Monday, January 10, 2011

January 1, 2011: China Red

After spending the Christmas period cooking up nearly every meal, new years day had us on a quest for someone who would cook us dinner. Our first few local ideas were closed but we eventually remembered the existence of China Red, a newish dumpling focussed place in the city. China Red has already been blogged to death (see the list at the bottom), with a lot of fairly ambivalent or negative reviews. Most of the criticism of China Red had held it up in comparison to sister restaurant Hu Tong, which we've failed to visit because we were suspicious of the lack of veg options. So once we'd seen this rave by Vegetarian Life highlighting the veg options on the menu, we were keen to at least give China Red a shot.

The key gimmick that China Red has going for it are these touch-screen menus, which let you browse the menu, order and arrange the bill without having to deal with any pesky humans. These screens had the significant advantage of the option of 'English' over the ones we'd used in Tokyo but were otherwise basically the same thing. The menu is a bit overwhelming, with dozens and dozens of options, illustrated by a bunch of somewhat unappetising miniature pictures. We ordered some drinks to carry us through the food ordering process: a lychee calpis for Cindy and an iced honey lemon tea for me ($4 a pop).

The lack of human interaction makes checking ingredients a bit harder, so we just made some assumptions about which of the entrees were vego, starting with shredded turnip pastries ($6.50).

These were crispy-fried and delicious, particularly when slathered with the fantastic chilli oil that China Red have on every table.

As with most of the places famed for their dumplings, the vast majority of China Red's dumpling options are loaded up with pork, seafood or other nasties (the first vego place to offer me xiao long bao will win some sort of prize). Our vegetable dumplings ($6.80) were filled with a fairly tasty minced up mix of tofu, mushrooms and herbs but had disappointingly stodgy skins. Again, these were basically amazing once you smeared chilli oil all over them.

We managed to track down quite a large range of vegie main options, opting to try two dishes that were completely new to us. First up, stir-fried pumpkin with salted egg yolk ($19.80).

These little crispy pumpkin slivers had an incredibly rich batter, with a slightly sandy texture and a strong, salty flavour. After the first few bites I was in love with these but by the time we'd got through most of the plate the flavour had become a bit overwhelming - probably better ordered in a larger group. Cindy didn't tire of these and they were the last dish that she continued to pick at before declaring herself full.

Cindy was also pretty excited to try the shredded potato in hot and sour sauce. The tiny menu picture made it hard to figure out exactly what this would be, so were a bit surprised when it came out looking basically like a plate of potato noodles.

The hot and sour sauce was deliciously spicy and the mix of capsicum and potato was crunchy and enjoyable. But again, a full plate of this gets a bit much - there must be three or four whole potatoes in this one dish.

I'd been happily pouring the Szechwan chilli oil over everything throughout the meal, so we needed to make another tour of the drinks menu about halfway through - an iced lemon tea for me and a strawberry calpis for Cindy (another $4 each).

We ended up pretty satisfied with our visit to China Red - the menu seems to have a lot for non meat-eaters to choose from and the touch screen ordering system was a pretty efficient and enjoyable way to wade through our options. The food was probably a smidgen disappointing - I think we could have done a better job of ordering and the chilli oil made everything taste great, but none of the dishes really knocked my socks off. And it's not particularly good value - nothing here impressed me much beyond the level of Camy, which is about half the price. Still, we'll probably give China Red another shot when we're struggling for CBD dinner ideas in future.

China Red has received a fairly resounding 'meh' from the blogosphere, check out the negative or ambivalent reviews from Melbourne Culinary Journal, Addictive and Consuming, The Very, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Ichigo shortcake, Melbourne Food Review, Kong-Kay, Half-Eaten, The Jess Ho, Eat and Be Merry, Misadventures of Miss C, Once a Waitress

A few people have been a bit more upbeat: Vegetarian Life, I Eat Therefore I Am, Saint-ism, and Ze Eats.

China Red
6/206 Bourke St, Melbourne
9662 3668
entrees ~$6-12, mains ~ $12-20


  1. Sounds like an interesting place!

    I'm quite a fan of Hutong (when I can get a table), and have found enough veg options to keep me satisfied (the eggplant is amazing and the spinach is super-tasty and the dumplings are far superior to Camy, imho). But it's the xioa long bao that everyone raves about and it's so far from being veg that it makes me want to cry.

    HOWEVER, I have come up with an alternative for home-made veg soup dumpling goodness! I use a mushroomy pho broth for the soup part, and set it using agar. Put a small chunk of the jellied stock in a dumpling wrapper, top with a mushroom & tofu filling. My dumpling skins need a bit of work, but it's still a delicious (if labour-intensive) treat!

  2. It's funny, when I first went to China Red it was before I had started waitressing again, so the touch screnns were a super-fun novelty.

    However now I'm back in the restaurant world a few nights a week (where I use a touch screen to order meals for hundreds of people) the fun has kind of gone out of it.

    I'd still go back though. It's a fun place to bring interstate visitors to, althouth aparently Sydney has loads of places like this (not that I would know!).

  3. GGF - you make your own xioa long bao?! That is too cool. And thanks for the Hu Tong tips - we're going to check it out tonight. :-)

    Nola - good point, it'd probably be a fun place to take some of our Qld friends too.

  4. It will be interesting to see if these screens are replaced by iPads - but gadgets do not equal quality food...

    Cheers - Ken

  5. Xiao Long Baos without meat, nooooooo. :-)

    I don't think you can get that rich broth without the meat, although I'd happily be proven wrong.

    I think once the gimmick of the touch screen wears off (after about 30 seconds), I prefer a waiter. Like you wrote, you just can't ask questions about ingredients or the size of the dish or how spicy etc.