Earlier this year there was an article in The Age about dumplings in Melbourne and Red Emperor was listed as one of the top picks. That alone was enough to pique my interest, but the lure of $45 all-you-can-eat yum cha was what won me over.
I won’t talk about absolutely everything I ate because there was just far too much of it. I have decided to categorise what I ate as either ‘dumpling’ or ‘non-dumpling; crude, I know, and I mean no offence to the dumpling chefs of the world but I think one general dumpling review should suffice in this case.
Most of the dumplings we were served were seafood-based. These mainly contained prawns but there were a couple of scallop ones as well. Many of them also had additional vegetables such as chives, garlic or bamboo shoots. All of them were steamed to perfection, the juicy prawns providing an appropriate amount of dental resistance. The skins were translucent and of a perfect thickness. My only complaint though is that a disproportionate number of them seemed to stick to the paper, causing the skin to tear and generally creating a terrible mess. I’ve had this happen to me a couple of times before but it seemed to happen a lot here. Maybe it just seemed like a lot because I had a lot of dumplings? Hmm. Anyway, the dumplings were definitely some of the best I’ve had in Melbourne. My favourites were the rolled-up ones (that probably technically aren’t even dumplings).
The fried squid was wonderful. Sweet, salty and tender, with delightful little crispy bits. I don’t really understand the western fascination with using only the hood of the squid, when the tentacles are clearly the best bit.
I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to these, as I had until then only experienced fried wontons of the terrible food court variety. These were a pleasant surprise though: crispy, delicate and not at all greasy. I kind of wished there was a little more of the prawn filling however.
As soon as the lady with the trolley mentioned ‘duck rolls’, a unanimous ‘YES’ resounded from our table. Sadly though, these weren’t to my liking. They consisted of duck, vermicelli noodles and vegetables wrapped in what seemed to be a bean curd skin. There was not much duck in the filling and overall they weren’t particularly flavourful. They also broke apart very easily, making them quite difficult to eat.
This was basically like prawn dumpling filling piled on top of mushrooms and cooked in some sort of broth. They were quite tasty, and perhaps a nice lower-carb way to have dumplings.
BBQ pork buns
Red Emperor is known for its excellent BBQ pork buns, or cha siu bao. The bun was soft and delicate, the pork filling rich and sweet. These are definitely some of the best in town, and probably my favourite part of the meal. I kind of wanted to get a heap of these to take away and keep them in my freezer for when cravings strike…
The pastry was flaky and melt-in-your-mouth, although slightly blonde. The eggy custard filling was sweet, silky and quite delightful. If I wasn’t so full at this stage I would have had another plate.
The food was of a reasonable standard and definitely good value for money at $45 a head (especially if your boyfriend eats as much as mine!). I’m probably not going to be the best judge of authenticity, as I am not Chinese, but there were a reasonable number of Chinese people dining when we were there so I’m going to take that as a good sign.
Service was efficient but not overly friendly. As soon as we signed up for all-you-can-eat they started putting all kinds of things on our table without really saying what they were or asking if we wanted them, which wasn’t a bad thing but it meant that at the start of the meal we filled up very quickly on similar-tasting seafood dumplings and missed out on trying a few other things that we saw going to other tables.
Also, can I just have a quick rant about how restaurants always take forever to get you your bill when you’re done/take your bill once you have put your credit card in it? Red Emperor isn’t the only offender; this has happened with at least 5 other restaurants that I have been to in the last year or two. It’s as if once you’re fed and tipsy and aren’t going to spend any more money they no longer care about you and shift their priorities to other customers who are still eating. I guess it makes sense to a certain extent but if they are looking for tips it’s not such a good idea. Ugh. (End rant).
Overall though, Red Emperor was a good eat and I would happily go back to try the a la carte menu.Red Emperor Mid-Level Southgate Southbank