Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Touchscreens at China Red

My friend M is the anti-cool.  Years ago he buttoned all his shirts up to the neck until that became hip, when he defiantly unbuttoned them back down.  The mention of perhaps a little product in his hair prompts snorts of derision.  He refuses to drink lattes, insisting on more proletarian flat whites.  Looking for dumplings in the city one night, Hu Tong booked out, I suggested with some trepidation we try China Red.  "It's trendy though," I said warily.  "It's got touchscreens."

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China Red certainly still has a buzz about it.  It's in the new centre in Little Bourke that also houses the fabulous Shanghai Dynasty, the mediocre Dragon Boat and Malaysian Jalan Alor that Bryan recently gave a gold star.

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It seems a bit the poor man's Hu Tong with an open kitchen where you can watch dumplings being made plus a select range of said dumplings including xiao long bao, the soup-filled, floppy-bottomed little parcels Hu Tong has made Melbourne fall in love with.

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It's deceptively large with a second, windowless lower level.  You are packed in tight but I quite like the aesthetic - simple, clean lines and bold colours.  Ordering is done via the touchscreens that hover above the tables.  There's a full spread of dumplings plus various mainland-Chinese dishes like fried Szechuan dishes covered in whole dried red chillies and various sesame oil-dressed salad-type dishes.

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In the end, we didn't get to use the famous touchscreens at all!  We were in the middle of the restaurant and received regular menus.  The ironic thing is that this most modern of Chinese restaurants has gone back to the "number system" of suburban Chinese eateries.  Where once families called up on a Friday night to order "a 19, two 24s and a 63", at China Red the happy waitresses need the numbers not the names (I think because they must input via the same system as the touchscreens).

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Stir-fried prawn with salted egg yolk, $22.80

I have always wanted to try a "salted egg yolk" dish.  I am sorry to say but yuck, yuck, YUCK.  The prawns were really good, juicy, fresh and butterflied, but I hated the sauce - kind of crumbly, sandy egg yolk bound somehow with light sauce.  I hate hardboiled eggs so I don't really know what I was thinking.  Not China Red's fault at all as I think this must have been well executed - I just hated it.  The steep price made it ache all the more.

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Shanghai "shao-long-bao", $11.80

We watched the chef making these as we entered.  They do seem well made but they aren't as good as Hu Tong's, though.  The mince seemed really fatty and the broth that came out did too, while Hu Tong's is much clearer and cleaner in taste.

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Pan-fried dumpling, $10.80

I liked these a lot, though.  The mince inside was tasty, not grainy or dry, and the skins were pleasantly thick but not doughy.  They had gorgeous fried bubbly bottoms.  With the provided dipping sauce of soy and vinegar - very good.  They are so much more expensive than the usual 15 dumplings for an insane $7 or $8, though.
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We were in and out in 20 minutes, I kid you not, but this simple meal with two beers and rice cost us over $65.  OUCH!!  I think if you choose wisely, you could have a good meal here.  I am not that clued into mainland Chinese food to really pick well, though.  I must add that the service was great.

So where else in the city apart from Hu Tong is great for dumplings?  Hipness optional. 

China Red
Shop 6, 206 Bourke Street, Melbourne (map)
Phone:  9662 3688      
Hours:  Mon-Thu 11:30am-10:30pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm

17 comments:

  1. Have you tried Camy Shanghai Dumpling?

    Good, cheap, not hip and variable service:

    http://foodscrazy.blogspot.com/2010/11/camy-shanghai-dumpling.html

    I haven't been to Hu Tong or China Red yet so can't compare...

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  2. Lol, I can't wait to have you try a mooncake with a salted egg yolk in it. :D

    Proletarian flat whites... Lol I had to look up what proletarian meant!!

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  3. I would have suggested the ubiquitous Camy Shanghai a few months ago for cheap, totally not fancy dumplings (recently packed with "very hip" people, so bad news for M). But my recent visit there... well lets just say it was disgusting on many levels.

    Hu Tong is the only dumpling place I've frequented that's tasty each time and worth the $.

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  4. You know, M used to eat Camy at least three times per week but now he is anti. I think it got too hip! But thank you for the suggestion Andy :)

    My sister recommended Dumpling Sisters in Exhibition but when I went past there recently, it looked so empty...

