Walking down Beauchamp Place in Knightsbridge, which I haven’t done for a long time, I am struck by the number of shops selling wedding gowns or offering dermal fillers. I wonder which comes first…
Heading for the junction with Pont Street, I realise that the daffily named Hot May Pot Pot — who could well be in the market for either a meringue dress or a plumper lip — is where Italian trattoria Verbanella used to be. Times move on, although San Lorenzo at number 22 still chunters away, and insalata caprese and linguine alle vongole have been replaced in customers’ predilections by items more exotic and/or Asian.
Hot May is the venture of a couple from Harbin, in China’s northernmost province. I know this on the say-so of the team leader of unusually amiable, enthusiastic and capable waiting staff, who has taken the odd decision to model his hairstyle on that of Kim Jong-un. He tells me that this is their first venture in the UK. Clearly the investment is huge. Two floors of sumptuously appointed dining areas with comfortable buttoned leather banquettes and booths, beautiful Chinoiserie floral wallpaper, possibly hand-painted, and a stainless steel hotpot for each customer is where some of the money has gone.
“What you see is what you eat” is the strapline on the long menu, and to a significant extent the success of the meal depends on the care taken in purchasing; it seems immaculate. Broths, too — a choice of chicken, vegetable or oxtail — have been composed fastidiously and left to simmer for six hours before serving.
In the first course, prices veer from that ominous “on request” for items such as sashimi of lobster and Pacific geoduck (the world’s largest clam) to a much more user-friendly £6.90 for various salads, so that is where we safely graze. Hot May cabbage is a towering perky pile of shredded white cabbage, crunchy and numbing in equal parts. Red oil lotus root shares those virtues with the added values of subtly fibrous texture and the various health benefits that could be claimed, stress reduction for example. Momma’s potato salad resembles the assembly called salad Olivier much liked by Russians. The city of Harbin grew in the late 19th century with the influx of Russian engineers constructing the eastern leg of the Trans-Siberian railway. A different kind of Russian is presumably part of the target audience here, but it is relevant to reveal that Hot May’s head chef is from the Czech Republic. It’s his mum’s recipe — and jolly good too.
From Signature Dishes we try the misleadingly named Homemade Meatball — made entirely from seafood. Spheres of minced crab, squid and prawn are prettily presented, each on a slice of cucumber and topped with a different herb, for lowering into the bubbling stocks. You will be helped with this. One of the dipping sauces at £3.50 to accompany is a must.
Pancakes filled with minced wagyu beef, cabbage and red onions are delicious, with a downy texture that provides interesting contrast or completion to plainly poached items like the razor-thin slices of best end of lamb or the A4 beef at £28 — as opposed to the rib-eye halal at £128. Seafood per piece for lobbing and bobbing in the broths start at £4 for tiger prawn.
Whatever your taste buds or budget decides, do not omit to order the Garden Set where vitamins can be seen to be prancing among the leaves, herbs and fungi, all of which will genuflect in the pots, plus the three freshly made rainbow noodles based on spinach, carrot and beetroot that wind up proceedings beautifully.
Fancy cocktails and mocktails are obviously considered an important part of the mix at Hot May but the wine prices at entry level are surprisingly reasonable. Provence Rosé Les Quatre Tours 2018 at £30 is a reliable adjunct.
I spend a lot of time chatting with people in the restaurant biz and no one has heard of Hot May Pot Pot (my friend David Queensberry, who was introduced to the restaurant by a Chinese pal, tipped me off). I am happy to be telling you about it.
Fay's Favourites: Dipping and dunking
Bread into cheese, beef into stock or Chinoise with an egg at the oldest Swiss restaurant in London.
161 Wardour Street, W1. stmoritz-restaurant.co.uk
Chef Zhang, who launched Bar Shu, creates a volcanic Szechuan hotpot.
39 Bulwer Street, W12. tianfulondon.com
Hiya-atsu, cold udon noodles to plunge into hot broth, is one very good way forward here.
50 Frith Street, W1. koya.co.uk