ChongQing Liuyishou Hot Pot
ChongQing Liuyishou Hot Pot is more than a long and difficult to pronounce name; it's also one of the most popular hot pot chain restaurants from China. This location is one of only three stores in Canada (and the only one in the GTA), though the chain has over 600 locations in China.
AYCE hot pot conventions apply here, and prices start from $25.95 per person (weekends cost an extra $2), excluding broths. My recommendation is to go for the three-flavour soup base (+$12.95). Great for sharing and easier on your wallet.
The restaurant is spacious and comfortable. Hot pot dining can often get cramped, but I find that there's ample room to move here.
In my three-way pot I opt for Liu's Royal Traditional Spicy Soup (medium), Pork Bone Broth, and the Tomato Soup Base. The Tomato Soup Base is, as expected, a bit sweet, while the Pork Bone Broth starts out a bit underwhelming but gets more flavourful as the cooking process continues.
The star of the show is the tear-inducing spiciness of the "spicy broth." It is extremely fiery, an accurate reflection of Chongqing cuisine. For a real challenge, dunk a few cabbage leaves into this broth and eat them immediately afterwards.
Don't forget to go to the mix-and-match sauce station for your dipping sauces. Lack of English writing aside, the variety here is impressive.
The ingredients here are decent quality and plentiful. Don't miss out on the sliced beef and New Zealand lamb slices.
ChongQing Liuyishou has some standout items that I've never seen in other hot pot restaurants. The pork neck is my favourite of the lot. Marrying meatiness and fattiness, the marbled meat nicely absorbs the flavours of the broth and practically melts in my mouth.
I also recommend trying the homemade shrimp balls and cuttlefish balls. These come in paste-form within a hollowed-out cylinder that you scoop out yourself. The intensity outmatches that pre-made stuff you get in the Chinese supermarkets. The best part is you get to decide how big you want your balls to be.
The fried steamed bun (mantou) here is also sinfully delicious. Instead of frying the bun as a whole, this restaurant pre-slices the bread before deep-frying it, resulting in a much more intense fried flavour. Paired with a drizzle of condensed milk, it's simply fantastic.
Another unique aspect of the restaurant is its wide range of Chinese desserts that you can order at the end of your (spicy) meal. The Glutinous Rice Balls in Mango Juice (+$2.95) and the Mango Pomelo and Sago Sweet Soup (+$1.95) are both great for those who enjoy intense mango flavours
The Durian & Thai Black Glutinous Rice (+$3.95) is not quite my cup of tea. I would've preferred the durian to be less frozen, but I understand that it holds its shape better when presented this way.
My personal favourite is the Grass Jelly in Vanilla Sauce with Green Tea Ice Cream (+$2.95). The overly-descriptive name says it all, really. It's a bit subtle yet still smoothly sweet and satisfying. It's the perfect end to a scorching meal, and left me with a happy smile on my lips as I waltzed away into the evening.