There are rows of gleaming sushi topped with salmon and tamago, tightly shut baby clams chilled on miniature plates beside fresh fillets of parrot fish and talakitok, fat white shrimps, and translucent slices of squid.
Farther down are assorted dumplings (shark’s fin, squid, chicken) as well as lobster balls and scallop balls. In the meat section lamb and beef striploin are ready to be sliced. The curls of noodles are of unusual pedigree—made with squid ink, polonchay, carrots, chili and even mushrooms.
In the chiller section, baskets of green leafy vegetables are ready to be plucked as if in a high-end supermarket. There are also sausages, fish cake triangles and previously tenderized beef tendons and tripes, as well as chicken gizzard and liver.
Elsewhere there are chafing dishes of steaming hot crispy fried squid, ginger onion chicken, spicy beef, and efu noodles; while at the tempura station, servers dispense freshly cooked shrimp tempura.
On display in the condiment section are every possible sauce and seasoning, from hoisin and oyster sauces to sesame oil, chili sauce, saté sauce and black vinegar. Garlic, both minced and fried, coriander leaves, calamansi and chopped spring onions are also available by the cupfuls.
These are all part of the lavish buffet at Four Seasons Hotpot City in Mall of Asia; the rows and rows of food, can be quite overwhelming, even for the heftiest appetite. Moreover, since this is a hot pot restaurant, one is expected to cook at least some of the food on one’s table.
Not that that would be a problem. Each table is equipped with a burner on which sits a pot for cooking. As soon as you’re seated, servers come to ladle in your choice of broth: chicken, fish, pork, vegetable or sinigang with optional mix-in of Chinese herbs, tomato paste, sukiyaki and saté.
Into the steaming broth you can add your choice of seasonings before carefully plunging in your haul of seafood, dumplings, meat and vegetables. You then let them simmer before fishing them out and enhancing them with a dip of your own making.
At P588 for weekday lunch and P788 for weekend lunch and dinner, it seems quite a bargain. Still, there’s the matter of making the most of it.
We asked Raquel Bartolome, marketing manager for Four Seasons Hotpot City and the Vikings Group, for tips. She also gave her favorite combination of sauces for concocting a flavorful dip.
Make sure to reserve a table since the restaurant is always full. Bartolome says the best way to book is through Facebook page (Four Seasons Hotpot City: SM Mall of Asia)
Arrive early. The restaurant opens for lunch at 11 a.m. and for dinner at 5:30 p.m. This will allow you to maximize your time and also give you first crack at the buffet before large crowds come in (and there are large crowds, especially on weekends).
Before filling your plate, make a brief survey of what’s available. That way you know if there are some items you want more of, and others you’d like to avoid.
Do not overcook the food. Most of the ingredients need minimal cooking time. The raw meats, for instance, are very thinly sliced so they cook within seconds, while the other parts (like the beef tendon and tripes) have been previously tenderized so they only need to be heated. The clams are cooked once their shells open. The shrimps are cooked when they turn pinkish orange; the fish fillets need only a minute or two.
While the broths are flavorful, having been simmered for hours, you may want to enhance them further with your choice of condiments such as garlic, hot sauce, spring onions and soy sauce.
You can ask the server to change the broth if you want to try more than one kind.
Take advantage of discounts. Until Sept. 30, for instance, Citi credit card offers 25-percent off on regular weekday lunch buffet for those dining in groups of four adults or more and paying with their Citi credit card. There are also promos for birthday celebrants and an ongoing raffle draw called Dine and Fly, with trips abroad as prizes (check with the restaurant for details).
Be sure to leave room for dessert, which includes two kinds of chocolate fountain, assorted cakes and cheesecakes, halo-halo, ice cream and native delicacies.
Here’s Bartolome’s recipe for a rich dip which you can make at Four Seasons Hot Pot:
Hot Pot Dipping Sauce
2-3 tbsp saté sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tbsp peanut butter
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp black vinegar
1 tsp fresh minced garlic
1 tsp fried garlic
Shabu-shabu sauce (to taste)
Soy sauce (to taste)
Wansuy (coriander) leaves (to taste)
Chili peppers (to taste)
Mix them all together and use as a dip for the cooked food.
Four Seasons Hotpot City is at Bldg. E, SM by the Bay, Mall of Asia Complex. Tel. nos. 8317777, 8357777, 0998-9881888, 0917-539-1888.
For more tips, recipes and stories, visit author’s blog: www.normachikiamco.com. Follow @NormaChikiamco on Twitter.