Red Silks is kind of hidden away, up some garishly decorated stairs in one of the more obscure arcades in Chinatown. Benny and Ruby Grapefruit had no idea that it existed, Snooze was aware of it because I'd pointed it out to her before, but it had been on my list of places to visit for several months. I was very keen to try the outside seating area above Bourke Street, and with the cold and wet weather had been putting it off for Spring or Summer. But with the sun out and temperatures in the high 20's it was finally time to get the gang together to give it a go.
First impressions are a little surprising as you walk through the glass door. Sure it's dark and the first thing I noticed was the bar, but more than dodgy it has a bit of a faded opulence feel, like somewhere once quite fancy but that its best days may have been a few years ago. Not to say that it isn't still much fancier than the student style eateries in the arcade below, but I was left wondering what it looked like at its peak.
Outside on the balcony the setting is much plainer, mainly undercover with a few tables and some greenery on the balconies edge. The balcony's wall and hedge is a little high and thick to properly see the street life below, but some of the noise does filter up giving it a bit of an al fresco feeling. On a bright and sunny day with a slight breeze blowing, it really is a nice place to sit and dine. Fuller than I expected too for a Wednesday lunchtime.
The menu is quite long and extensive. It's also a bit of a mixture of cheaper student and office style lunchtime specials combined with some slightly more formal and pricier options.
First dish to arrive was our congee with salted fish, peanuts and fried chicken (served on the side). This was the dish of the day, the one which we all liked. The congee was thick without being gluggy, nicely flavoured by the addition of spring onion as well as the salted fish and peanuts, with some deep fried noodles on top adding further texture. At $10 for a bowl it wasn't especially cheap but it wasn't a one person serve, between the four of us we probably managed nearly two full individual sized bowls each. The fried chicken was also excellent, four small pieces of crispy skinned moist white chicken wing.
We were split on the soft shell crab with egg yolk sauce. Both Benny and I are fans of soft shell crab and liked this version. I thought the serve was generous, the crunchy texture of the crab good and liked the richness and slight saltiness of the sauce in which the crabs had been coated during frying. On the other hand, Ruby Grapefruit and Snooze both found it a little oily and not to their taste.
Similarly we were divided on the pork claypot. While we ordered the pork and salted fish version I am not sure that's what we received as there was a reasonable amount of chilli in the dish but none of us were able to taste any salted fish. Both Snooze and Ruby Grapefruit liked the flavours of this a lot, although Ruby isn't a huge fan of pork belly (too much fat). But Benny and I weren't that impressed, although it must be said it's rare for me to like thinly sliced pork dishes so I was never likely to be a huge fan.
Ruby Grapefruit loves a good Char Kway Teow, a Malaysian fried rice noodle dish. It's really a hawker or street café style dish, and the best versions in Melbourne generally seem to come from specialist Malaysian restaurants. Ruby was a bit disappointed with the version here, which admittedly was a bit light on for prawns, fish cakes, Chinese sausage or other ingredients, but I thought it had a small touch of wok hei about it. I'd have put it in the acceptable range, ok but I'd probably be more tempted to try something new on the menu than to order it again.
It's a little weird. We all really liked the congee and at least one other dish, it just wasn't always the same dish. Service was fine without being outstanding, and the prices reasonable. But overall our visit was quite a success based on the most important criteria - did we enjoy ourselves and would we go back. I think the answer to both of those questions was a pretty resounding yes. A classic case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.
Food - 7
Service - 7
Ambience - 7.5
Price - 7
1st Floor, 200 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9663 9922