A chain with as much fanfare as Johnny Rockets back home, Hutaoli tries – hard – to be the gathering place for music junkies and alternative youth. Its heavily filtered pics on Instagram reflect an innate desire to look cool, as do the moose heads and exposed light bulbs suspended around the interior of the restaurant.
New to 289 Art Park (speaking of places trying too hard…), Hutaoli’s overhanging vines and backlit bonsai trees draw passers-by inside with relative ease.
Cultured as the collection of wine bottles and suited bartenders are, however, the flimsy paper menu (written only in Chinese) oozes with run-of-the-mill dishes that, as usual, span all of China’s regional cuisines with a bit of Italian pizza (RMB58) and cheesecake (RMB42) thrown in for good measure.
Soon after we arrive, an enjoyable live acoustic band is replaced by two overzealous hosts screaming at guests to scan a QR code to partake in a ‘game’ on behalf of Hutaoli’s soft opening. Chaos ensues, turning what could have been a peaceful evening of red wine and gossip into a boisterous battle to shake one’s iPhone faster than everyone else in the room.
Wine is only available by the bottle (RMB98-458) – which, given the noise, may be for the better – and is poured into a decanter first, winning Hutaoli points for sophistication. Still, without cocktails the drink menu feels incredibly sparse.
Of note on the snack menu is Sichuan cold vermicelli (四川凉粉, RMB26), mouth-watering chicken (口水鸡, RMB38) and sweet and sour ribs (糖醋排骨, RMB38). The vermicelli is decent for the first few bites until you realize it’s sitting in about an inch of chili oil and a sauce that tastes suspiciously similar to Laoganma (老干妈), the store-bought hot sauce.
When asked where the restaurant’s rack of lamb (RMB98) is from, one waitress claims France, another China. Traceable sourcing isn’t really a thing yet here though, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.
By the time we ask for the bill, the game show has quieted down enough to converse with our waitress at a normal volume. Was it an unusually raucous night to stop by? Perhaps. But we’re not overly inclined to give Hutaoli another chance.
Who’s going: head bangers, middle-class families
Good for: live music in a gorgeous setting, spicy nibbles
See listing for Hutaoli.