Little Sheep – hotpot heaven on a chilly night

Continuing with the soup theme this Fall… hotpot party!

On our recent trip to China, we were completely impressed with the Little Sheep restaurant in Beijing. The service was cheerful, the food was fresh, and, most importantly, the broth was amazing. When we learned that Little Sheep had branches in Canada, we were super excited.

When the craving hit, we called some friends, eagerly piled into the car, and headed to Little Sheep Mongolian Hotpot out in the suburbs. Hotpot is a style of soup fondue popular across Asia (in fact, I’ve heard that in Quebec and parts of Europe, a broth fondue is called “Fondue Chinoise”). Different regions have their own specialty ingredients, flavorings and styles. Variations include nabe (in Japan), shabu-shabu (in Taiwan and Japan), or jjigae ( in Korea).

A communal meal often eaten in the winter, hotpot starts with a simmering pot of broth placed at the center of the table. Ingredients are put into the pot, cooked at the table, and eaten immediately. Popular ingredients include thinly sliced meats, leafy veggies (such as bok choy, spinach, or lettuce), mushrooms, meat balls, root vegetables (like sweet potato and taro), seafood, tofu, dumplings and noodles. There are also a wide array of dipping sauces and herbs – my favorites include black vinegar and soy sauce, or hoisin sauce with cilantro.

When we entered the Toronto restaurant, the smell immediately made our mouths water. The all-you-can-eat menu started with a choice of broth, all made with Little Sheep’s secret soup base. The basic broth came with garlic, lotus seeds, red dates, ginger, green onion, and nutmeg bobbing on the surface. The spicy variation came with a good handful of firey Szechwan pepper, while the herbal version was lightly scented with ginsing and goji berry. For the indecisive (like myself), the divided pot allows for a choice of two types of broth. Little sheep also has family sized pots or individual pots, to suit your mood for sharing (or not). The induction hot plates built into the table surface let diners self-adjust the simmer intensity.

The great thing about Little Sheep is that it features a food bar, which reduces the hassle of flagging down busy wait staff. The open refrigerators displayed rows and rows of raw ingredients, which were fresh, clean, and also refilled frequently. There was also a small selection of slightly greasy appetizers, bowls of yummy sauces, and a handful of fruit and dessert items. Fountain drinks were also included, with both sour plum juice and traditional soy milk soothing accompaniments to the spicy hotpot.

By the time we strolled back to the car, stuffed to the brim, we decided that it was definitely worth the drive and the 45min wait for a table. Although the food was slightly saltier than expected, the lingering smell of Little Sheep’s secret soup base brought back fond memories of Beijing.

2543 Warden Ave. 416-916-9866.

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