Hongkongers love to hotpot. We love it so much that we’ll eat it all year round – in any weather, for lunch, dinner or supper. Although there have been many different influences on how we flavour our hotpots – such as different kinds of broth and new ingredients every once in a while – there hasn’t been much to shake things up in the hotpot game over the years. Until now, that is.
First opening its doors in Taipei in 2012, Quan Alley gained popularity with its impeccable presentation and top-notch ingredients. Riding the wave of food on Instagram in the last several years, the refined hotpot restaurant soon became one of the most popular restaurants in town.
Ocean Terminal in Harbour City is Quan Alley’s first offshore branch, and for a restaurant in which customers have confused the vegetable bouquet with the decorations, we’re curious to find out how the aesthetics of the plating transition to the palate.
We eagerly wait for our signature yin yan hotpot to heat up, which has a thick pork bone broth especially made for the Hong Kong market and Quan Alley’s signature mala (numbing spice) broth, which is made with a paste that’s aged for seven days before it’s used. For the uninitiated, the soup base is half the battle when it comes to hotpot, as it flavours all the ingredients that are cooked. The pork broth is thick and silky while the mala flavour leans towards the numbing rather than the spice – and for those who can handle a bit more of a kick, the mala soup is too lightweight.
First to arrive is the lollipop, for which fried tofu skin is tightly rolled with sesame seeds and wrapped with spinach leaves. The description doesn’t sound like much, but the presentation can go head to head with any Japanese ikebana flower art. The ratio of sesame peanut mix to tofu skin is one to one and mixed with soup broth; it’s reminiscent of the peanut sesame snacks you can buy at a night market in Taipei.
Next up is the almond daisies, which is a discontinued dish that’s been revived just for the opening of the Hong Kong restaurant. The reason it’s not on the menu in Taipei anymore is because each almond flake is assembled painstakingly by hand on top of shrimp and lobster paste to resemble a daisy, and it takes five minutes for a chef to make a single one. The multiple layers of almond flakes trap the broth well and add more flavour to your shrimp or lobster ball – but expect to feel guilty when you’re devouring the chef’s efforts in a matter of seconds, as we did.
Our favourite of the evening was the nougat, which on the surface resembles black sesame nougat commonly sold in Taiwan. The rectangular blocks are actually fish paste coloured with squid ink, and soft pork bone is chopped to replace the nuts used in the nougat. We enjoyed the texture and briny aromas of the squid ink.
The presentation is no doubt gorgeous at Quan Alley and should no doubt win every award there is for plating. The flavour profiles of the food are very Taiwanese – with a mix of salt and sweet ingredients and lots of nuts. All in all, we loved the hospitality of the staff and the beauty of what was on the plates. Our love of Formosan cuisine extended to the hotpot items and created quite an unforgettable evening.