This is not where you’d expect to eat some Sichuan hot pot

Guangzhou – Our favourite hot pot restaurant here in Amsterdam looks quite similar to what you’d find in a similar location back in the mainland: white walls and bamboo furniture, with the signature hood absorbing the strong smells of meat, spicy sauces and tofu that emerge from the tabletop cooker.

Our new favourite hot pot restaurant, though, looks nothing like that: with a rainbow of electroplated steel next to heavy slabs of sculptural white concrete that look suspended on air, Guangzhou’s Hi, Miss Rong looks more like a trippy Jem and the Holograms set than a folk-food spot.

The current hospitality business model in China requires both popularity and branding

To Infinity Mind, the studio behind the proposal, it makes perfect sense. Sichuan hot pot used to be a popular street food throughout the country, which vendors ran as informal operations. With the rapid urban growth of China, hot pot lagged behind the development of the contemporary hospitality industry, which has provided unique dining experiences to a younger generation less interested in traditional culture.

‘The current business model in China requires both popularity and branding,’ explained Infinity Mind’s Wang Xiaowen. ‘In such an environment, it’s important for small businesses or even traditional businesses to improve upon cultural tradition and innovate with contemporary aesthetics and address the need for social development. So, four us, this was a contemporary aesthetic experiment.’

It was also a material experiment – but also, in a way, both a calculated rejection of trends and ironically, an appeal to young diners interested in the photogenic qualities of the restaurants they favour. Exhibit A: the use of electroplated steel. The acid-like effect they achieved on the plates is not an industry standard. ‘Trend is a popular phenomenon, while fashion is something new that contains individual existence and value, that makes it different from other things,’ added Wang. ‘And the craft of making electroplated stainless steel is complex, and they can never be exactly duplicated… and that is a meaningful type of fashion.’

Exhibit B: the decorative cement tiles on the wall. The grey-white surfaces have linearly abstracted the symbolic attributes of each one of the five initial letters of the diner’s name in Pinyin, N H R X J. It’s a way to strengthen the links between the dish’s heritage and its modern-day iteration. The tables and chairs are also made in the same material and shade, which visibly reduces the thickness of concrete, so the elements look as if they were suspended on air – not what one would expect from the heavy aggregate.

Exhibit C: the diner’s name itself. While hot pot has become so ingrained in the national palate that it even spawned regional versions with hyper-local ingredients, the spicy and numbing vats actually hail from Chengdu. The location on everyone’s lips – that is, it has become for culinary tourism – is known as the City of Hibiscus for its flower symbol, the Brocade City due to its commercial production, and even the Panda City due to the first spotting of the cuddly creatures. But most commonly, it has historically been known for its geographical nickname, Rong. By adding a tongue-in-cheek Miss in front of it, like many things in China, the ancestral and the blossoming find a way to come together once more.

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