A beloved Chinese culinary tradition, but with a Southeast Asian twist. Such is the appeal of JiYu, a new restaurant in the heart of Chinatown that’s all about malatang, or Sichuan-style hot pot, done Thai style.
During the day, the kitchen prepares speedy single-serve, malatang-style bowls that allow you to choose a broth, base such as noodles or rice, and toppings such as seafood, sliced meats and vegetables. Tick off your choices on the provided paper menu and you’re all set. At night, take a seat with up to six friends around a hot plate, where a more traditional hotpot set-up means cooking your raw fixings in two boiling broths.
JiYu’s eight broth choices are hot and sour tom yum with coconut cream; tom kha or Thai coconut soup; a mild curry similar to laksa; fish-head; seafood trimmings; kangaroo tail and tomato soup; pepper chicken; and pumpkin with crab. Most broths begin with fresh prawns and fish boiled with aromatics such as lemongrass and ginger for eight hours to deepen the flavour.
The restaurant first opened in Phuket, Thailand in 1998, before gaining popularity in China around 2015. The chain’s been brought here by EFC Group Australia, a franchising company that also runs Gotcha, the bubble-tea shop downstairs. You’ll pass it as you climb the grey stone stairs that lead up to JiYu, itself a riot of emerald tiles, faux jungle greenery, gold chandeliers and blush pink accents.
“JiYu, [is meant to feel] like you’ve walked into a tropical garden,” says EFC’s Orlando Sanpo. “Imagine a lot of palm and coconut tree prints with colours of the jungle. The interior and furniture are Tiffany blue and green so it feels like you’re on an island.”
True to that theme, seafood is a real specialty here. In addition to crab, mussels, cuttlefish, octopus, abalone, tiger prawns and crayfish tails, broths can be filled with pork belly, lamb, quail egg, luncheon meat and local Wagyu (with a six-plus marble score). Staff will even peel prawns for you once they’re cooked.
There are also entrees and mains available a la carte, including chilli prawns, deep-fried then tossed in a wok with garlic, onion, shallots and chilli. The fish cake appetiser sees minced barramundi and salmon battered and deep-fried for a crunchy bite.
Cocktails are designed to be cool and refreshing to balance out the spice of the broths, using ingredients such as cucumber, strawberry, lychee, honeydew, rosewater and lemonade. There are also Asian soft drinks, pots of fresh tea, classic beers and tea-infused cold drinks care of Gotcha, which grows all its own tea at a plantation in Taiwan. Drinking is very much part of the JiYu experience.
“I’ve been to Phuket and the islands. It’s a very relaxed vibe with everything all about enjoying your life and drinking until you can’t drink any more,” Sanpo says, laughing. “So just imagine yourself drinking in a tropical garden or watching as fish swim right in front of you.”
JiYu Thai Hotpot
208 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne
(03) 9639 3669
Mon to Thu 11am–3.30pm, 5pm–12am
Fri to Sun 11am–4.30pm, 5pm–12am
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 12, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.