We were looking for legitimate spicy Sichuan hot pot, ideally with lots of Sichuan peppercorns.
"I don't want shabu" said Bryan, referring to the Japanese version of hot pot which usually involves lighter, cleaner broths, a simpler assortment of vegetables, and a stronger focus on fine cuts of meat. We wanted the real Chinese deal, complete with spicy broth, fish balls, Chinese vegetables, and bold, flavorful dipping sauces.
After some quick searching, we decided upon Golden Valley, an upscale (formerly) Michelin-starred Cantonese/Guangdong restaurant located in the Emperor Hotel between Wan Chai and Happy Valley. We chose it because it frequently showed up on various sites' top lists for hot pot, and more importantly, was known for its flavorful, Sichuan broth - exactly what we were looking for.
Golden Valley screams old school, opulent Chinese decor. The tablecloths are white, and chair are covered in gold (colored covers). Service is very professional, and it seemed like the whole place was packed with locals. I heard tons of Cantonese and didn't spot a single foreigner. The restaurant was awarded one Michelin star from 2014 to 2017 but just lost it in this latest 2018 edition. Let's see if they are able to regain in in 2019.
Though hot pot is one of their specialties, they also offer many general Cantonese dishes. You don't have to choose hot pot. A quick glance around, however, confirmed that most people came for the hot pot.
You choose your broth and toppings via an a la carte menu that you fill out. As far as I could tell, there wasn't really an option for a set menu, so the a la carte prices can add up (and they sure did for us . . . more on that later). Since it was only the two of us, we had to order quite a few items in order to enjoy any sort of variety in our meal. Because each item averages between $60- $80 HKD (around $10 USD), it adds up quite quickly.
You can choose just a single broth, or for the same price you can get two or three different flavors ($198 HKD for the broth).
"If it's the same price, why not try three?" asked Bryan.
So we did. We chose the Sichuan style spicy broth, the fish stock, and the mushroom consomme.
All were fantastic. The spicy broth was by far the most flavorful broth, with plenty of chili and Sichuan peppercorns. It was less salty then the ones I've had in the US, and didn't seem to have the gobs of MSG that result in this characteristic thirst we usually felt after a meal in Boston. The mushroom consomme came chock full an assortment of very nice mushrooms. After seeing the consomme, I almost regretted ordering extra mushrooms from the a la carte menu. There really seems to be no need if you order the mushroom broth. The fish broth was solid, and together with the mushroom broth, were nice "breaks" when my mouth got too hot from the spicy hot broth.
They have awesome sauce bar where you can go up and make your own special concoction. Apologies but I did not get a photo of the entire bar, but I had so much fun exploring it. They had everything from various chili sauces, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame paste, Satsa (satay / Chinese BBQ sauce), and fermented tofu (my favorite!) to toppings like Sichuan peppercorns (both whole and crushed), raw garlic, scallions, and fresh cilantro (they translate it as parsley).
They do charge you a nominal sauce fee, but it's definitely worth it if you enjoy dipping in various flavored sauces. If not, the broths are very flavorful and totally can stand up on their own (especially the Sichuan one!).
There were several meat choices, including American beef (frozen = $270 HKD) and local Hong Kong beef (fresh = $470). The menu recommended the fresh local beef, ox tongue, and some of their specialties like the crispy fried fish skins as some of their signature dishes.
Base on the recommendation, we ordered the more expensive local Hong Kong beef. The portion was huge (we could not finish it), and sliced more thickly than we would have preferred. My guess is that the beef has never been frozen, which means it's harder to cut into those paper thin slices that we are used to seeing for hot pot.
Honestly speaking, I didn't love the local beef. The flavor was fine, but it was noticeably more expensive and the thicker cut resulted in a chewier texture, which really impacted the enjoyment of the meat. At twice the price, it definitely wasn't worth it.
The menu also offers kurobuta pork, pork collar, and other more exotic meats like "fres frog", "fresh chicken" and quite a few seafood options such as various river fish and shellfish.
We tried to order more exotic items that we had never tried, like this "Yunnan Squash", which looks an awful lot like zucchini or yellow squash in the US.
We ordered "Emperor's Vegetable" on a whim because we had no idea what it was, and it turned out to be the vegetable that we call "tong hao" or "tong ho" at home. Their version was fresh, beautifully cut, and excellent quality overall.
Hot Pot Classics
It's fun to make your own fresh fish ball (or squid filled fish balls in this case) using the fish paste that they bring you.
Drop in boiling water and enjoy!
I enjoyed the thick slabs of iced tofu a lot (tofu frozen to form characteristic fine sponge-like holes that soap up the broth better!), and the lotus root (one of my personal hot pot favorites) was fresh, crunchy, and delicious.
For noodles, you can choose between a variety of types, such as wonton noodle, hand-pulled noodle, and their recommended Green Sichuan Noodle. Bryan couldn't resist the hand-pulled noodle ("la mian"), and it was fantastic, being both toothsome and super thin.
General Conclusions - Golden Valley Restaurant Hot Pot
In all, the quality of the hot pot experience at Golden Valley is very good. The broths are flavorful, the quality of the ingredients are excellent, and the service is good. Aside from being disappointed with the local fresh Hong Kong beef, we enjoyed our meal a lot. We did think that the price was quite high for two people (total cost $1500 HKD; just under $200 USD), though we took home enough leftovers for another couple hot pot meals.
Our conclusion is that we wouldn't go back if it were just the two of us. The restaurant is not set up for individuals to eat there. However, if we ever got together a group of four or more, this is a solid option for an excellent higher-end Chinese style hot pot.
Next time, I'll come with more people and spare myself from having to eat hot pot soup for an entire week!
Golden Valley Restaurant Hot Pot
The Emperor's Hotel
No. 373 Queen's Rd E
Wan Chai, HONG KONG