At Spice World diners are greeted at the door by two robotic staff members. They come bearing plates of fruit and mints. If You Are The One – the Chinese dating show – is broadcast from screens afixed to their torsos.
This Sydney venue is one of more than 500 international stores and has a sprawling and immaculate labyrinthine interior. There are arcade games, jenga sets and a steam machine to get the smell of hotpot out of your clothes. A disorienting number of mirrors line the ceiling and 10 private dining rooms hide behind futuristic stained-glass walls.
Hotpot is the main event here. The dish is cooked by diners at their tables and at Spice World the ingredients come as Wagyu beef draped across Barbie dolls, shrimp stuffed into bamboo shoots, and Hello Kitty-shaped stock cubes.
Thai tom-yum or wild-mushroom bases are perfect places to begin, but Spice World’s signature is the traditional spicy soup: a broth of pork, beef and chicken bones seasoned with star anise, fennel seeds, dried peppers and Szechuan peppercorns.
Custom dipping sauces are crucial to the experience and are made at the sauce bar from ingredients such as fermented tofu and peanut butter.
There are sides of ox gizzard and duck-blood jelly. There is also lotus root, potato slices and bamboo fungus. Once they’re cooked, a quick baste in the dipping sauce and you’re good to go. Take the edge off with shots of Jing Xiao Bai, a Chinese white wine similar to soju or raki.