I don't believe in lining up for food.
But morbid curiosity won out, coz I really wanted to understand why people were willing to queue for hours just to get a table at the not-so-newly-opened Haidilao Hot Pot.
It's been over three months since Malaysia's first Haidilao outlet opened its doors in Sunway Pyramid, but the hype and massive crowds are showing no signs of waning just yet... even on weekdays.
Trying to book a table is almost impossible too; prior to our visit, I made a couple of attempts to make reservations at both the Sunway Pyramid and Pavilion KL outlets, only to be told that (i) queue numbers have been given out for the day and (ii) that reservations can only be made on the first of every month.
After several failed attempts to book a table, we gave up and decided to try our luck at the physical queue. Here's what we learnt about the queue system:
Numbers are given out three times per day - 10am (for lunch), 2pm (dinner), and 6pm (supper). Both HDL outlets are open from 10am to 3am daily, but people apparently start lining up about half an hour beforehand so... you pandai-pandai lah ha.
Things weren't as clear cut for us, however. When our Makan Specialist (above) joined the line for dinner queue numbers at around 1.30pm, she was told that dinner slots have been filled up and that she'd have to come back later to get a number for supper.
Long story short, we're gonna be having hot pot for dinner at midnight, and brace yourselves - it's gonna be a looooong wait:
(i) WAITING: We finally got a number sometime after 9pm and even then, there were 43 parties ahead of us... so we were definitely in for a long wait
The good news is - you don't actually have to wait around for your number to be called. The queue chit has a QR code that you can scan to check your queue status at any given time.
Pro-tip: According to a Haidilao server we spoke to, customers are advised to return to the restaurant when they are in the 10th or so position in the queue.
Like Haidilao restaurants overseas, the restaurant has plenty of free snacks and beverages to keep customers from getting hangry at the waiting area
You can bet we took advantage of the free-flow crackers, popcorn, ice cream cups, and tong sui from the snack bar! Tables in the waiting area are also equipped with refillable beverages to keep you hydrated as well as tissues and wet wipes to keep the mess to a minimum.
And yes, there's a free manicure station as well, but seeing as it's only open from 12pm to 10pm, we've totally missed the boat there.
My inner cheapskate was especially pleased that we could score some free dishes simply by folding a bunch of paper cranes
According to the sign above, a minimum of 20 cranes will get you a portion of la mian (pulled noodles), 30 cranes for half a portion of vegetables, while a whopping 80 cranes will get you any dish valued at RM20 or below.
It's a surprisingly effective way to pass the time; we only managed to lipat 40-ish cranes in the time we spent waiting.
After almost three hours of waiting, our number was finally called at 11.51pm. Midnight hot pot, here we come!
(ii) ORDERING: All orders are made through an iPad, although the super helpful servers are always at hand to answer any questions you might have
It's pretty straightforward - first, decide whether you'd like to have a one, two, or four soup bases for your hot pot. In our case, we went for the full experience a.k.a. four broths so we could try a little bit of everything. :D
Pro-tip: In terms of price, it's actually more worth it to order four soups compared to one or two. For example, you'd be paying a total of RM34 for a two-grid pot of mala (RM20) and tomato soups (RM14), while a four-grid pot of mala (RM11), tomato (RM8), Sichuan pickled (RM8), and Three Delicacy (RM8) soups would cost RM35. Either way, all soups are refillable!
Ingredients, which include a variety of meats and vegetables, are available in one full portion or half a portion, which is pretty handy if you're in a small group but want to try a little bit of everything
As you're tapping away on the iPad, you can also refer to the bottom-right section of the screen to see how much you've racked up on your bill (before taxes). Super useful if you and your family and/or friends are on a budget!
Sauces and beverages are refillable, but do note that there is a one-time charge of RM8 and RM5 per pax respectively
We opted for water (coz it's free), but decided to go for the sauces as the RM8 also includes unlimited fruits and desserts from the sauce bar as well as tau foo fah (which was so soft and amazing I had three cups) from the fridge.
Pro-tip: Look out for a step-by-step guide on how to mix sauces at the sauce bar. Alternatively, you can also ask the servers to help you with the blends, like what we did with the house-special Haidilao sauce:
(iii) THE SERVICE: Haidilao is famous for its exceptional and unique brand of customer service, and their Malaysian counterparts definitely exceeded our expectations on that front
In fact, I felt kinda salty that I've been paying a 10% service charge for mediocre service almost everywhere else.
As soon as we were seated, we were immediately offered hot towels, aprons, hair ties, lens cleaners, and even blankets after one of us quietly remarked about how cold it was. Talk about the attention to detail!
Here we are with our aprons, right before digging in:
I could honestly go on and on about how great the waitstaff was, and remember, these guys were on the graveyard shift. These are just some highlights we noticed throughout our meal:
- Offering to help you "dump" your ingredients into the hot pot. We declined, coz we're independent adults who can do that ourselves. :p
- In addition to refilling our pot with stock, also offered us extra soup paste in case it got too diluted. Also, check out this nifty little paddle warning diners about hot soup:
Although the servers' attentiveness can get overbearing and uncomfortable at times, it's through no fault of their own; we're simply not used to this level of pampering. On that note, I do think that many restaurant owners and/or managers in Malaysia should take some pointers from the quality of service here.
(iv) THE FOOD: While having hot pot at Haidilao is pretty much the same as having hot pot anywhere else, there were certainly some standouts that you might not find in other places
One thing I loved about dining at Haidilao is the distinct lack of oily fumes from the pot. Take a closer look at the vents around the pot - they actually "suck" out the smoke before it even had a chance to rise beyond the surface.
Haidilao may be famous for its signature Sichuan mala broth, but we preferred and absolutely loved the tomato and Sichuan pickled soup bases. So much so that I'm craving for both as I'm writing this story.
While the mala broth was no doubt delicious, all of us tapped out after a few sips because HOT DAMN, it's really darn spicy! Swear on my barely buttoned jeans, I couldn't feel my lips afterwards.
The other three options we went with were the tomato, Sichuan pickled, and Three-Delicacy soup broths. As someone who is partial to hot and sour soups, I pretty much stuck to the first two soups throughout the meal - they added so much flavour to the meats! Meanwhile, the herby and mild-flavoured Three-Delicacy broth was a pretty good alternative for when we needed to offset the strong flavours from the rest of the pot.
Other available options include mushroom soup, pork stomach with pepper soup, and the Malaysia-exclusive laksa soup base.
Some highlights from our spread of ingredients include the fresh meats, fried tofu skins, and our absolute favourite - the Signature Mashed Shrimpwah
(v) THE PRICE: Our total damage = RM326 for a four-grid hotpot, 16 dishes, and unlimited sauces for two
That adds up to about about RM81.50 per person. Pretty steep, but to be fair, we DID go a little overboard with the meats.
So, was it worth the money as well as the time spent waiting? Personally, it was a pretty satisfying meal and I'd come back again... but I wouldn't do it often and definitely not without proper planning beforehand.
As previously mentioned, it's almost impossible to make reservations here and even arriving on time to get a queue number is not a sure-fire way to get a table. My personal recommendation is to either clear your schedule for the day or schedule your visit for off-peak periods.
Side note: I made another visit with my family on a Wednesday morning (around 11am) and only had to wait half an hour, so score!
Also, try to come in groups of four or more so you can order more things to share. :D
Have you been to Haidilao in Sunway Pyramid or Pavilion KL yet? Let us know what you think about the food and experience in the comments section!