Everyone knows Beauty In The Pot (in Singapore), but do you know that the concept is inspired by Taiwanese brand, Wu Lao Guo? More interestingly known as “elixir health pot”, this is one of the most popular hotpot places in Taipei, and there are three outlets across the city – every one is packed daily and reservations are most definitely required.
And you may wonder why they are so popular. That’s simply because they are more than just a hotpot restaurant. If you’ve been to Beauty In The Pot and you are familiar with the works – ingredients, soup and post-meal palate cleanser – then you must know that Wu Lao Guo was the one who created this trend.
The million dollar question – is Wu Lao Guo worth a visit when in Taipei?
Without a doubt, yes it is. For one, we always need to understand the original product before we can assess and do a fair comparison, right?
But apart from that, Wu Lao Guo won our hearts in many ways.
Comfortable, spacious and private. Every group has their own booth and space, so there is no need to eat elbow to elbow, nor worry that someone else would be staring at you while you stuff your face with food.
And at every booth, you can help yourself to the wet towels and toothpicks with no additional charge.
Taiwanese are known to be friendlier and service-oriented, and though we do not experience this everywhere in Taipei, we sure did here at Wu Lao Guo. The staff are eager to help, and they make sure you are comfortable with everything that you would need for your meal.
Intermittently, they go around from table to table, and generously dunk chunks of pig’s blood (don’t gag yet) into your broth. We know it is not something for everyone, and you really don’t have to eat it (though those who do really truly madly deeply love it) because it is meant to keep your broth sweet and flavourful.
If your soup has “lost its flavour” from the addition of a complicated mix of ingredients, just call for the staff and they will gladly add in the necessary herbs and spices to your broth to recreate the taste.
And yes, they have the signature post-meal palate cleanser that is complementary, too. For the uninitiated, when you are done with your hotpot feast, the staff will bring you a jug of calamansi ice-blended drink. Refreshing to say the least, this palate cleanser is the best way to cleanse your palate so that you won’t leave the restaurant feeling all thirsty and sick from all the savoury food.
There is the regular broth, and there is the mala (spicy) broth.
We are familiar with the creamy collagen soup in Singapore’s Beauty In The Pot. But the original broth at Wu Lao Guo is actually more herbal than milky. It is still smooth and sweet, except that there is a distinct underlying herbal note that leaves a lingering aftertaste.
But what blew our minds was the “key ingredient” that gave the soup flavour – milky curds that they call ‘tofu ice cream’. Yes, they are made of Japanese milk ice cream, and they are hardened before being added to the soup. It does not melt completely even when stirred, but that is how we were advised to eat it – with it being slightly soggy and airy, like marshmallow.
Totally mind-blown. How does ice cream not melt, and still sweeten the broth?!
Then there is the mala one, which is your usual Sichuan-style soup with lots of peppercorn, dried chilli, star anise, cloves and what-have-you. We always know Sichuan mala soup as, well as its Mandarin name suggests, numbingly spicy. Not too huge a fan of that, but Wu Lao Guo’s rendition didn’t burn and numb our tongues. Instead, it has a slightly thicker consistency and is very drinkable – all these while still boasting a robust flavour that has an addictive primary note of peppercorns.
The selection is pretty standard – you’ve got your chicken, the different types of beefs and porks.
Then, there is the signature hand-beaten meatballs that we loved so much for its bounciness. Go for the platter of four flavours; we loved the beef ball and shrimp ball the most.
Vegetables, mushrooms, dumplings… Pretty much the usual ingredients that people would ask for. And your staples such as rice and noodles are in the menu as well.
Except that we missed our luncheon meat. We were genuinely shocked and disappointed upon flipping the menu for a few times and still not find it at all. All hotpot meals must have luncheon meat; anyone’s with us on this?
Oh, they have quite a range of desserts as well.
Now, what is hotpot without some beer? We love Wu Lao Guo for their variety.
Dinner wouldn’t have been better without some Taiwan Mango Beer. We paid NT100 per bottle – that is less than S$5! – and it was one of the smoothest and tastier beers we’ve ever had.
Otherwise, there are your regular soft drinks, and a series of teas to pick from – think oolong tea and citron tea.
Wu Lao Guo may not be the cheapest hotpot restaurant in Taipei, but it sure offers great value for money. The quality is generally more premium, and the individual item cost is reasonable.
One thing to note – a base charge is applicable and it goes by per pax, and it depends on the type of broth you order. But it is not any exorbitant amount; just about NT180 per pax.
Wu Lao Guo Elixir Health Pot
No. 124, Section 1, Xinsheng S Road
Tel: +886 2 3322 5529
Daily: 11.30am – 1am
Nearest Station: Zhongxiao Xinsheng
No. 143, Section 3, Civic Blvd
Tel: +886 2 2731 7928
Daily: 11.30am – 2am
Nearest Station: Zhongxiao Fuxing