MANILA, Philippines – If you can’t decide between nursing a warm bowl of noodles and soup or gorging on a hefty bowl of rice toppings, worry not – you can have the best of both Asian worlds at Champion Hotpot, a two-in-one buffet restaurant of unlimited hotpot and Mongolian rice bowls!
Champion Hotpot, located at Santolan Town Plaza in San Juan City, is a novel dine-in concept created by The Tasteless Group, the restaurant arm behind The Grid, Scout’s Honor, Poison Doughnuts, and Hanamaruken Ramen. It’s a large, casual dining space of single tables for up to 4 guests, or long tables for 5-8 guests, with induction stoves at the center. Here, you can enjoy the free-for-all experience of unlimited hotpot toppings and a free-flowing DIY Mongolian Bowl station at the same time, so make sure you arrive with a big appetite! Overall, it’s a soup-er sulit experience.
Coming in hot! What to expect
Let’s start with the hotpot experience. After being seated, you and your group will be asked to choose two from the six Champion soup bases. We tried the crowd-favorite Laksa, which was a creamy, aromatic, and slightly spicy coconut and shrimp-based broth that’s a bit lighter than your usual Singaporean laksa, but still tasty. We also wanted a simple and classic broth, so the basic Shabu-Shabu was our second choice – it was a clear and light broth flavored with bonito and seaweed to give it a slight umami kick while still emanating delicate Japanese flavors.
Other soup bases to try are Champion’s Signature Chicken Coconut (light broth of fresh coconut water, young coconut meat, and chicken); Tom Yum (spicy, aromatic broth with chili, lemon, galangal, and cilantro); Mala Beef Tomato (spicy beef and tomato broth with red beef oil infused with chili, Sichuan peppercorns, and other spices); and Sukiyaki (soy-based broth served with silken tofu, egg, and vegetables). Each broth serving is good for 2-3 guests.
Now, onto the ingredients! You’re free to choose from any of Champion’s Balls, Slammin’ Salads, Victory Veggies, and Noodles from their respective fridges. Get as many ingredients as you can for your table, and cook them to your desired liking in your chosen broth!
The Champion Balls include joyful bags, cheese fish buns, fried squid cakes, fish roe rolls, sea urchin balls, squid balls, seafood buns, fish balls, fish tofu, Singapore fish balls, taro cheese balls, and more.
The fresh and crisp Victory Veggies include carrots, enoki mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, leeks, Napa cabbage, tomato, potato, taro, sweet potato, green beans, red onion, oyster mushroom, chayote, corn, squash, bokchoy, polonchay, and watercress. The salads include kani salad, cucumber salad, beansprout namul, and house kimchi.
For the noodles selection, there’s egg noodles, glass noodles, Hong Kong egg noodles, thin noodles, and even firm tofu and tofu puffs.
There’s unlimited servings of thin, high-quality slices of beef, pork, and chicken. On weekday nights and weekends, fresh seafood is also unlimited – there’s clams, mussels, squid, and medium-sized shrimp.
BTW: The first service of broth is part of the rate, but a refill will cost P200 to P250, depending on the flavor. However, Champion’s special vegetable broth is unlimited.
Next up: the Mongolian Rice Station! The ingredients selection was overwhelming at first, especially since we didn’t really know which sauces and how much of each would go with what. That’s the fun of the Build-Your-Own-Bowl experience, though – no one bowl is the same, and you’re encouraged to get creative, wing it, and enjoy your own personal creation. Just get a bowl, load it with rice or noodles, and dump as much of each ingredient as you wish. (Warning, though: unless you’re super sure of what you’re doing, go easy on the chili!)
The Mongolian Knockout Bowl Station features almost the same veggies, balls, and ingredients as the hotpot area, just cut into smaller pieces. There’s also more to choose from! The selection is more than enough – you can opt for gochujang, black vinegar, brown/white sugar, light/dark soy sauces, oyster sauce, peppers, spices, sate sauce, fresh herbs, cilantro, sesame oil, sesame seeds, ginger, red chili flakes, peanuts, garlic chips, and even chicharon. The premium meats available were pork, beef, chicken, squid, other seafood, and tofu.
Champion’s readymade sauces are also a time and energy saver – there’s garlic scallion, Mongolian sweet sauce, teriyaki sauce, gochujang sesame sauce, spicy Sichuan sauce, black pepper dark soy sauce, and Champion peanut sauce, which was one of my favorites.
If you’re at a loss, Champion Hotpot has a helpful recipe guide posted for six signature hotpot sauces: Coriander Sesame Sauce, Garlic Scallion Sauce, Herbs Sauce, Creamy Garlic Sesame, and Korean-Style Bean Sauce. There are also Chef’s Recommendations for different kinds of Mongolian bowls, like Pork and Mushroom Chow Mien Bowl, Chicken Kimchi Fried Rice, and Black Pepper Beef Hofun.
Once we were done with our creations, we handed our bowls to the staff, who stir-fried our ingredients on the spot. In just a few minutes, our DIY Mongolian Knockout Bowls were served to our table, piping hot and ready to eat.
But wait, there’s more
Champion Hotpot also has a simple array of Asian-inspired cooked food to choose from. If you’re looking for some fried crunch, the crispy French fries and chicken karaage were good to snack on. They also have mixed tempura, crispy noodles, and some simple kani maki and California maki. In our opinion, it’s best to save your appetite for the hotpot and rice bowls, and just skip on the maki.
There was also a modest take on charamushi, some fried rice, mapo tofu (which was a bit too sweet and diluted), sweet and sour meatballs, curry fish balls, and Taiwan braised pork.
The dessert station includes a variety of Big Scoop ice cream flavors, cake rolls, panna cotta, and a DIY halo-halo area. The unlimited drinks include soda, Milo, Nescafe Ice, hot coffee, beer, iced tea, lemonade, and juice.
Rates, ratings, and reminders
For the Weekday Lunch rate (Monday-Thursday), it costs P788 per head (with a minimum of 2 guests). The rate is inclusive of 90 minutes of unlimited hotpot, Mongolian bowls, cooked food, drinks, and dessert. If you want just the Unlimited Mongolian Bowl for Lunch rate, that’s P450 per head. Sorry, no solo dining allowed here!
For the Weekday Dinner/Weekend/Holidays rate (Friday-Sunday), that’s P988 per head. This rate includes unlimited seafood and beer.
Kids below 3 feet are free of charge, while kids from 3-4 feet are eligible for discounted rates. All prices are subject to 10% service charge. Also, any leftovers per 100 grams will cost P100. The maximum time for unlimited hotpot and Mongolian bowl dining is 1.5 hours per group.
After our fun and interactive Champion Hotpot dining experience, all we wanted was for this restaurant to expand to other cities in Metro Manila! It’s an enjoyable experience that would appease many Filipinos, especially those who enjoy unlimited buffet-style dining with the excitement of DIY. The meats, seafood, ingredients, sauces, broths, and veggies available were all of premium quality and good taste, so what’s not to like? We’d definitely go back for a second round, just with looser pants next time!
Champion Hotpot is located at 276 Col. Bonny Serrano Ave, San Juan, Metro Manila. You can check them out on Instagram. – Rappler.com