This 160-seater has a multimillion dollar fit-out, strobe lights and an iPad ordering system. There are more than 100 ingredients on offer to cook in your choice of eight different soups (including David’s signature Sichuan beef-fat broth).
Before the sun goes down, Chef David on Elizabeth Street in the city is already an impressive place. Natural light spills through the floor-to-ceiling windows and shines off patent-leather seats, stainless-steel honeycombed tiles, polished concrete walls and brass finishes.
But after sunset, new life is breathed into the mammoth 160-seater space – neon signs glow, strobe lights swirl in patterns across every surface, chill jazz music is replaced by pop hits, and TV screens light up with music videos.
It’s a far cry from the classic red-and-gold colour scheme, dragon murals and hanging paper lanterns of sibling restaurant David’s Hotpot, just a few blocks south. But that’s how owner Liam Zhou wanted it.
“We went for this futuristic, industrial-loft style to cater to new audiences,” Zhou tells Broadsheet. “We wanted this late-night dining experience to match the young-blood lifestyle of today.”
Zhou and his team opened David’s Hotpot in 2017, specialising in traditional, tongue-numbing hotpot with spicy beef tallow-based broth. Two other eateries followed – David’s Spicy Pot on Russell and Elizabeth Streets – serving quick and easy malatang-style bowls.
As at David’s Hotpot, Sichuan-style spicy broth with beef tallow reigns, but eight other soup flavours draw inspiration from across Asia. Choose from Thai-inflected tom yum, a Malaysian seafood soup, a spicy Chengdu-style broth and an even spicier Chongqing-style number. There are also broth bases made from pork bone, mushroom, ox tail and pickled cabbage. You have the option to split your cooking pot into two or three sections to try more bases.
“In south-western China, you don’t really mind how big or small or crowded a restaurant is; what you care about is the food. Look for a place that people already have confidence in, with its special recipes and long histories,” he says. “The heavy, full-bodied, spicy and rich flavour of the hotpot is what’s really going to have a long history after everything else, not the fit-out or concept.”
Orders are made through an iPad, but staff can walk you through everything too. There are more than 100 ingredients you can cook in your hotpot, from thinly sliced Wagyu, pork meatballs and marinated lamb, to scallops in the half-shell, soft tofu cubes and lotus root.
Zhou recommends selecting the spicier broths for red meat, while milder broths such as tom yum work better for seafood and vegetables. “Fresh seafood has a certain sweetness that’s subtle, so you want to savour that. You don’t want the spiciness to overpower the fresh flavour,” he says.
À la carte options take a street-food route. Try deep-fried pork cutlets dusted with chicken salt, sticky sweet rice cakes, classic egg fried rice or spicy Sichuan-spiced French fries. You can also get Sichuan skewers with Wagyu beef, pork belly and a few offal options including spicy grilled pig’s brain.
The drinks list here is extensive, covering spirits, wines, tap beers and bubble tea. There are 10 mocktails and 15 cocktails designed by Orlando Marzo (awarded world’s best bartender in 2018). Zhao’s favourite is the Amber Lips, a light and fruity drink with Bacardi, elderflower liqueur and passionfruit. There’s also a Lychee Negroni with house-infused lychee gin, a chocolate-espresso martini, and a sour made with Chinese baijiu (a spirit that dates back to 1573).