Level 1/43-57 Goulburn St
Haymarket, NSW 2000
With overseas trips still feeling rather risky for the foreseeable future, I’ve been spending a lot of time recently reminiscing about the last few big holidays I’ve taken. And one thing that always comes up before too long is the amazing impromptu meal of a BBQ-hotpot hybrid I had at the side of a street in Bangkok. For the longest time after getting back to Australia, I looked everywhere for something similar, and I had all but given up hope when my sister stumbled upon Air Abb BBQ and Hotpot.
Although Air Abb BBQ and Hotpot is just across the road from the original Abb Air, it’s not nearly as easy to find. We tugged ineffectually at the locked doors by a big sign advertising all you can eat hotpot for a good few minutes, before a woman on her dinner break nearby took pity on us and told us that the entry was through Scruffy Murphy’s, aka the pub next door.
Despite the inauspicious start however, I was favourably impressed by Air Abb’s setup. The deliberately dated paintjob on the walls, and the tall arched windows with frames painted in a kitschy sky-blue, is delightfully sweet and rustic. The effect is completed by the high ceilings, and the generous amounts of greenery dangling from it.
For $35pp at lunch, or $39pp at dinner, you get 90 minutes to stuff your face at Air Abb. The first decision to be made is whether you want to have just straight-up hotpot, or a traditional Thai BBQ-hotpot hybrid, which is the clearly superior option (more on that later). The price includes a small selection of fried foods, a reasonable range of veggies, and a rather generous selection of meats. There’s also a small dessert station where you can grab a couple pieces of fresh fruit, or make your own sweet concoction from the likes of basil and palm seeds, grass jelly, and coconut cream. Drinks wise, there’s a self-serve station of pre-mixed beverages. If it’s available on the day, definitely get the pandan drink – it is utterly delicious, as opposed to the other two we had, one of which tasted like cough syrup, and the other like herbal creaming soda. Not bad, but bordering on bizarre, and definitely nowhere nearly as good as the pandan.
Once we had decided on the BBQ-hotpot hybrid, our table was set up within seconds. Now, to elaborate on why this is much better than hotpot: the secret lies in the setup. The hotplate on which you grill your meat is surrounded by a soup moat, which means that as you cook, the juices from the meat drip down into the stock, creating a delicious shortcut to a hotpot base that tastes as if it has been simmering for days. Plus, you can’t argue with the efficiency of having hotpot and BBQ at the same time, as well as the fact that this is one of the very few places in town where you can try this, whereas hotpot restaurants are a dime a dozen.
In terms of the quality of the food available, it’s about what you’d expect for a buffet at this price point. There’s plenty of food available, (hopefully) none of it will give you gastro, but most options are pretty ordinary. If you’re here with the intention of eating your body’s weight in meat, definitely go for the wagyu knuckle slice and wagyu belly – they are by far the best of the bunch. Just remember that you can only order them via the QR code on the table; they’re not set out in the self-serve area like everything else. Another hot tip: make sure you don’t skimp on the sauces. With five options available – green chilli Thai seafood, spicy-sour tamarind, Japanese sesame, sweet chilli, and sweet miso – and all of them packed with flavour, it would be a major mistake not to dip your grilled wagyu into them.
I’ll admit that I have probably been reliving my holiday hotpot-BBQ experience with a rose-tinted glow. So it’s fair to say that nothing eaten at a dining table indoors in Australia is likely to live up to the experience of grilling meat whilst perched on little plastic chairs at the side of road in Thailand. With that said though, this is a reasonable place to come and try this fun little method of dining if you’ve never had it before. The ingredient quality admittedly leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s pretty fair given the price, and you’re welcome to have as much of the more expensive cuts as you like. And the fact that it’s a buffet is an extra plus in my books. Say what you want about buffets and their dubious hygiene (true) and low quality (also true, at least when you’re not shelling out over $100 per head), I was raised to love buffets, and this is a hill I will die on.
Rating: 12.5/20 – give it a crack; having BBQ and hotpot at the same time is pretty rad.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.