Hot pot restaurants are a kind of shrine to gluttony. Unlike their shabu-shabu cousins, the majority are all-you-can-eat meat, seafood and vegetables along with ice cream and drinks. Like Lotus Vegetarian Restaurant (若荷蔬食時尚餐廳) follows this tradition but substitutes the meat offerings with tofu imitations.
Like Lotus's mellow lighting creates an intimate interior atmosphere, with deep mahogany-colored wainscoting, doors and tabletops set against Chinese scrolls hanging from vanilla walls. An added decorating flourish is the exposed brick pillars and wooden shutters with Chinese designs that separate the smaller front area from the larger back section.
Vegetarian restaurants, it seems to me, suffer in part from an identity crisis. Aware that many of their clientele grew up on diets of fish, chicken or pork, they always incorporate these items - though in tofu imitation - on to the menu.
And so there is fake crab, cuttlefish, fish balls, duck blood - and my personal favorite, faux chicken leg. With the exception of the chicken and crab, however, these tofu imitations were largely tasteless. Which is fine because the soups are what people are lining up for. NT$390 gives you the "benz" hot pot - three different soups, from a choice of six, that come in a large metal bowl resembling the Mercedes symbol.
Our party ordered Japanese kelp (海味昆布), South Asia style (南洋風味) and Chinese medicine (御用藥膳).
The Japanese kelp was, well, just that. If you like the flavor of seaweed or kelp and prefer something salty, this is the soup for you. The Chinese medicine is popular because of its perceived health benefits. A little more inspired than the kelp, its flavor resembles that of a light chicken broth rather than the medicinal flavor I had expected.
Address: 58, Ln 160, Dunhua S Rd Sec 1, Taipei City (台北市敦化南路一段160巷58號)
Telephone: (02) 2752-0838
Open: Weekdays 11am to 2:30pm and 5:30pm to 10pm; weekends and holidays 11am to 10pm
Average meal: NT$400
Details: Chinese menu; credit cards accepted; reservations recommended
The South Asia style is alone worth the visit to this restaurant. Stems of fresh lemongrass swam around in a fiery red bowl of red chili and basil that, though spicy, didn't overwhelm the palette. Our server had to refill the soup three times. Three other flavors are on offer: the standard mala ("spicy," 紅燒麻辣), Italian (義式蔬菜) and pumpkin (養生南瓜). Bloggers have praised the pumpkin, so this might be a good alternative if, like me, you want to avoid the kelp. - Noah Buchan