It's all in the name. Ascend the escalator and you'll discover that heaven comes in hotpot form
Lost? Well, yes. This place is huge. Occupying a good chunk of the first floor at the revamp that turned 206 Bourke from a seen-better-days cinema to a food mall by way of Hong Kong, Lost Heaven is a gob-smacking maze of booths where locating your dining compadres is an exercise that might require a compass and whistle, and possibly a bag of trail mix and emergency flare.
It looks a lot like it did when it was Dainty Sichuan. In fact, it looks exactly like it did when it was Dainty Sichuan. Striped banquettes, timber aplenty, dangling globes and coloured tiles all making a cohesive argument for Sino-Scandi design.
The casual observer won’t notice that the name changed when the restaurant was recently subsumed into the growing restaurant empire behind the HuTong restaurants. The net impact on the diner? Not a lot. The HuTong and Dainty Sichuan teams could duke it out like Mayweather and Pacquiao and still not have a decisive winner. Let’s just say that together they’re top of Melbourne’s regional Chinese ladder and call it a draw.
It’s still Sichuanese in focus, so the hotpot is the main game at Lost Heaven. Hotpot restaurants are a massive thing in Sichuan right now, and they’re a bit of a thing here, too. Grab a table with a burner in the centre, then get onto the tick-a-box hotpot menu where you first choose your broth then the bits that go in it – everything from luxe seafood (lobster and mud crab, at the dreaded "market price") to dense balls of finely minced fish, fat wedges of oyster mushroom and thin slices of pork belly that take only a fraction of a minute to cook in the bubbling depths. As for those depths – the half and half is the most popular: one side a polite, stocky, "clear" soup, the other a vat of lava-infused spicy madness. Cooking your own dinner was rarely so fun.
The main carte is occupied by food that makes you eat faster, and not purely because of its indebtedness to the genus Capsicum. The xiao long bao, the Shanghainese soup dumplings on which the HuTong reputation rests, are merely OK – the dough too thick, the explosion of soup too tepid – but the wontons with a sexy slick of chilli oil are just the ticket.
Hit the cold dishes – Chinese food’s answer to the entrée – for things like the offal-y wonder of ox tongue and feathery tripe in Sichuan chilli sauce mollified with sesame seeds and the fresh greenery of coriander. The Sichuan jelly noodles, translucent worms of startling delicacy, are a thing of beauty with the tempered fire of dried chilli and sesame oil.
Almost predictably, the peripherals let the Lost Heaven package down. There’s a wine list that’s nothing to get excited about (although most of the perfunctory Oz-New Zealand collection is in the sub-$40 bracket) and the staff range from sweet and smiling to taciturn and sullen. Never mind. You’re here for the burn, baby, and that’s an eternal flame.