iPot must have some damn good lawyers. Take a look around at the long, sterile white interior. It’s oddly familiar, down to the font in the too-stylish logo. It doesn’t take long to figure out: iPot looks just like an Apple Store. Steve Jobs must be turning in his space-age grave.
But we don’t just go to restaurants to laugh at their gimmicks. Sure, if it’s a good gag, we might bring friends back for a giggle, but if it’s a bad one, we write it off as a one-and-done. Sadly, iPot’s shtick is just standard. Sure, it looks like a hot-pot restaurant designed for the fancy-computer fanboy, but there are too many other ingredients in the mix. iPot feels like a number of fast-food ploys fighting for attention. Even just saying ‘conveyor-belt personal hot-pot Apple Store knockoff’ is a mouthful.
The restaurant is the latest invention of the brain trust that created Vietnamese chain bistro Muse and the late eatery Bourbon (nee Hercules). A long conveyor belt tests self-control as it lazily carries cling-film-wrapped vegetables, noodles and meats before diners’ eyes. Like conveyor-belt sushi, each plate has a different cost depending on its colour. You’ll shell out a paltry 4RMB for veg dishes, and up to 18RMB for gourmet meatballs and fish. One nice touch: the beef and lamb are sliced fresh per order, rather than doing a lap around the room.
Plates stack up quick, with their contents sitting in one of a series of fairly light broths. The variable Sichuanese mala (5RMB) isn’t spicy enough, while the mild mushroom (10RMB) is a good backdrop for anything you chuck in there. After sloshing a thick cut of premium beef (18RMB) through our thick, well-presented sesame dip, the strip kept itself together well in taste and consistency. Fresh fish-paste wads (12RMB) are good enough for a second order. Other gourmet items, like a delicate piece of marinated fish (18RMB), keep enough of a kick to separate iPot from its obnoxious fast-food cousin Xiabu Xiabu.
Yet a lot of what we got was worse. Our plate of noodles (4RMB) took forever to cook. Three ping-pong-ball-sized meatballs costing 18RMB have no taste when they’re finally boiled, and plates like mushrooms (8RMB) aren’t particularly memorable. The bland pearl milk tea (12RMB) barely passed as a refresher, and the measly tapioca balls are so hard they could be marbles.
It’s hard to make something that’s as loud and sweaty as hot pot sexy. While we love that bitten-into apple logo on our phone, style doesn’t always equal substance. iPot could use an app for that.