Hai Di Lao Singapore Review
Hai Di Lao is a popular steamboat chain that was founded in China in 1994. They recently opened one of their first overseas branches here in Singapore at Clarke Quay. Its already become extremely popular and crowded and they have been known to provide 'manicures' as part of their fabulous service. Check out this video of our second trip to Hai Di Lao!
5 Things you must know about Hai Di Lao
- Its not a buffet, its ala carte. Which means no frozen food with visible ice shavings bought by the boxes from Sheng Shiong. They have more premium and freshly prepared ingredients.
- They pride themselves on service, from free manicures to aprons to handphone plastic covers to wait staff who prepare your food.
- Prepare to book one month in advance or queue for over an hour.
- It's open till 3am daily, so that's one way of skipping the queue if you're in the area craving supper!
- Its not cheap, expect to spend at least $35 per pax. The soup alone costs $20! Hidden costs include the sauces at $4 and drinks at $3 per person so add $7 + 17% to your total bill.
Directions to Hai Di Lao
Its a bit hard to find so here are the directions. Go the main busy Clarke Quay area where Hooters is. Hooters is along the rows of shops facing the river near the bridge (which connects to Jumbo on the other end). Just on the left of Hooters is Hai Di Lao, in a walkway.
You should be able to see the banner on the left in the picture above. There you have to go up a small lift to get to their restaurant on the second floor. It may look like a small shophouse type of restaurant at first, but actually the restaurant is huge!
Big tip: They are unlikely to do reservations but you can call them up at 6337 8626 to ask them for a queue number over the phone. If you walk in, expect to wait AT LEAST 1 and a half hours. We visited Hai Di Lao on a Monday at 6.15 pm and the waiting area was already packed with 50 people. When we left the restaurant at 9.30 pm it was still crowded and there was still a queue. Imagine that!
Hai Di Lao Waiting Area & Service
While waiting, they offer a kids playground area, manicure and renowned Sichuan appetizers such as pop-corn.
The manicure area is disappointing because chances are you won't be getting anything done. You can only look on with envious eyes and a starving stomach while secretly hoping the other 30 girls in the queue suddenly decide to take their names off the waiting list.
For the appetizers, they provide water melon and rock melons as fruits as well as drinks like Plum Juice so again you're in a bit of a strange spot. Do I spoil my appetite or wait it out hungry? Well you definitely want to eat some fruits, they are actually best eaten before meals instead of after so your stomach can digest its nutrients more completely.
The Menu & Prices
This is not a cheap "china bugis steamboat" neither is it a buffet. Hai Di Lao is a mass market mid-end ala-carte steamboat that serves up sichuan style hot pot so note - the 'Ma La' here is actually very spicy! Being their specialty, it also goes for $20. Yes that's right, you have to pay for your soup stock here. The chicken soup is $16 and if you want half and half its $20. They round up according to the more expensive soup.
The ambiance is very family / group friendly. With about 6 seats around a large table. It doesn't look like they have smaller tables for couples so if you come as one you will just be given a 4 person table. The seating here is very spacious and comfortable with plush seats and aprons provided so you don't get your clothing or their furniture dirty.
Here's a look at their menu for more indication of their prices. I found it strange their juices cost a ridiculous $8 so i had to give it the finger. Expect to spend $40-60 per person after tax.
I love the way their sauce station was set up. It has the most variety I've ever seen. They were all labeled nicely with their own containers and handles and they even had uncommon sauces like beef and korean "guchujang" sauce. They also had desserts like dou hua and we found these good so save some space in your stomach for that!
The food came beautifully presented but they couldn't fool us! We felt they were commanding a premium price but they weren't particularly fresh. Its a level better then the Bugis Steamboats with their shards of frozen ice sticking out but cmon anything is better then that!
Skip the specialty beef meat. Its the thicker version and its marinated meaning two things - its either a value add service or its not fresh. Because there is a fresh looking "Select Beef" on the menu going for a higher price, we are more inclined to believe its the later.
Everything else was just the standard steamboat fare served in pretty bowls in a good ambience.
I found the best thing about Hai Di Lao was their soup stock. The texture of their soups were remarkably rich. Their Chicken soup even had black chicken and mushrooms in it to give it that extra flavour. This was before we put anything in it so we were really impressed by that.
The Ma La was incredibly spicy and flavourful. I normally eat Ma La with chili sauces on top elsewhere because its not spicy enough but that was not needed here. Is it worth paying $20 for their soups? I believe so - its the best soup stock we had at a steamboat in Singapore. Chloe now declares this her favourite steamboat restaurant.
Pros: Ambience, Spacious + Comfortable Seating, Waiting Service, Dou Hua, Amazing Soup Stock, Huge Sauce selection
Cons: Hidden Costs, $20 Soups, Very Crowded, Ala-carte not buffet
To me, the soup and sauce are very important components in steamboats and this place nails it completely. Its also because I like my Ma La very spicy. Add in the dou hua, comfortable spacious seating and ambience and I think the extra premium is worth it considering all of this. Definitely not because of the ingredients though. I mean they are good but not GREAT.
Without the queue I would give this place a 8.5 / 10 rating and it would the best place to go for a mid-end steamboat that I know of. With the queue its probably a 6.5 - 7 because I don't think anyone should have to wait that long to enjoy good but not great food. Kinda like Tim Ho Wan. So do remember to call them up in advance to get their queue number!
Our total bill for two people came to $107 after tax. Update: The second time we went we ordered far less and it came to $71.
Hai Di Lao Address
Phone Number: 6337 8626
Address: #02-04, Clarke Quay, 3D River Valley Road