Mini personal hotpots seem to be the latest craze in the world of hotpot restaurants and they are now available at the newly opened Red Lantern Hotpot Restaurant in Eastwood (not to be confused with Luke Nguyen’s Red Lantern restaurants). It is located on the strip of restaurants directly across from Eastwood Public School and true to its name, this Chinese restaurant has red lanterns hanging throughout the interior, with plenty of tables for groups to indulge in the buffet together.
As an opening special, Red Lantern Hotpot offers a buffet lunch for $17.99 per person and dinner for $26.99 per person, which is great for the colder autumn weather we’ve been having in Sydney. The prices are a bit sneaky though, because you pay extra for the soup base and the prices differ depending on which soup base you choose. At the top of the range is the seafood broth ($7), but since the essence of the cooked meats in the hotpot add a lot of flavour to the soup anyway, I ended up choosing a basic bone broth ($5) which served as a neutral base for the hotpot. Some others on my table go for the “numb spicy” soup (ma la, $5) which is a signature flavour of Sichuan cuisine and only recommended for the brave chilli lovers because it gets really spicy!
Another added cost for the meal are the sauces which are $2.50 extra, but for me it’s not a proper hotpot without delicious sauces to dip the piping hot cooked meats and dumplings into, so I was happy to pay the extra and go nuts at the sauce station which has a myriad of different condiments to mix and match with to your heart’s content. There’s hotpot favourites like shacha sauce (a salty/mildly spicy sauce made from soybean oil, garlic, chilli and dried seafood), peanut sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and even chopped garlic to add some extra flavour.
All the food and sauces are up the back of the restaurant, so try not to sit too close to the front because it will be a relatively long walk to get refills of the food everytime. The open display at the back of the restaurant has quite a spread of hotpot goodies – all sorts of fresh meats and vegies, fish balls, dumplings, noodles, fried dough balls…you name it, they’ve probably got it. Unfortunately there’s no labels on the display trays, so I steered clear of the more questionable looking mystery goods (pig’s blood anyone?) and went with what I could recognise.
The individual mini hotpots are brought out to us with our chosen soups already in the pot and the soup has some corn, tomato, shallots and goji berries floating around in it which gives it some fresh colour. For the uninitiated, hotpot involves waiting for the soup to boil and then throwing in your chosen meats/vegies/dumplings and waiting for it to boil again. There’s a pretty strong flame which burns away underneath each mini hotpot and it boils quite quickly, probably because unlike a big communal hotpot there’s less to heat up. I think this individual hotpot system has its merits because you can choose exactly what you want to go in your hotpot and don’t have to fight with people for the cooked goodies, with an added bonus being that the soup at the end of the cooking is still relatively healthy to drink, unlike the oily mess that the soup usually becomes in a communal hotpot. The waitresses also come around occasionally with freshly cooked side dishes like pan fried dumplings and shallot pancake to nibble on while you wait for your hotpots to boil, which is a nice touch.
After a couple of hours, I was absolutely stuffed from the buffet and there doesn’t appear to be any time limit on Red Lantern’s buffet so you can gorge away on your own personal hotpot until you reach your limit! But beware that like a lot of other buffet restaurants these days, they do charge an excess fee of $10 if you leave too much uneaten food at your table. There’s also a $1.50 surcharge on Fridays/Saturdays/Sundays so with all the extra charges, this buffet can add up to be over $35 a head quite quickly at dinnertime despite its attractive starting price of $26.99.
Red Lantern Hot Pot & BBQ Restaurant
223 Rowe Street
Eastwood NSW 2122
Phone: (02) 9874 4777