There's an art to building your own hotpot at Little Sichuan, the latest addition to Box Hill Central Shopping Centre.
Partly owned by the Dainty Sichuan Group, it's a case of slurp-your-own-adventure as customers fill stainless steel bowls with ingredients from four shelves of trays. The process finishes at the counter, where you'll choose one of five broths and pay by weight ($3.28 for 100 grams).
There's no trace of spice in the chicken soup, a one chilli-rated pickled vegetable broth is the next level up, and the double-chilli "sour and spicy" will make you reach for a bottle of soy milk for relief. We weren't game enough to try the three-chilli rated "Sichuan spicy", but nearby tables had tears in their eyes.
There's an off-menu vegetarian broth, about 10 kinds of tofu, and vegetables ranging from lotus root through to bamboo shoots. Those without dietary requirements can load up on sliced meats, offal, seafood, noodles and more. Most tables order snacky dishes like pan-fried pork buns, deep-fried leek pies and small "burgers" made from flat bao buns, and share a single hot pot.
There's likely to be a queue (it's walk-ins only), but people don't hang around for long in the fast-paced restaurant designed by EAT Architects.
Aside from the ingredients display, the window through to the dumpling-making station is the most impressive feature. Find Little Sichuan in the South Centre of Box Hill Shopping Centre beside Hokkaido, entry via Carrington Road.
Open daily 11am-9pm.
Box Hill Central Shopping Centre, 1 Main Street, Box Hill, 03 9898 8305.