China Red

Posted on December 2, 2010


Not satisfied with the raging success of their HuTong Dumplings enterprise, the founders have branched out to give us China Red (6/206-218 Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC). I’m not sure why they decided to give the new venture a new name – to provide a sense of brand/market differentiation perhaps? Food wise, it’s pretty similar. Northern Chinese style dumplings are on offer as are regional (read non-Cantonese) specalities.

It’s great seeing all the recent influx of all these new restaurants serving regional Chinese food, and it’s quite amusing overhearing how some non Chinese folk try to reconcile these regional dishes with the more conventional Cantonese fare we’re all too familiar with now. Well folks, it can all be quite different. China is a big place afterall. The barrenness of the northern regions mean the cooking style leans towards more braising and stew type dishes, while the more fertile southern region seem to favour quick and ‘clean’ tasting stir fries or steamed goods. Some Chinese restaurants try to be all things and will serve a big range of foods, from Cantonese through to Shanghainese to Szechuan (aka Sichuan). However, being a bit of a snob, I would usually only order the dishes from the region the restaurant is known to specialises in. For example, I would not order ‘xiao long bao’ (those famed Shanghainese steamed pork soup dumplings) from a yumcha institution. Yumcha has its origins from Canton, the cooking style and ingredients used is definitely rooted in the southern regions. I stand to be corrected, but yumcha places have long served up sub par xiao long baos. The pastry tends to be too thick, it’s overfilled with meat and there it little to no soup inside.

Anyway, enough of my wannabe educational rant. More regional foods on offer is a good thing, it equals greater choice and greater understanding of the diverse range of Chinese cookery. Now back to China Red. True to its name, there is a lot of red, on the ground floor at least. The interior follows a formula that is not too unlike it’s HuTong sibling. Big windows at the front so the hungry hoards can see their dumplings being stuffed and steamed in real time and dark wooden furniture with an oriental feel. The main kitchen and main dining is downstairs in the basement, below where all the steaming xiao long baos are being handmade. There’s also a private room with enough seats to hold a big Chinese family all the way in the back.

But you guys don’t really care for all that do you? The major draw card for this place is the fully interactive screens at every table. Say goodbye to the dirty sticky paper menus of the past. It’s the 21st century baby; you can order your meals online, without even needing to speak to a human – useless things they can be. Pity they couldn’t have gone the whole hog and invested on little robots to bring out the food; that still required a person to carry the dishes to our table.

I’m not sure how I feel about the menu screen thing. Is it really necessary to be so dependent on technology? Maybe that’s just the luddite in me coming through, but you know sometimes it’s just nice having a helpful wait staff take your order so you can grill them on random things…like whether the meat they’re using is organic or not :P.

Moving onto the food, dumplings being the key things under examination that day. We had the xiao long bao and the fried dumplings. They weren’t bad, but it pales compared to HuTong’s. Given that the pricing is near identical, I wouldn’t pick China Red as my first choice for this style of dumplings in the city. Perhaps their other dishes shine more? I’m yet to discover these. Whatever the case, their use of technology has been creating a lot of curiosity and buzz. I only hope they can back this up with some truly tasty treats.