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17° & RAINY ON THURSDAY 2 APRIL IN MELBOURNE
By Libby Curran
December 23, 2019
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Panda Hot Pot

The former Dracula's site is now home to an international sichuan hot pot chain.
By Libby Curran
December 23, 2019
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Whether you ever got to venture inside, or just heard tales about the goings on, Carlton's long-standing theatre restaurant Dracula's was one of the city's true institutions. But now, the sprawling corner building at 100 Victoria Street has enjoyed a complete about-face, reborn as the first Aussie outpost for China's famed Panda Hot Pot.

The chain — known for its sichuan-style hot pot — already has 400 international outlets under its belt in China, Malaysia, Japan and the US. But, keen to spread even more love for the traditional Chinese dining experience — this will be its Down Under debut.

At the palatial 228-seat Carlton site — which sold for $10.3 million last year — 37 years of outlandish costumes and vampire-themed cabaret have been replaced with a new kind of theatre. Heavy  screen partitions divide the two-level dining room, which is now decorated with glowing red lanterns and a custom-made, 1.5-tonne steel dragon taking centre stage. It even offers its own themed experience in the form of live cultural performances unfolding from 7pm each night.

Decked out like a scene from ancient China, it's a fitting backdrop for Panda's authentic sichuan hot pot offering, where big groups congregate over giant bowls of bubbling soup. For the uninitiated, the cuisine sees diners choose a soup base and various additions, then cook it all DIY-style in a large pot in the middle of the the table by dunking ingredients into the simmering stock.

At Panda Hot Pot, you'll choose from soup base options like a rich tomato broth, or the signature Sichuan spicy soup, crafted on spices imported from China and simmered together for over 12 hours. Pick a spice level, then make it your own, ordering add-ins from a hefty selection of meat cuts, seafood, offal, fresh veggies and noodles, each item listed on the menu with its own suggested cooking time. A self-serve dipping sauce station allows you to add another level of flavour to your bowl.

If you find yourself overwhelmed — and, considering everything going on, you might — a crew of Panda's hot pot experts are on hand to ensure it all runs smoothly.

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