Restaurant: Red Chilli
Address: George Hudson St
Rating: * * *
It is quite possible I just don’t like Chinese food. I have had too many distressing encounters with lukewarm bowls of viscous compost; I am harrowed by apparitions of diced sludge; I have had surfeit of cashew nut. With so many appealing ethnic alternatives (Indian, Japanese, Thai), I had all but given up with this particular national cuisine.
And if Red Chilli might have changed my mind, it didn’t. Crispy Peking duck is the exception, and with a shiver of cucumber and a diminutive ladleful of Hoisin sauce, it is the stuff that dreams are made of (as opposed to all other Chinese specialities, which feature predominantly in nightmares). As two male non-homosexual restaurant critics on an effective ‘date’ to review the restaurant, Will and I were a little self-conscious. We had to bite down hard to order the two-person set menu entitled ‘Courtship’; all the menus were directed at various levels of diner intimacy (‘First date’, ‘True love’). I hardly need add that, as a result, Red Chilli may not be the most felicitous venue for couples at an awkward or ambiguous stage of the relationship, as it might be rather embarrassing if you choose the wrong menu.
Nevertheless, since I have already voiced a partiality towards Peking duck – and it was the most welcome visitor at this carnival of mixed-blessings – I will continue in ascending order of disappointment. The dish that preceded the duck was a starter of assorted breaded, sauced or skewered meats – a commonplace at many Chinese restaurants. These included morsels of prawn toast, chicken satay, dried seaweed, spare ribs and spring rolls. In charity, the first four were all very good. The spring rolls were excremental; and inasmuch as that concerns taste and odour, I mean it literally.
The main, which followed the Peking duck, was served hurriedly. The waiters, many of whom were, by this point, standing around distractedly in the middle of the emptying restaurant, were visibly irked by our protracted stay. The upside, of course, was that service became increasingly snappy and enthusiastic as the evening waned. We were brought sizzling spicy beef, a plate of mercilessly-chopped chicken pieces (replete with lashings of the dreaded cashew nut), a side of fried rice and a centrepiece of boiled tree. We tried, in earnest, to preserve our honour and the chef’s feelings, but had to admit defeat and watch the handsome platter be disassembled and removed.
The soup opener seemed eager to herald a level of disgust which, I am glad to say, was not realised. Tofu is the eighth deadly sin, and the decomposing, aqueous, frogspawn situation it found itself in on this occasion redeemed it not at all. Tofu floats, but just below the surface like a dead trout. I made a valiant assault but, in retrospect, am pleased to say I sent it back to the kitchen virtually untouched.
Red Chilli represents value measured in quantity, not quality. We left sated but not satisfied. On the way home, one of the waiters overtook us on a bicycle.