It was the steamy arched window and the intriguing name that first caught my eye when searching for a late night, post-cinema feed. Memory Tongue is a first-floor Chongqing hot pot restaurant that popped up in this location during 2017; expanding to a second restaurant in the Chatswood Interchange in 2018. Think of the Chongqing hot pot as the restaurant version of the roadside malatang, a soup I have been raving about across a number of reviews - both are numbing and spicy (má là).
While Memory Tongue is definitely geared towards a Chinese-speaking audience, they’re not unwelcoming to other guests. After climbing the stairs, we’re guided to a red caged booth, with mountainous detailing on the frosted glass. It’s clean, padded and comfortable, though we are soon to destroy it completely with our bubbling pots of hell-broth and our inept handling of temperature regulation on our individual hot plates.
Rolled aprons sit at each table setting. I advise you to put them on.
While most of the paper menu you mark to place your order is translated into English, all of the table signage for specials is written in simplified Chinese. Staff are friendly but the ones I encountered spoke limited English. We were able to ascertain that the restaurant accepted credit cards by pulling one out of my wallet. Drinks are non-alcoholic and limited to soft drinks, plum juice and teas, which for my dining companion was an issue, because he's convinced spicy food requires beer. I’m happy with my regular malatang beverage of choice – Calpis ($4) – a slightly tangy yoghurt style milky drink that’s great at cooling your mouth.
Not really knowing how much to order, we go to town on the paper menu. The first question is of course the soup.
Here you can opt for an individual mini pot, or a shared group pot (for five people), with the latter also coming in half/half if you want a spicy and a not-so-spicy broth to suit different palates. We opt for their signature Chongqing Spicy Hot Pot with Rendered Beef Fat ($10.80) and a slightly less hot Stewed Spicy Chicken Soup ($11.80).
They arrive quickly with a flurry of vegetables - Shallots ($4.80); Chinese Cabbage ($4.80); and Water Spinach ($5.80). The best of which is the napa cabbage, so long as you tear it up into bite-sized pieces (otherwise it drips everywhere).
Once cooked, I also found the long strands of water spinach hard to wrangle with chopsticks without mess.
King Brown Mushrooms ($6.80) that the kitchen has cut into scored caps and thin slabs of stem, and Enoki Mushrooms ($6.80) are both tasty winners in both soups.
Presented in a pretty nest of bean sprouts, Quail Eggs ($5.80) have runny yolks that burst in your mouth delightfully, even after spending considerable time in your bubbling pot.
Rice Cakes ($3.80) are wonderfully textural, like Korean tteokbokki. They’re a great way to really get acquainted with your broth, as they’re not strongly flavoured as other ingredients. The signature beef broth is rich and mouth coating, with a big numbing kick. The chicken broth seems spicier on first taste as the numbing aspect doesn't come through as strongly. It's full of whole spices and little bits of chicken, so I found it best not to scrape the bottom of the pot when searching for items.
Now hot pot is meant to be a slow, sociable meal, rather than a rushed dinner gobbled late at night by two hungry gweilo, who both burnt their mouths. Taking your time ensures it cools down - the broth is temperature hot as well as spicy. Use the slotted spoon to move items into your bowl with a minimum of mess. Use chopsticks to dip them in your personalised Sauce ($3/head), that you make at the saucing bar near the entrance, to cool them down before popping them into your mouth.
Our table quickly fills with ingredients. The Premium Beef and Lamb Combo. ($29.80) is pricy, but includes rolls of beautifully marbled beef and lamb stacked on a ceramic open book platter. Both meats eat well across each of the soups.
Memory Tongue’s other signature item are the giant brown balls speckled with sesame seeds that you can see on nearly every table.
Dubbed the Supersized Fried Glutinous Rice Ball ($8.80), I find it a bit greasy (they give you gloves to tear it apart) and curiously sweet.
I don’t like eating it separate from the soup, but it works better when the sweetness is paired with chilli, even if it does come out of the soup looking a bit like sheets of skin.
Last to arrive is our seafood, presented nicely on ice. Selected Super Prawn ($18.80) proves to be eight large king prawns jutting out of crushed ice. Being unshelled, they’re terribly messy, but really great tasting after spending some time in the soup. We use up all the serviettes on our table, and start on the ones on the next table. This could also be because our respective hell-broths have both of our noses running like taps. Upon retrospect, I would order one spicy broth and one less spicy broth, and share.
Australian Special Scallops ($16.80) are easier to eat, and almost as delicious as the prawns. Sadly I lose one of my scallops for quite some time, and then it isn't quite so nice. Next time I'd be sure to give them a reasonably short cook when there aren't a million other things floating around in my soup.
The bill for our dinner came in just shy of $150 without any alcohol. It felt quite expensive, especially when compared with a bowl of malatang apiece, though it was easy to see the ingredients here are very good quality, from crisp vegetables, to premium meat, to excellent king prawns. Despite the availability of mini hot pots making dining as a couple easy, Memory Tongue is probably best value eating for a group of four people to balance out your ingredient spend.
Level 1, 88 Liverpool Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9261 3341