Holy Cow

What: Healthy hotpot
Where: 1/F, 608 Xiaomuqiao Lu, near Zhongshan Nan Er Lu. Tel: 3356 6100.
Why: For a wholesome meal free from the dreaded hotpot hangover.
This hotpot joint is a rare find in China; a place offering the enticing dish with fresh meat that has never been frozen, an eclectic range of vegetables, straight from farm to table, and the whole pot entirely free from MSG.
Gone are the dry mouths and sore stomachs many hotpot lovers accept after a night with the bubbling pot, and instead, culinary delights abound. Foodies will rejoice at the fresh beef, sourced from Dalian yellow cattle, a meat known locally for their tender meat with a fine texture. Different sections of the meat are expertly hand-cut by the butcher in the open kitchen with fresh, hanging beef, before being ferried to the table. Select a variety of different cuts for the table and ensure that you cook them separately, so that they can be boiled and bubbled to perfection. 18 different parts of the beef are available on the menu, from the tongue and throat, to the rib-eye and tail, so make sure you take your time and devour the whole carcass.
It was a joy to see such a wide variety of fresh vegetables at a hotpot restaurant, including some vegetables we had never seen in Shanghai or never seen before anywhere, full stop! We’re talking about grifola frondosa, or hen-of-the-wood mushroom, a rich earthy mushroom that we initially mistook for a cauliflower along with the elusive watermelon radish, patty pan squash, okra and watercress. Most of the vegetables come from the restaurant’s farm, Soleil Villa in Haimen, Shanghai, which, although is not certified as organic because it is a small, new farm, they do in fact employ painstaking organic methods. They use no pesticides or chemical fertilizers; instead they use bees for pollination and only bio-organic fertilisers. As most of the vegetables are sourced locally, the restaurant offers a seasonal vegetable selection.
However, it is the broth that makes or breaks a hotpot restaurant and, as we all know, not all hotpot broths are created equally. Holy Cow blows other broths out of the water for us, with their rich umami filled offering, thanks to hours worth of boiling beef spine bones. Wonderfully, because of the lack of MSG, we were also happy to tuck into the broth, after finishing the contents of the pot, which was jampacked with the vitamins and nutrients of the aforementioned ingredients; a perfect antidote to Shanghai’s cold weather.
Our favourite part of the meal was when the Shanghai speciality, xiaolongbao, arrived at our dinner table. We were unsure how to cook the pork, freshly wrapped in their handmade skins, however, after gently placing them in the boiling broth, we were enthralled to pull them out of the liquid and taste the ingenious concoction. Needless to say, the rich pork and taste of the broth did not let us down. Handmade tofu skins were another highlight of our hearty meal.
Chef and founder, Anthony Zhao, believes that these safe, healthy ingredients should be accessible to everyone, and not just a fad for the wealthy, so the price points of the dishes are extremely affordable, with the broth starting from RMB 58 and hand-cut beef starting at RMB 38. There is no reason not to visit this healthy hotpot venue as fast as your legs can carry you.