Hai Di Lao (Haidilao), is a Chinese hotpot establishment which has their roots from the China Szechuan hotpot scene. They offer a combination of premium dining with great food and service. It is also great for groups or the die-hard hotpot fans. Let’s check them out with a dine-in.
On bit of history, Haidilao hotpot foray into the Singapore market came in 2013. The restaurant opened their first overseas restaurant in Clarke Quay, Singapore as part of the start of their aggressive overseas expansion. Notably, Haidilao International Holding Ltd was founded 26 years ago in 1994 in Jianyang, Sichuan Province. Also, to date, the chain has over 768 restaurants in China, Singapore, U.S., South Korea, Japan, Canada and Australia. They also have in employment over 100,000 employees.
Moreover, I had always wanted to write an article of the hotpot establishment, but hadn’t done so till recently. Having visited the restaurant on a couple of occasions. I am glad to report that the experience is always enjoyable on every visit. Let’s see why.
Really good service
When being seated, you are warmly greeted by staff and promptly given refreshing warm towels. Tad remind you of the hospitality you receive on a typical Singapore Airlines flight. Also, the restaurant setting is set with a modern and clean setting with largely booth seating.
Additionally, each table has a dedicated induction surfaces which heats up the stainless steel square broth containers. Staff will install these into your table after you had placed your broth order on the menu tablet.
Having said that, you place your order on a mobile tablet device. This reduces the need for you to get hold of a staff member to tend to you. After placing your order, food comes up quick. Starting with your broth of choice. Other dishes such as meats and vegetables comes out later. With seafood often being the last to be prepared and served.
Attentive staff who regularly checks back with you on anything you need and updates you on any pending dishes yet to arrive. Moreover, interestingly, the staff will even offer to remove the shell of fresh prawns in your order. So as you won’t have to go through the hassle of getting your hands dirty when enjoying your premium hotpot dish. Interestingly, Staff will even gather a group to sing birthday songs for your complete with a cake and sparkles.
Notably, for the level of service, it seems like all the staff members were professionally trained in butler school. However, most of the staff members can only speak Mandarin, given the largely Chinese demographic. Still, it is the small attention to detail to service which blew me away. You are even hard pressed to find such personalized and attentive service in 6-star hotel restaurants in Singapore.
Mala Broth, a must-try
Haidilao hotpot offers a selection of soup broths to go with your hotpot ingredients. You have a large selection of broths served in a single large, twin split or quadruple split pot for the undecided, or those who simply want to try it all.
Moreover, you can’t say you had enjoyed a Sichuan hotpot until you have their signature Sichuan Mala broth. There are several levels of spiciness as well as oiliness you can specify on the menu when ordering.
Additional spicy options include sichuan spicy and localised laska soups. Also, another must-try is their Tomato Soup. If you do not fancy spicy soup, more conservative options include their Mushroom, Pork/Chicken soup. You can have these less-spicy soups as a fall back as a fallback alternative if things gets fiery.
In typical hotpot fashion, you cook your ordered ingredients all in the pot, with a selection of ladle spoons and long chopsticks as tools of the trade. Also, the hotpot experience to that of a steamboat or Japanese style Shabu Shabu. Here, ingredients choices includes platter of meats, vegetables and seafood. Meat and seafood set meals are recommended as they are more value for money instead of individual al la carte choices. That is provided they don’t run out of set stock.
Try their condiment buffet
A recommendation is to go for their dipping condiment buffet. Here, at $4 per person. On top of just a plain selection of parsley you get free flow of garnish, kale, vegetables, fruits and some additional comfort foods such as soya bean milk and tofu platters. You can also make your own hotpot sauces such as the famed HaiDiLao sauce mix. It is worth the extras on top of your hot pot offerings.
Offals and Pig brains?
Furthermore, more radical ingredient options include animal parts offal like heart, kidney, duck tongue and even pig brains. Interestingly, the brains has the consistency of tofu when cooked, but with a strong offal taste. An additional recommendation will be their hand-made noodles.
Also, each serving of noodles are pulled individually right in front of you at the tables. Some even have mini boom music boxes to compliment with their noodle martial spectacle. Your noodles are placed into a soup stock of your choosing when done.
Moreover, interestingly, some branches have your ingredients delivered via server helper robots. These semi-autonomous robots delivers your orders from the kitchen to your table, tendered by serving staff when it reaches your table. Also, the staff will go to the extent of serving you your hotpot soup in bowls with parsley of your choice. Bibs are also available on request.
Be prepared to queue
Additionally, Haidilao is notorious for their ultra-long queues. Hence, it is not uncommon for wait times to be at least 2 hours long, even with a pre-reservation. Branches at Bedok and Vivocity are known to be exceptionally long. Timing of the day to avoid includes mostly dinner times from 6-9pm. Also do take their queue estimates as a pinch of salt, you will usually end up waiting for much longer.
Interestingly, notably, Haidilao employs a novel method to keep customers happy in-line. Service staff offers many freebies in the queue line which any Singaporean couldn’t resist staying in for. This includes providing and serving entertainment, free flow of ice cream, popcorn, tidbits, to even free iPhone screen protectors and pedicures. There are also TV entertainment and soft play areas to keep the little ones occupied.
Also, thankfully, just like most hotpot restaurants in Sichuan (in particular, Chong Qing China), it is common for restaurants to remain open past late. Some even runs 24 hours a day. Good timing of the day to visit Haidilao hotpot is after 2.00pm on lunch weekdays and past 10pm on dinner times. This makes it good for a staggered late lunch or late supper. Expect little to no queues with minimal waiting times. You can literally walk straight to your table.
It can get rather expensive
At first impressions, adding multiple ingredients at $10 to $20 a pop does add up quite abit. A typical meal here at HaiDiLao can easily set you back about $40 to $50 per head. This is even excluding premium ingredients such as lobster and crab. Things also add up, with $4/pax extra for condiments and $3/pax extra for tea.
Notably, these prices are above your typical casual dining prices, but still sits fairly below typical Hotel international buffet pricing of $80-90/pax. Still, you do get what you pay for and there are several notable intangibles dining here, such as the status of dining here. So typical diner motivations to dine here are not so straight forward.
All in all, for the excellent service and quality of food, I will strongly recommend HaiDiLao Hotpot. However, the lack of value and extremely long waiting times dilutes the experience and demotes my recommendations to an establishment to “shortlist optionally”. This is so, if you do not have the luxury to queue over 2 hours to get in every mealtime. Of course, a smarter way is to dine at off-peak period. Also, notably, the Singapore hotpot market is getting crowded now, with several other competing restaurants such as beauty hot pot offering just as good offerings with more value.
The hotpot scene is definitely heating up.
Must Go! | Actually pretty Good | Worth Trying | Shortlist Optionally | Should Avoid
Hai Di Lao Hotpot Locality Map
VivoCity, 1 Harbourfront Walk
Daily: 10:00am– 6:00am (Overnight)
Phone: 6250 7557