Top Gun Hot Pot: Come hungry and leave stuffed to the gills
Unit 2228 Crystal Mall, 4500 Kingsway, Burnaby
My mother is always complaining about how much she hates cooking and cleaning but somehow she loves hot pot when dining out. I suppose the cleaning aspect is eliminated. For Mother’s Day dinner we visited Top Gun Hot Pot in Crystal Mall, a very popular all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant. Yes, the one with the famous horrendously designed, circular parkade. Asian people love round objects, I am not kidding. If you ever notice Asian desserts, jewelry, and even cartoon characters, the round shape is prominent. Round shapes in Asian culture symbolize unity and luck. And goodness, does one ever need luck to drive around the round Crystal Mall parkade and not get hit by a bad driver. Don’t even get me started on Asian people and driving (I would know, I’m not a very good driver either!).
Top Gun can be accessed from inside Crystal Mall on the second floor. As soon as we sat down, a cart of sauces were pushed to our table by the server. As part of the all-you-can-eat menu, each of us got to choose one bowl of sauce, this sauce could be just one ingredient or concocted from a combo of as many ingredients desired and available. I just went with soy sauce and parsley, but I did find it quite limiting that we each only got one bowl. Would it be too much to just provide a variety of single sauces for each table?
There are three main tools for hot pot: the wired scoop with a long handle, used as a cooking tool, the wooden disposable chopsticks also used for cooking and the black ivory chopsticks for eating. You will notice though, mid-way through the meal, most people forget which chopsticks are for eating and which for cooking. I for one, definitely cooked and ate with the same pair of wooden chopsticks, and live to tell about it!
Now, the price per person for all-you-can-eat is $23.95, what is not included in this price though is the price of the soup base that your food is cooked in. Each soup base is $7.50, of course you can opt for the soup combo, which is $8.50. We got the combo and our pot came to us with a divider in the middle and a different soup was boiling on each side of the pot, chicken broth on one side and parsley and preserved egg in the other. Throughout the meal, as the broths boil away and get absorbed into the food, servers come around and add more water to the pot, and both broths really just end up tasting the same.
The fun part about hot pot is the immense variety of food on the menu and Top Gun has a great selection from vegetables to meat and seafood. There are even some cooked items like sticky rice.
We went all out and ordered practically everything on the menu. First came our big platter of seafood with big, fat, plumb oysters and juicy mussels on the half shell. I could have slurped each one of these oysters whole and raw but I got the feeling that they were previously frozen so eating them raw probably would not have been pleasant.
Next came our plate of giant prawns with their beady little eyes and long antennas still attached.
Hot Pot is the most fun when the broth is at a boiling point and everyone dips their wire scoops into the broth to cook. Of course as we began to chat, and dumped more and more food into the pot, it was easy to forget which items we had dunked in first. Many of our oysters and mussels were lost at sea. So as a tip, it probably is a good idea to keep your food items contained in the little wire scoops while cooking if you have any intention of eating them. And the seafood and thin slices of lamb and beef cooked very quickly, 3 minutes tops.
The thin slices of lamb and beef were surprisingly tasty and very tender when cooked. I am not the biggest fan of boiled food, which essentially is what hot pot is, but I was definitely caught off guard by the flavours of the lamb and beef.
Another surprise was the springy and light tasty shrimp balls. I think I was also attracted to them because they reminded me of the filling in my favourite dim sum: steamed shrimp dumplings. These little balls were also so pretty in the pot in their pale pink, and you know they are done when they float to the top of the pot.
A major sucker for dim sum, I couldn’t help but order a plate of wontons. They were only average when cooked, the filling was mostly fatty meat. Another one of my indulges is cow tongue so I was pretty excited to see it on the menu. The cow tongue cooked up pretty nicely, it was flavourful, chewy and moist.
The oysters were the hardest to cook, they stayed the same colour, so we really had to test the firmness of the meat to ensure that they were cooked through. They were tasty nonetheless (I think a few of mine were half raw).
The prawns also turned out very tender, the shells acted as great moisture insulators, and the prawn meat was moist and succulent as a result.
I am already not a fan of vegetables, least of all boiled vegetables but since both my parents were at this dinner, they insisted on several orders of vegetables. There were traditional Chinese vegetables on the menu such as Tong Ho, Siu Choy and baby Bok Choy as well as some western vegetables like Romaine lettuce, bean sprouts and spinach.
Now here is the problem with the vegetables at Top Gun. They really don’t do a good job of washing them at all. Served to us in a huge sieve, there were still sand and soil particles visible on the vegetable leaves, this made for a few very unpleasant gritty bites of boiled leaves. And I don’t know what kind of vegetable expert can tell the difference between Tong Ho and Siu Choy just by glance but when it’s all mixed in together in one sieve, it really does defeat the purpose of ordering a variety of vegetables.
I was quite surprised to find that bubble tea was not on the menu. Thankfully we were inside Crystal Mall so we only had to walk a short distance to the food court for our bubble tea fix.
All in all, I had a lot of fun at hot pot. Despite all the food being boiled, I was extremely full at the end. It was more of a social experience than one of gourmet food though. And of course in my perfect outing, I would want both great company and incredible food.