Would you line up for THREE hours just to eat hotpot?
Well, that’s what a lot of people do on a regular basis at Hai Di Lao, the popular Chinese hotpot chain famed for its spicy malatang soup. Founded in 1994, the restaurant has over 935 outlets all across the world, including in Malaysia.
When the chain opened its first shop in Sunway Pyramid back in 2019, the hype was insane. Reservations were fully booked for months, and if you wanted to try the queue, you had to go early to get a number. People recounted how they had to queue in the morning just to get a slot for the afternoon, or if that wasn’t possible, for the evening session. If they ran out of numbers for the day… well, tough luck.
While you don’t have to remain in queue the entire time (they give you a sheet with a QR code where you can check your status), it’s still pretty mind-boggling that you have to wait that long just for a seat. That’s why they have things like a popcorn machine and snacks at the waiting area to keep you entertained while you wait. Yep, you read that right – they give you food to eat while you’re waiting to eat food lol.
Now, I like good food as much as the next person – but the longest I’ve ever waited for a table was 40 minutes. No way I was going to waste three hours of my life for a bite, which is why I’ve never tried it no matter how many glowing reviews I read about it on the internet.
Recently, however, foot traffic has fallen in a lot of malls due to the pandemic – and I was finally able to try the Hai Di Lao at Sunway Velocity Kuala Lumpur. There wasn’t even a line, so we breezed in and were served within 10 minutes! If you’re like me and hate queueing, but have always been curious about what makes this hotpot chain so popular, now is a good time to try it.
The restaurant is massive, airy and well ventilated. I think it can easily seat 200 people or more, but only half of the floor space was open for diners during our visit. It was pretty quiet too for a Saturday, and there were loads of empty tables.
Hai Di Lao is famed for its impeccable service, which starts from the moment you step through the door. Some places even offer complimentary manicures and massages!
We were led to our table, where H was given a hair band to tie up her long hair, and I was given lens wipes for my glasses. Each section has a few dedicated wait staff. Our server was friendly and helpful; she first asked if this was our first time, then proceeded to explain how to order food from the tablet menu.
Before anything else, you have to choose a soup base. Unlike conventional hotpot places which offer a maximum of two flavours, Hai Di Lao has a unique four-compartment pot which allows you to pick up to four different soups. You can, of course, go for the traditional one or two compartments, but take note that the larger the compartment, the pricier the soup is.
H and I were discussing on how best to save on the soup when the server recommended we get the four-compartment one, but pick two soups. “I can fill the other two with plain water.” she said. That way, each soup base would only cost us RM10. If you change your mind later, they can fill in the ’empty’ slots with a soup of your choice for RM8.
HDL’s signature is the malatang (a spicy, numbing chilli-based soup popular in the Szechuan region), but since I’m not a big fan, we opted for tomyum as well as the local exclusive, pepper with pork stomach.
Sauces are not complimentary; you’ll have to pay RM8 if you want them. There’s a good variety, though. Aside from the usual vinegar and soy sauce, they also offer unique sauces like mushroom, seafood, sesame, shacha (peanut and spices), oyster and more.
All items on the menu are available in half or full portions. Half portions are recommended for 2 people. We ordered pork belly, cheese tofu, bursting pork balls, octopus, cabbage and radish.
The main highlight at HDL is the soup, and the ones we ordered delivered. I especially liked the pepper pork stomach soup: it was chock full of ingredients, had just the right amount of peppery kick, and was creamy and flavourful. All of the items we ordered were fresh, although I think the pork belly could have been slightly thicker. The bursting pork balls were springy and juicy as well. We also ordered a plate of pork neck (not pictured), which I recommend if you like fatty cuts.
HDL has a wide variety of ingredients to choose from: aside from pork, you can also go for lamb, chicken, beef, seafood and vegetables. You will also find some unusual items like sea urchin, duck feet and liver, which are not conventional hotpot ingredients.
HDL offers complimentary fruits as dessert, but we decided to get another one from the menu: deep fried sesame cakes with melted brown sugar. They’re crispy on the outside, while the inside has a chewy texture similar to mochi.
Washed everything down with a refreshing bowl of aiyubing (jelly)!
Our total bill came up to RM157, or about RM78.50 per pax. It is rather pricey by hotpot standards, since you can get a buffet for around RM60 – but I enjoyed the food and the experience, and wouldn’t mind splurging on it once in awhile. Provided there’s no queue, that is.
HAI DI LAO (Sunway Velocity)
F3-16,Lingkaran SV, Jln Cheras, Maluri, 55100 Kuala Lumpur
Open daily: 11AM – 9PM
Reservations: 03-9770 0070
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