CHONGQING, after which York's newest Chinese restaurant is named, is the kind of huge, sprawling Oriental megacity Ridley Scott would love to use as the setting for a dystopian science fiction film.

Crumbling concrete tower blocks sprawl across cliffs and outcrops of rock that flank the upper reaches of the mighty Yangtze river. Treacherous steps lead down to the waterfront, where you can step aboard a riverboat that will take you on a voyage through the heart of China to the sea at Shanghai.

Chongqing is one of the 'three ovens of China'. In summer it's so hot and so humid the water vapour hangs in the air like steam from a kettle.The clamorous, bustling street markets of this mega city (greater Chongqing has a population of 30 million) are filled with more types of food - much of it still alive and wriggling - than you could possibly imagine; eels, fish, scrawny chickens in wicker baskets; whole waxy pig's ears; chicken's feet, tripe, intestines, tongue, pig's lungs and brain; root vegetables, peppers, gourds, white and black fungus, pak choi and Chinese leaves; and glistening mounds of silken tofu, smelly tofu, fried tofu and dried tofu.

Hardly surprising, then, that Chongqing is famed for its cuisine. As with many hot places, it's a cuisine that is blisteringly, fiercely hot. Sichuan food combines two spices in particular for a flavour and sensation that are utterly unique. It's called 'Ma La' - the combination of a powerful Sichuan pepper which creates a tingling, numbing sensation in the lips and mouth, with fiery chilli peppers. The result can blow your head off.

This spice can be found in many Sichuan foods. But it is at its most potent when used in a hot-pot. No, not the Lancashire variety. A Sichuan hot-pot is a cauldron of bubbling broth placed over an open flame on the table. You are supplied with whatever fresh, raw ingredients you request. You then throw these into the bubbling broth, wait for them to cook, fish the succulent tidbits out with chopsticks, and eat.

The broth can have different bases. But the true Sichuan hotpot consists of a fiery Ma La broth. I ate many in my years living in China. Seldom have I suffered more - or enjoyed my food more...

So I was thrilled when I learned a hot-pot restaurant had opened in York, in Cumberland Street. It's called the Yuzong Chungking Hotpot. And it's fabulous.

My Chinese wife and I went with four Chinese friends (you need a decent-sized group to appreciate the full hot pot). We sat around a table with a hole carved in the middle. Our waiter brought a cauldron of broth (divided into three compartments, each with a different broth), and we tucked in...

At the Chungking you order with an electronic tablet, choosing first your broth, then the selection of prepared raw foods that you're going to cook in it. The choice is amazing: glistening mounds of baby octopus; heaps of tofu; rolls of marbled lamb meat; prawns; crab's claws; succulent Chinese leaf; sliced potatoes and yams; chunks of crisp, fresh cauliflower; fish balls and meatballs; thread noodles, rice noodles, sweet potato noodles...

We ate, and we ate, and we ate. The thing about a hotpot is that the more you cook, the tastier the broth becomes. Being vegetarian, I had a compartment for myself, filled with Ma La broth. The food was extraordinary, as fresh as it could possibly be - Chinese leaf that was perfectly cooked yet with the crispness of recent freshness; silky tofu infused with the tingling taste of the broth; earthy yam; slices of potato cooked just past the point of al dente. But it was the broth that really did it for me. The Ma La spice somehow simultaneously numbs your lips and tongue and at the same time stimulates your taste buds. I mopped my brow, and kept eating until I almost burst. My companions did the same.

The Chungking isn't cheap. Raw ingredients range from £3.90 for sweet potato noodles to £7 or £8 for a dish of fresh raw prawns. The tendency is to order too much: so our meal for four adults and one three-year-old came to £130.

And eating a Chinese hotpot isn't for the faint-hearted. You need to know how long to cook the different foods for (your waiter will help); you need to be adept at fishing the cooked food out of the broth with a ladle or chopsticks; and ideally you need to know how to use chopsticks. It is messy, raucous, sociable, and utterly unlike a formal English dining experience. And it is wonderful fun.

The Chunking is also so new it doesn't yet have an alcohol licence. But if you can do without the booze (at least for now) and you want to try something really different, get together with a bunch of friends and head down to Cumberland Street. It will be an experience.