26 November 2010
China Red @ 6/206-218 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Located in the heart of Chinatown, China Red serves Chinese cuisine not dissimilar to that offered at the crowd-pleasing HuTong Dumpling Bar. Indeed, China Red shares many similarities with HuTong – the open kitchen allowing customers to catch a glimpse of their noodles being pulled and their dumplings being folded, the Oriental décor and the ill-mannered and brusque wait staff. There are however a number of discernible and fundamental points of difference.
Embracing the technological age, China Red has implemented an electronic ordering system for diners to place their orders with the touch of a button. Although the system has the potential to be practical and efficient, it suffers from a number of material operational issues which are compounded by decidedly poor service.
In one instance, a waiter, flagged with considerable difficulty, flatly refused to take our order for water and instead directed us to place our order through the system, which we were to later discover, did not allow water to be ordered. Indeed, with the other examples of appalling service sprinkled throughout our meal – in particular, items of food and drink were not presented in a customary manner but were offensively thrown before us – China Red’s service is deplorable at best.
When it comes to food, China Red’s signature xiao long baos lack the finesse of the benchmark HuTong steamed pork dumplings. The thick and somewhat rough pastry skin held a ball of insipid, coarse pork mince and only negligible amounts of broth. While not inedible, these steamed morsels were undeniably ordinary.
Also marred by overly thick and dense pastry skin were the pan fried pork dumplings. Although the skin of the dumplings had been clearly browned, the associated crispness generally expected of half-decent pan fried dumplings was sadly non-existent. The meager and average tasting spoonful of meat enveloped within the pastry only reinforced the dumpling’s mediocrity.
Our meal followed with the Shanghai fried noodles. Flavoured with dark and sweet soy and supplemented with pork, bamboo shoots, cabbage and carrots, the noodles were certainly not short on taste. All efforts were undone however by the texturally impaired noodles - severely overcooked and unpleasantly soft.
Thankfully, the pork wontons saved the meal from being an otherwise unmitigated disaster. The velvety wonton pastry was beautiful in texture and the accompanying sea of sweet soy, sesame seeds and dried chilli was pleasantly appetising. Extra chilli would have stepped the dish up a notch, but the dish was nevertheless enjoyable.
For a restaurant that has received such hype for its dumplings in recent times, China Red is resoundingly disappointing. Given the similarity of the cuisines offered at China Red and HuTong, China Red could easily be mistaken as a viable alternative to HuTong, especially given the difficulty in securing a table at the latter. However, with the abjectly poor offerings at China Red, you would be well advised to dine elsewhere.