbourne is Delicious Hot Pot & BBQ, a new addition to Carlton's burgeoning regional Chinese food scene. The restaurant is divided into three sections by floor: Chuan'er (Chinese street BBQ) is served downstairs, while Beijing hot pot is served upstairs.
- Kimchi BBQ is a communal experience, and Guhng's barbeque tables ensure that groups of all sizes can enjoy their meal.
- A concrete car park beneath the latest iteration of architectural space MPavillion, Soi 38 is not anonymous despite its secluded location in the heart of Melbourne.
- It has been serving up bowls of five-spice powder and star anise-heavy boat noodles to office workers since 2015.
- When the restaurant first opened for dinner earlier this year, patrons spilt out into the parking lot.
- In lieu of Thai BBQ, we'll eat grilled, deep-fried, soup and salad dishes with either rice or sticky rice on this occasion.
- We won't be able to finish our lunch without trying Soi 38's larb, a salad popular in Thailand's Isan province that is considered the unofficial national cuisine of Laos.
- Hotpot in the south of China
- China's hotpots differ greatly from region to region.
FAQs About Melbourne Restaurants
Hot pot is a flavorful broth traditionally served inside a large metal pot. The broth is brought to a boil and left simmering for the duration of the meal. Raw ingredients, such as meat and vegetables, are placed into the simmering broth and thus "cooked".
The cooked pieces are dipped into dipping sauces for additional flavour. Hot pot is considered a main course and is usually served without rice or noodles on the side. Hot pots can be prepared and eaten at home or in a restaurant.
Typical hot pot ingredients include thinly sliced meat, leaf vegetables, mushrooms, vermicelli, sliced potatoes, bean products, egg dumplings, tofu, and seafood.
Raw ingredients are pre-sliced into thin sections that will cook quickly and consistently in the simmering broth, maintained at a gentle boiling temperature. Most raw foods can be cooked in a hot pot, although they may have different cooking times, and must be immersed in the soup and then removed accordingly.
Hot pot can certainly be healthy, provided you choose your ingredients, base soup and dipping sauces carefully to avoid an overdose of sodium, saturated fats, and carbohydrates in your meal. "The sodium content in a typical hot pot meal far exceeds the recommended daily salt intake.
You can use white rice, but noodles are the more popular choice. There are lots of options, including ho fun (wide white noodles), needle noodles (which are transparent and shaped like thick needles), and rice stick noodles (also known as bank pho or fresh pho noodles).
Cold drinks will help temper some of the fiery heat. Dairy drinks, such as yogurt or fermented milk drinks, are great beverage options to consume before and after hot pot.
Hot Pot is generally very unhealthy as its packaged broth contains an extreme excess of fats per serving. Unfortunately, most restaurants are using packaged broths which can exceed 1,500 calories per packet.