Hot Pot cooking was favoured by ancient emperors and group diners alike, but only royalty had their own hot pots – until now. Mixing the fun of fondue, the visuals and freshness of sushi, and the intense flavours and prestige quality of a Michelin-star establishment, Hot May diners can swish, cook and eat great-tasting, high-quality food and zoom out within an hour. In January, there’s a clever Detox Menu giving a lot of satisfaction with very few calories. Most hot pot restaurants focus on one big bubbling caldron at each table from which everyone cooks their own food. Hot May food is individual, wholesome, high quality and glam.
Opened in September 2019 by owners Joseph and YuQian Nie, this is Northern Chinese cuisine from Harbin, further north than North Korea and a long way from Sichuan but with a modern Hong Kong flourish.
Set in an elegant three-story Knightsbridge townhouse, the à la carte menu is served on the ground (40 covers, with an open brickwork area at the back) and first (22 covers) floors, with a hot pot masterclass space on the second. This is a cheery environment built with functional elegance: no expense spared. Dining areas are airy, bright and soothing. Soft leather booths and comfy Scandinavian chairs are surrounded by hand-painted bird-festooned wallpaper, each table set with German interlocking crockery which eliminates drips from the zingy dipping sauce, and a shining chrome hot pot made in Switzerland.
The entire restaurant feels spacious yet cosy, new yet familiar, and impressive without being too try-hard. You wouldn’t know this was the former site of the traditional Italian Verbanella restaurant.
Attracting the shopping/working crowd between Harrods and the Victoria and Albert at noon or the after-work and after-shopping, pre-theatre crowd in the evening, Hot May’s clientele is a mix of locals, out of town visitors and foodie cognoscenti. Tucked near Pont Street on Beauchamp Place, it’s not overrun with the loud, misplaced or over-watered. This is a place to have a third date, celebrate a romance or meet people you actually like. Here you can converse, enjoy, spend time, and play with your food. It helps to be good with chopsticks.
The star of the show is the hot pot and all that sail in her. Hot May’s dishes come balanced for the pickiest eater (you can spice them up) and intense natural flavours are what it’s all about. Even the January Detox Menu (£120 for two people, 525 calories each serving) is a flavour extravaganza.
Unlike a spa meal, this is enough to satisfy the hungriest dieter. Beginning with freshly squeezed grapefruit, orange or apple juice there then are two salads; one celery, carrot and peanut in a light, savoury dressing, and soybean with coriander, also dressed in a complimentary, light fashion. These are chewy, crunchy snacks that give your jaws something to do – seriously needed when one is in diet mode.
Shelves of fancy fish slices nestle between heaps of shaved radish. Pert prawn orbs and squid balls perch on cucumber discs. Then come the many mushrooms, tofu triangles and tofu ‘paper’, a textured ribbon of tofu that’s chewy and amusing to eat. A bowl of cabbage, spinach and lettuce is far from humble when dropped into the savoury broth, bringing out their natural sweetness. All broths are clear and available either oxtail, chicken or 17 vegetable (£2 addition à la carte).
Having individual hot pots means vegans can dine with meat-eaters. It’s all very civilised. While the Detox Menu is sugar-free, there is a hint in the White Fungus dessert. To those unaccustomed to fungi treats, this clear, jelly-like pudding studded with a date and goji berries is served hot or cold. It’s light, wiggly, slippery – a delight in the mouth. Who knew that white fungus is also known for its medicinal properties? Great. Bring me more.
Besides the Detox menu, choices of what to pop into the hot liquid vary hugely. The experience of cooking your own food (with help from attentive but not too attentive staff) is like traditional Japanese shabu-shabu, Benihana and Korean BBQ/hot pot. You cook your own portions individually and each time you take a piece out, you put another in. “A hot pot should never be empty,” Joseph, one of the co-owners, tells us. As one who bolts my food, the hot pot keeps you busy and content: no one will be looking at their phone; there’s too much to see and do and eat. You can talk, play and relax.
If you like meat, this is the place for Wagyu beef (from £58) halal from Australia. The Hot May signature dish is Wagyu beef in pancakes (£14), market-priced lobster, geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck, the world’s biggest clam) and an incredibly fresh seafood platter for two at £38. Handmade rainbow noodles (£8) also intrigue. The tasting menu (£55) is an ideal introduction to the whole hot pot thing. Everything is beautifully presented, like edible jewels.
The bar, situated immediately to one’s left past the maitre d’s post, is small but welcoming. Only three seats encourage standing or moving onto tables. Spotless glassware shares overhead space with copper martinis. There’s a small but evocative cocktail menu with the deftly named Chairman’s Love; a non-alcoholic mango, lychee and blue curaçao (£7.50), and the Green Mark Vodka-based pomegranate and passion fruity Funky Dragon (£13.59). Along with shooters, champagne cocktails and other beverages, Hot May’s bar is a tiny oasis of cocktail/mocktail ingenuity.
In a nutshell
A crafty combo of chic individuality and communal cooking, Hot May is the place to go when you need a pick-me-up, a place to talk, celebrate or to really focus. Staff friendliness and knowledge were exemplary (Ricky walked us through the bubbling broth and he’s the kind of guy you want to hang with). The food presentation is as stunning as sushi and as carefully prepared as the intense flavours of Heston or Gareth Ward of Ynyshir. If you want to go chic Chinese with the cognoscenti without ruining your waistline, Hot May’s the spot.