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Behold, the solution to dealing with the wintery cold hand we have been dealt: Oriental Teahouse’s ‘Fire in a Bowl’ experience. While the bowl itself isn’t actually lit on fire, nor will it set you alight, the heat in this spice-laden bowl will have you peeling off the winter knitted layers in no time. I was recently invited to attend a lunch to sample the dish, and I would like to thank Oriental Teahouse and Harvey Publicity for the invitation.
The ‘Fire in a Bowl’-dubbed Szechuan hot pot is a recent addition to the yumcha-based menu at the Melbourne Central Oriental Teahouse restaurant. *Note. the Szechuan hot pot is only available at the Melbourne Central location.
David Zhou’s Oriental Teahouse restaurant chain is not only renown for their yumcha (particularly because it’s the ONLY restaurant that continues to serve yumcha after the sun goes down) but also for their extensive selection of teas. And if anyone should know about tea, it’s the man behind the making of the restaurant and its menu. The very friendly and charismatic David Zhou joined us for lunch on the day, and I was given a brief lesson on teas whilst tossing up between a few different ones. Wow, free lunch AND a tea lesson. Going by his recommendation, I ended up with a very fragrant white tea.
Onto the most important aspect of this post: the Fire in the Bowl. The dish is available in three different levels. Well four, if you decide to leave out the spice altogether. All bowls are made up of pork and chive dumplings, sweet potato noodles, tofu skin, black fungus, cabbage, pieces of fish and chicken, and varying amounts of hua jiao Szechuan chilli peppers.
Exhibit A: Level 0.
No signs of red = no spice.
Exhibit B: Level 1.
Exhibit C: Level 2.
Possessing some tolerance for spice and feeling somewhat daring, I decided to go with the midrange amount of spice. My eyes almost popped out when I saw the amount of redness in my bowl!
It’s a shame that no one ordered the level 3 dish; I would have been interested in seeing both what the dish looked like and the consumer’s reaction to the spice…
It’s hard to avoid slurping when it comes to eating noodles, but I learnt the hard way that the move is a no-no with this dish. The chilli oil from the peppers swept through the soup, and slurping will lead to spice going up the wrong pipe… The szechuan spice was subtly numbing at first, resulting in a pleasant tingle, but continued to grow as more of the dish was consumed. Spice factor, tick. The best part of the dish easily came in the form of the pork and chive dumplings. The skin was perfectly gelatinous and yet delicate, and the sweet pork filling was well-flavoured from the ginger and chive additions. The lusciously tender pieces of fish were also quite enjoyable, and provided a welcome distraction from the fiery, spicy presence.
Some pointers I picked up in dealing with the spice:
1. Ask for the chilli peppers on the side, and then add the amount you wish to add.
2. If the chilli is already in your bowl, there’s no shame in conceding defeat and fishing out the chilli. I may or may not have resorted to this strategy…
3. Have a nice cold and refreshing drink on standby to douse out the fiery hotness. This raspberry cordial-like ice-cold tea was a godsend…
Whether you’re interested in playing ‘spicy chicken’, a fan of spice, or just after a tasty, CHEAP (a mere $12.50 for such a large serving) and hot bowl of soupy noodles to combat the cold, there’s something in every ‘Fire in the Bowl’ for everyone.
Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this post are based entirely on my experience and observations made during the time of my visit.
GD 068/69, Melbourne Central Shopping Centre
(Closest to the corner Elizabeth St, La Trobe St entrance)
Melbourne, Victoria, 3000.
(03) 9066 0208