    I have heard Chinatown Dumpling (Swanston St) and Shanghai Village (Little Bourke) are all right.

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  5. Um, what's this talk of Camy's not being hip? Camy has been popular for years (though perhaps this means it's lost its edge) though I personally will never go there again, after the toilet-water-dripping-from-the-ceiling incident of 2004.

    I still think that apart from Hu Tong, Shanghai Village and Dumplings Plus are the go-to places in the city. Shanghai Street Dumplings is also pretty good, though I was a little drunk when I visited, so my recollection may not be the most accurate.

    Oh, and about the salted egg yolk, yeah, it's not to everyone's liking. It's not really meant to be a sauce, though, more of a coating. And it's best on chicken ribs, in my experience. I think it might be a little cloying on prawns. But then again, it works with crab.... hrm.

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  6. I had wondered why you were anti Camy. I need to know no more!!! I have never thought they were extra special and have not been for years.

    I knew you would know some good places! Shanghai Street Dumplings - wow! That looks like a must-try and a bit tucked away, too.

    Here's info and map about Dumplings Plus: http://www.milkbarmag.com/2011/01/28/a-challenger-emerges/

    And SSD: http://www.milkbarmag.com/2011/03/07/shanghai-streets-delish-dumplings/

    Woohoo, I am excited! Yes, I saw a pic of crab at Omah's recently and the salted egg looked totally different. I love chicken ribs at Quang Vinh in St Albans... SO.... GOOD....

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  7. I can second the Xiao Long Bao at Dumplings Plus.

    Not in Melbourne yet but Din Tai Fung are still the pick of the dumplings. Add to that the fact that everything on their menu is amazing and you have one seriously good restaurant. It think there are now 2 in Sydney. Damn you, Sydney!

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  8. Ooh!! Let's hope they open here. Thanks for the Dumplings Plus thumbs up!

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  9. Thanks for the heads up Paul - I'm off to Sydney in a few months so I'll have to check them out!

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  10. Thanks for the links to the Milk Bar pieces Lauren! For my money Shanghai St and Dumplings Plus are the best value dumplings in town, though there are some new ones at the city end of Lygon doing good things! Also Momo Station in Tivoli Arcade is good for Nepalese dumplings! http://www.milkbarmag.com/2010/12/13/discovering-the-nepalese-dumpling/

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  11. I third the dumplings at Dumplings Plus! Also try their prawn and pork wontons in soup, so nice!!

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  12. Hey, really love your blog and have been exploring many new places thanks to your reviews. Just wanted to show you this article http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/more-news/pay-dispute-set-to-raise-price-of-melbourne-dumplings/story-fn7x8me2-1226060280823
    (can't find the original story I'm afraid). Seems we might all have a bit of a skewed view on what constitutes good value when it comes to dumplings. Not that its any guarantee that higher prices mean proper wages are being paid, but its worth a thought.

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  13. Red Panda in Preston - 451 high Street

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  14. James In FootscrayJune 22, 2011 at 10:30 AM

    Yes I agree with Cloudcontrol - Shanghai Village has *great* dumplings. I reckon they have about the best vegetarian dumplings in the CBD. (Some of the other dishes are a bit hit and miss - everything seems to look brown!)

    North East China Family in Finders Lane, just over Elizabeth heading towards Queen, is pretty good. It gets crowded, and people do complain about slow service, but they're friendly at least!

    http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/71/1467830/restaurant/Victoria/CBD/North-East-China-Family-Melbourne

    There's a newish place on Flinders St near Lord of the Fries (between Swanston and Elizabeth) but sorry I can't remember the name! Beijing Dumplings maybe? I've only walked past - the interior looks very red and brightly lit.

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  15. I find more often than not dumplings I've tried have too thick skins.

    That's the main reason why I like Hu Tong; much thinner and more delicate in flavour.

    Will definitely give Dumplings Plus & Shanghai Street a go. Thanks!

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  16. Anon, re the article - absolutely. Thank you for mentioning it - I agree entirely. The scary thing is that it says "the case is being watched anxiously all over Chinatown" which makes you worry that underpayment is rife.

    Thank you all for your comments, I was a bit uninspired in the search for good dumplings but now have lots of goodies to try out.

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  17. Yeah...I have no love for this place. It is pretty yuck.

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