Toronto (and the GTA) is a mecca for restaurants representing so many different cultures. Our city attracts the attention globally of mega star chefs to tourists. You could travel the world exploring different flavours and culinary delights without having to jump on a jet plane. The legendary Vintage Hotpot has landed here in Toronto bringing its much loved celebrity endorsed dining experience to the table.
Growing up here in Toronto, Chinese style hotpot was a family feast especially in the winter months when flavourful broths would bubble and boil — perfect to warm your bellies. You can liken it to a French style fondue only we use different savoury broths and no cheese-based ones (or chocolate for dessert). It’s comfort food that requires a little bit of cooking technique — I’ll explain a little further down in the post.
Vintage Hotpot (or you may see it called Vintage The Hotpot) is a 30-year old hotpot restaurant chain from China. Founder Mr. Guo was raised in a family with three generations of chefs. His love for hotpot lead him to creating his own secret broth recipe that marries his love for spices with his fondest childhood memories of the food he enjoyed. It recently opened its first location in Canada at a new Toronto eatery complex (3355 Steeles Avenue East) bringing it’s much loved flavours in a bright and modern new setting. What they are known for starts with their soup bases. Their OG spice broth comes in shiny new stainless steel hotpot vessels with their signature “butter” as their secret ingredient.
There are several other options for broths including a Tomato-based, Pork Bone Soup based, and a Mushroom Soup based. I would highly recommend ordering the double hotpot to have a bit of variety. The Mushroom Soup clear based is incredible and once it’s bubbling, scoop some into your bowl to enjoy on its own. You won’t regret it. If you’re a mushroom soup fan like me, this will be addictive.
Here, you select items off their menu to cook in the hotpot right at your table. Menu is available via QR code or you can request a print out (English is available). The menu is clearly categorized where you’ll discover small plates of braised dishes, classic meat, vegetables, balls, and appetizers. A cart also circulates the dining room with even more unique offerings. At first glance, the menu can feel a bit overwhelming and a little intimidating. If you’re an adventurous eater, then you will have some fun exploring here. Pork Intestines, Beef Aorta Slice, Grass Beef Omasum, anyone? Yes, I know some will say NO WAY. But also many of your are curious. Remember, nose to tail dining is not just viewed as a delicacy but common in many cuisines and very healthy. But rest assure every item is sourced for the highest quality and prepared with care. Also know that if you look closer to the menu there will be familiar dishes like sliced pork belly, shrimp, sliced fish fillet, and marinated beef.
Vintage Hotpot is known for their ‘braised dishes’. Here we ordered quail eggs, soya sheet ‘knots’, tofu and beef shanks. Within the ‘Classic Meats’ we went for the thinly sliced pork belly, black pepper beef, and slices of luncheon meat (yes, SPAM). The most usual item I had ordered was the duck blood tofu based on the recommendation of our server. Sound strange but I assure you the taste is mild. The texture is smooth and the closest description I would say would be like sliced Jell-o. Vegetable offerings are generous with favourites including watercress, Chinese cabbage, sweet potato vermicelli, bamboo shoots, as well as a variety of fresh mushrooms. Black fungus (we use to call it elephant ears for their floppy shapes) is a favourite. There are over 70 items to choose from on the menu. Each dish is priced individually (from $1.99 to $18.99) but there are tasting menu offerings if you want to just not think about it. If you need help with ordering, their staff are happy to help and recommend.
Once you’ve ordered, you are directed to the Sauce Station (with your mask on) where you can create your own dipping dishes. Here you’ll find scallions, garlic, chili peppers and oils, oyster and hoisin sauces as well as other common spices. Even if you’re not sure it’s hard to mess this up. It’s a fun experiment if you haven’t done this. Or just observe what others are doing and follow along — or just ask your server to create it for you.
As the broth bubbles in the hotpot vessel, your dishes ordered will begin to arrive. Each diner is also offered a large disposable bib to protect your clothing from any splattering. By the way, although the restaurant is well ventilated, you will more than likely carry the aroma of the spices out with you afterwards on your clothes and in your hair. A worthy badge of honour, perhaps?
For me, the most important part of hotpot dining is understand what utensils are used. You’re responsible for your cooking. Part of the fun is tossing the ingredients in and fishing them out with the ladle a few minutes later. At the table, you’ll find a soup ladle, a straining ladle to help scoop out the cooked pieces, and two sets of chopsticks — one for transporting raw items into the broth and the other set is used for eating. Do not mix them up — rookie mistake.
As the broth continues to bubble during your dining experience, a server will be checking on the soup levels and adding more to it as needed. If it’s too spicy, just let them know and they will help remove some of the aromatic spices. The longer it bubbles the more intense the flavours become so don’t be shy about having the staff adjust as time goes on. In covid-times this is easily one of my most favourite ways of dining since everything is cooked right in front of my eyes and I’m in control knowing my food is thoroughly cooked.
I should also note there are a few interesting offering under the ‘Appetizer’ category that come to the table ready to eat. Here you’ll find crispy fried pork (YUM), fried fennel cruller sticks (YUM), coconut ice rice balls, rice cakes, veggie noodles, fried bao buns and more.
Once you’re done the main meal, there is a small dessert station where you can customize a bowl of sweet dessert. The server helps to create from a selection of tofu pudding, jellies, bingsu (like shaved ice) with toppings of boba balls, jellies, red bean, and more.
Vintage Hotpot is located at 3355 Steeles Avenue East, Unit 1. Currently in “soft opening” stage. Open daily from 4 pm to 10 pm. Walk-in only. Tables available to accommodate up to six people. Staff are all double vaccinated and are adhering to health and safety protocols for the comfort and safety of patrons and other staff members. Masks are required to be worn at all times when not seated at the assigned dining table.