Thursday, October 7, 2010

China Red, Melbourne CBD by Big Fil

It's not that long ago that there were only two places to go in the Melbourne CBD to get a dumpling fix: Shanghai Dumpling and Shanghai Village. Now there are at least eight places that either specialise in dumplings or dumplings form a major part of their menu. The latest and one of the most upmarket is China Red, located in the renovated 206 Bourke Street arcade abutting China Town.

Before you even enter, the first thing you notice about China Red is the large glass window behind which men and women in white chefs uniforms make the dumplings and
noodles. It's a little trendy at the moment to see food being prepared and I quite like it ... it's like getting a free floor show thrown in with the food, and a great way to check out the food preparation standards.

The second thing is that there are no menus (unless you specifically ask for one), and no staff to take your order. Instead each table has a touch screen menu ... with China Red probably the first restaurant in Melbourne to adopt this approach. Whoever wrote the program for the touch screen did a good job. Done badly it would be a major irritant, but because it's done so well it make the process smooth and quick. Most of us hadn't seen this process before and liked it ... it's a definite bonus not having to catch a staff member's eye when you're ready to order, or harder still, to get the bill.

First thing we ordered, of course, was the Xiao Long Bao. These are the 'it' dumplings of the moment and almost mandatory for adumpling house, even those that mainly feature the thicker skinned northern Chinese style of dumpling. Ours were decent, probably a bit above
average although a little salty, with a reasonable amount of soup and skin thickness. They also had a slightly different taste to those I've had before, not just of pork but having a slightly tangy taste.

For the other dumplings there were a few differences of opinion over which we liked. One thing all the dumplings had in common was they were quite large. While it's good to be generous this
meant that they didn't have the delicate textures which some styles of dumplings have and you could find yourself filling up quite fast.

The steamed Peking (pork) dumplings and the vegetable dumplings were both thicker skin style dumplings. I liked the Peking dumplings. With their thicker skins these can end up gluggy, but I didn't find this the case at China Red.

The vegetarian dumplings used the same style of dumpling skin but the vegetable interior gave them a slightly different texture. One of us liked these, one not so much, and I was somewhere in the middle.

The dumplings we all agreed were good though were the steamed prawn and chive dumplings. These were thinner, translucent skinned style dumplings. Snooze, in particular, liked these best of the day and would gladly return only for a meal of these dumplings. While still pretty large this meant they were a bit more delicate than the others we ordered, although this was a comparative thing.

China Red also has a fairly extensive non-dumpling range of selections. The cold sliced venison was tasty but didn't necessarily taste of venison.

The crispy fried pancake was ordered by accident (we meant to order the spring onion pancake) and was unexpectedly sweet, very oily and stuffed with coconut. An unusual choice and probably one we wouldn't order again, more because of how greasy it was than anything else.

The soft shelled prawns were generous in size and reasonable in number. However the dish as a whole was sweeter than I expected and would have benefitted from the addition of fresh chilli.

A number of people have commented about the service here. I didn't have any major issues. Using touch screen ordering didn't impact on the dining experience negatively ... the opposite in fact because the dumplings arrived in what seemed record time. Our experience was that arriving at noon we could have been in and out in an hour if we hadn't ordered something else. The staff we encountered were friendly and enthusiastic, although one seemed more than keen to turn our table over. In general, the dumplings and mains were fine if not outstanding, and a little more expensive than average. If I had to give three things which I will remember about China Red compared to the other dumpling houses in the city in a month's time it will be the kitchen window, the touch screen ordering system and the food being somewhat above average.

Food - 7
Service - 6.5
Ambience - 8 (love those open kitchens)
Price - 6

Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9662 3688

China Red on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just curious, have to been to Hutong? (opposite Flower drum) This is it's 'Little sister' so to speak. Run by the same people, but Hutong requires a reservation and usually takes at least a week if not longer to get into. The menu is the same but Hutong food is much much better.
Cheers Rubydarling

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