Shop 6, 206 Bourke St. Melbourne
Orlando took me to this place for a Saturday evening casual dinner, having been introduced to the place by friends one lunchtime. China Red is inside the shopping mall full of Japanese boutiques that runs between Bourke Street and Little Bourke, emerging onto Chinatown by Dragon Boat restaurant.
The gimmick here is that you order your food and drinks from a tablet perched on the wall above your table. In this way you don’t have to interact with the wait staff at all; in fact as far as I can make out this is what they prefer. All of my attempts to make eye contact and say thank you when our food was being served were studiously ignored. In two visits I never saw any member of staff smile.
That said, the food we ordered was of very good quality, quickly cooked to order and worth a repeat visit. The shao long bao we ordered were some of the best we have tasted outside Shanghai, and there is plenty of competition in Melbourne. The wontons in spicy sauce were a favourite of Orlando’s, but I found them a little too greasy to the palate. The prawn dumplings were plump and perfect. The chilli sauce on the table was laced with Szechuan pepper, just the way I like it.
The pork ribs in chilli and special sauce are chopped into bite-sized pieces, cooked until they are falling off the bone and taste just like the ones we used to get from Hong in our local takeaway in London “Hello!! Good Taste!! Hello Doy!!” Hong, a cheerful, efficient Chinese takeaway owner by day, and manicured drag queen by night, knew our Friday night order by heart. The special sauce on these ribs is a plentiful dollop of black bean sauce to augment the chopped chilli, and it tastes divine.
There is a dozen or so red wines to choose from, a similar number of whites, and a handful of wines by the glass. You can choose from jasmine, oolong, chrysanthemum or pu er tea.
Most dishes are around the $10 mark except for chef’s specials and our favourite pork ribs which are more like $18. Both of us have a healthy appetite, and three dishes is plenty for us. A bill of around $55 including two glasses of wine is good value in anyone’s language.
Once the novelty of the tablet wears off it’s probably just another modern Chinese place in Chinatown, but I can see this place becoming a favourite of ours just for the shao long bao and pork ribs.