After a few hours of walk in the Forbidden City, we were so tired and hungry. Ben brought me to an area called Huixin for lunch. He wanted to bring me to this famous chain restaurant called Hai Di Lao which is well known for its excellent service. They have many branches around the city.
We got there quite late at almost 3PM. Even then the large restaurant is quite full. During meal times, this place is always packed and you have to wait for a table. You know, if you wait, they have things to keep you occupied. They will serve you drinks or give you oranges. There are also some computer which you can use to browse the internet. Why, you can even have your nails manicured – for free!
Hai Di Loa is a hot pot restaurant. There are many hot pot restaurants in Beijing. Some of the other more famous ones is Little Sheep and the historical Dong Lai Shun Muslim restaurant. But Hai Di Lao is the one which is most well known for its service.
As usual we like to have 2 types of soup, plain and spicy. The first thing the server did after putting in the soup base is she asked us to taste the soup first. We tried the milky one which is the not spicy one. It was very nice, a little herb flavour.
As you can see their hot pot is square. They asked us how we want to position it. It was then I realize that they can position it to share both flavours or position it in such a way that one flavour faces another. Yeah, not that a round hot pot does that. 🙂
The server then brought a big packet of reddish chili sauce to be added to the clear soup section. Instantly, the spicy soup became red hot in colour. We were told that they do this so that you can be sure they do not recycle the soup base or the chilli sauce and that they are freshly made.
While we were studying the menu, the server also brought a fruit platter of oranges and dates and it’s free. How sweet.
We can go get more ourselves if we want. About the dates, Ben said he did not realize that those were fresh dates. He had only known dates as ones that are dried.
The server also served some prawn chips for us to snack on too while waiting.
Ben ordered a boiled peanuts in vinegar sauce as appetizer. The peanuts were soft and vinegarish. Actually, we dont quite like this type of peanuts. Ben ordered this because he had been to many Sichuanese meals and he likes to order this.
We ordered a number of items for the hotpot. It’s not all you can eat type. We were wondering how much to order and the server told us that 8 items will be good for two. The server also advised us to order half order for each item so that we can try more items. We like the sincerity of the service here. They don’t try to get us order more than enough.
There is a condiment station where we help ourselves with the condiments. There must be something like 20-30 types of condiments and sauces there.
The above was Ben’s choice of garlic, chili, crunchy peanuts and soy sauce. For me, I like sesame sauce.
We always start with the meat when eating hotpot because the meat will flavour the soup.
We had some lamb, some beef and some pork for the meat. We also had some meatballs and fish paste. The server will come along to help us to place the items, one at a time into the broth whenever they see us trying to it ourselves. That is good service.
They also come over often to scoop up the foamy bits so that the soup remains clear.
For the fish paste, the server places it into a bag, cut the end and squeezes the fish paste out from the hole and uses a butter knife to cut the fish paste into the broth.
We always end the hotpot meal with vegetables, mushrooms and tofu products. I love the presentation of the vege.
We learned that vegetables are good to be eaten with the non-spicy broth. If you cook your vegetables in the spicy broth, it will absorb a lot of hot chili oil and makes the vegetables very spicy.
At the end of the meal, they served us some sun flower seeds to snack on. Unlike the restaurants here, they will try to get you leave so that they can turn the table as soon as possible. Not here.
Oh! We also saw a chef doing a little pulling noodle dance in front of the customers. It’s for customers who order hand pulled noodle. We should have order some so that we can get a video of that.
They served us hot towels at the beginning and at the end of the meal. Not only that, they also gave us lenses cleaning towels since both of us are wearing glasses.
Ben asked the waitress if there is a Hai Di Lao near our apartment. You know what she did? She went away and came back with a piece of paper with the address, telephone number … and even the bus and subway to take!! And she wrote it up with such nice handwriting.
How considerate. I really enjoyed the food and service here.
The meal was RMB209 (about CAD35.00). Although it was pricey for Beijing standards, it is still much cheaper than what we would spend in Vancouver.
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Now that is top notch service and presentation for hot pot dining, something I don’t think we will see in Vancouver any time soon, even if we pay at a premium.
Hi Eric: For one thing, the labour costs in China is very low. So it is very common to see restaurants having a lot of waitresses with many of them just standing around waiting to be summoned. Anyway, someone I worked with in Beijing told me that Haidilao’s operations is studied in some MBA programs in China. Goes to show how well known and respected that company’s service is. Ben