Blink, and you might miss the entrance to Flavour Town Hotpot. A tiny doorway at the bottom of a staircase leads you up to the restuarant on the first floor of 202 Bourke Street. (You could take the elevator if you feel so inclined, but be warned - its slow) You enter the pretty modern-esque looking restaurant with a bar up front, where you are greeted and taken to your seats - big groups up to twelve would need to book ahead for a large round table and there are plenty of booth seats for four to six people.
As you are seated you are given the printed out order sheet that you make your selections from. Begin with your choice of broth base: choose from bases of spicy chicken broth partnered with a mushroom one or a spicy Sichuan on one side and pork bone broth on the other. For those less tolerant of chilli and spice, the standard non-spicy broth is recommended. The big wok is brought out first and the tabletop stove is lit and you anxiously wait for it to boil.
|A Yin Yang of deliciousness - Spicy Sichuan and Pork Bone broth (including the bone)|
Next, choose a from a variety of sauces that are added to your broth to add more depth of flavour. We chose three most distinct sauces - Sesame paste, which was like tahini but only much more mellow and thinner; Hot chilli and garlic, because too much chilli is never enough. Finally an umami sensation thai style sauce. While we didn't add the sauces to the main broth in the yin yang wok, we added them by the spoonful to our own serves. Each sauce added a different character to the final dish and surprisingly, they worked well together to deliver a flavour punch as well as on their own.
There are some entree choices available too and some of them, like the taro wrapped prawn, do not require a dunking in the broth. Other popular choices for starters are pork and chive dumplings and also fish dumplings (although the do not look like dumplings) Be warned, the dumplings are suspiciously the store-bought, frozen kind. However, what they lack in freshly-made quality, they more than make up for when boiled in the broths - almost like a very very flavoursome won ton soup.
Now you can be very selective when ordering the ingredients that will be added to your broth to make it into a unique hotpot. Thinly sliced meats, like pork, lamb, beef and chicken are a must at this carnivore's hotpot meal, but I recommend venturing into seafoods, like prawn and calamari. Whole baby octopus is also quite a treat. In the vegetable section you can put a tick against classics like tofu, enoki mushroom, bok choy and water spinach. And if you need a carbohydrate hit, then there are couple of rice and noodle choices - the potato noodles are well worth a try. One thing to be aware of, I found was that meats, seafood and veg all take different times to fully cook and be at their best in a boiled dish like this. Definitely do not, leave the thin slices of meat in the broth for more than a couple of minutes, and prawns are done when they turn orange.
Flavour Town Hotpot was a nice way to warm the insides on a cold, cold autumn night, and as long as you do not mind cooking your own food then you are in for a good meal. The restaurant staff were very hard to get a hold of for extra items, and even requests for a fork seemed to fall on a number of waitresses'deaf ears. There was no rice available that night (they apparently ran out), but I only found this out when I inquired about it well in to the meal after we had ordered a bowl. The manager was very apologetic and said that they would work on providing better service in the future.
The tasty broths and combination of the flavour full sauces are what made the meal so good. Hotpot seems like an easy concept, but it would be very easy to fail to please by producing tasteless broths. At Flavour Town, they got it right and while I haven't been to many hotpot places, I couldn't imagine them being too different...I may just have to try some more to see for myself...don't mind if I do!