Shop 6, 206 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9662 3688
There are only really two things in the world that Melburnians, as a collective group, are in love with: dumplings and touch screen monitors. Oh, and Christos Tsiolkas. And Gorman. And Fairfax publications. And single-origin coffee. And layering. And hating Collingwood. But let’s just stick with the first two, shall we? I love dumplings. I love them a lot. Those of you who know me in person and those of you who stalk my blog will know this. Whenever a new dumpling restaurant opens up, I get excited. Like ‘I take you home! I make you fish ball soup!’ excited.
While I love my dumpling restaurants like the next Melburnian, I must admit that as much as I get excited over new dumpling restaurants, there is very little that differentiates between dumpling restaurant A and dumpling restaurant B. Sure, the owner of any given new dumpling restaurant may welcome punters into a brand, spanking new dumpling restaurant with a menu that promises something different, with flashy new fit-outs and hoards of pretty spruikers standing outside the restaurant. However, the end product is inevitably the same: dumplings that fail to excite and service that is arguably non-existent. Honestly, this happens all the time so you’d think that I would have stopped getting excited a long time ago.
Enter China Red. A fresh-faced debutante of the Hu Tong Empire, it cleverly combines the two things that Melbournians adore and flaunts them in one neat package: the ability of ordering hot plates of dumplings via touch screens.
Yep, that’ s right. Plonk your tush onto a newly-polished wooden chair and focus your attention on the screen to your left (or right, depending on how you’ re sitting).
To steal a line from Larissa Dubecki, China Red’s dining room epitomises “Asian capitalists’ enthusiasm for communist kitsch” with its clean, polished furnishings dotted with splashes of reds, smiling Maos and touchscreens all over. Think iHu Tong.
Crockery look familiar? They’re exactly the same as the ones you find down on Market Lane.
(Oolong tea was $2.20 a teapot)
The process goes like this:
1. Try not to laugh at the spelling errors on the laminated notices below the screen…
2. … or the foblish.
3 . Select your language.
4. Flip through the pages and if you see something you like, click on the photo, then the ‘ order’
button and select how many you want.
5. RESIST THE URGE TO ORDER MORE THAN YOU NEED. RESIST THE URGE TO ORDER MORE THAN YOU NEED. RESIST THE URGE TO ORDER MORE THAN YOU NEED. RESIST THE URGE TO ORDER MORE THAN YOU NEED.
6. Repeat steps 4 & 5. You can check the bill-in-progress too.
7 . When you’ ve finished, there is an option to finalise the bill (‘Bill enquiry’). Click that when you’re done.
But Libby, you ask, what if I want something that’ s not on the menu (like, I don’t know, water?)? What if I want to order take-away? What if I ordered something by mistake? No problems, click the ‘press here for assistance’ button and your waiter will be at your table within no time.
We had only just ordered a serving of xiaolongbao, our first (of three dishes), when a steamer-full of them arrived (eight for $11.80). Like, literally two seconds after Shirley’s finger touched the ‘order’ button. Looking very similar to those found at Hu Tong (as one would expect), each dumpling had a skin as fragile as rice paper that barely held together a filling of pork and broth. While they weren’t terrible, they were very much a Jan to Hu Tong’ s Marcia.
What prevented China Red’ s xiaolongbaos from reaching Queen Bee status was the fact that there were bits of cooked pigs’ blood in the filling which gave it a can-be-nasty-if-you-hate-pigs-blood metallic taste. Worse still, it was obvious from the fact that they were brought over to us so quickly AND the fact that bits of pork fat were coagulating that the steamer had been sitting around for quite some time.
Thank St Mary of the Cross for the ever-trusty Hu Tong-branded chilli oil to make things taste a little bit better though. I love the way those little Sichuan peppercorns created a spine-tingling numbness in my mouth. I tell you, man, this stuff is good. Like ‘Oh, baby, just you shut your mouth’ good.
The plate of pan-fried pork dumplings (eight for $10.80) made more of an effort to look presentable. Unfortunately, like the wannabe prom queen loser who tried so hard on prom night, these pork dumplings didn’t quite made on the podium. I’m sorry but trying to pose sexily on fancy ceramic plate combined with flabby and oily skin does not a beautiful dumpling make. Loser.
Forgoing the allure of the mouth-watering-looking shenjianbaos, we went for a noodle dish because we heard that the noodles here “were alright.” Making a decision on basis of whatever dish had the prettiest (okay fine, less ugly-looking) photo, we settled for a bowl of Peking noodles with meat sauce ($11.80). A little dry, a little greasy and perhaps a little too nutty, this dish wasn’t anything to sing about.
Towards the end, Shirley ordered a serving of beef fillet in Cantonese-style sauce for takeaway (not pictured). At $18.80, I thought that it was a bit steep and according to Shirley, the meat (the next day at lunch) was tender with a good flavour and texture but the sauce was disappointing – it was “borderline gweilo” and just spoilt the dish. Never again, she said.
While China Red did in fact give us dumplings and give television at the same time, I can’t see myself going back there again. The concept sounds great – especially those who have difficulties communicating with waiter/esses at dumpling restaurants – the food was a huge let-down. With this in mind, I implore Melburnians to forget attempting a ménage à trois with both dumplings and touchscreens at the same time and stick with dating them separately.