Melbourne, VIC 3000
Website: China Red
The HuTong franchise has made quite a splash in the Melbourne Restaurant scenes. The original HuTong Dumpling Bar in the city is one of the most discussed restaurants on blogs and restaurant listing websites. People's opinions on it are quite polarised, you either love it or you hate. I personally have had good experiences at both HuTong Dumplings Bars in the city store, and the Prahran store. So when I was invited to China Red to meet up with my friend Matt, who had come from London for a holiday/job searching trip, I was was looking forward to it.
I've read quite a few reviews of China red, and of course every review mentioned the touch screen self ordering system. It's funny how easily impressed we can be with some fancy restaurant innovations. I was super impressed when I first saw the cafe order buzzer that tells you to come get your coffee. Then I was also impressed with the service buzzers at Korean restaurants where you press the button and a waiter comes over. The touch screen ordering is in the same category, a good idea where you wonder why no one else has done it earlier.
A good idea on paper doesn't always result in an improved experience. I would say that that the self ordering is a good thing that makes it easier to order. There is still regular table service by waiters, so any confusions or mix ups can still be sorted. In general, we were able to order all our meals and drinks easily using the touch screen.
As for the food, I would say that it's very similar to the other HuTong restaurants. We ordered a variety of Dumplings, Xiao Long Baos, Shanghai Fried Noodles, Chilli Won Tons, Assorted Stir Fry Vegetables and Chive Pancakes.
The Dumplings are all very good, as is the Xiao Long Baos. I might be having post positive experiences but I still think HuTong in the city does the best Xiao Long Baos. They probably all use the same recipe and I'm sure the chefs all make them to a very strict standard, but I just feel like the city ones are the most delicate. That's not to say these are bad, they're still some of the best Xiao Long Baos in Melbourne. Others may disagree but I think the various dumplings are also some of the best in Melbourne. I judge dumplings on a few criteria. I like the skin to not be too thick and either be crisp when fried or soft when steamed. The filling needs to have flavour, a combination of the supposed meat that's in it and I usually like the taste of some vegetable or herb to be in the dumpling as well. Finally, if after eating the dumpling and there is a residual strong meat smell in my mouth, I don't think it's a good dumpling. Worse still, if I burp afterward and there is a strong smell, then I know they've used really bad meat parts to make their dumplings, and I don't enjoy that. The rest of the food was also very similar to HuTong and all good.
The layout of the restaurant feels quite crowded as it's a small area. The booth seating gives privacy but as I've mentioned in the past, loses the vibe in a restaurant. The service was quite good, with the staff helping clear up unclear items on the touch screen menu and also bring us various items and clearing the tables quickly so the arriving food could fit.
I'd recommend China Red, especially if you can't get into HuTong in the city. The menu is slightly different to HuTong but we didn't really get to trying those items. Most of the items we tried are available at HuTong and given a choice, I'd rather dine at HuTong as I feel it's done better there.
Overall Rating: 14/20, Good dumplings at good prices.
Scores: 1-9: Unacceptable, don't bother. 10-11: Just OK,some shortcomings. 12: Fair. 13: Getting there. 14: Recommended. 15: Good. 16: Really good. 17: Truly excellent. 18: An outstanding experience. 19-20:Approaching perfection, Victoria's best.
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