China Red, Melbourne

On our Melbourne trip in December, we stayed at The Mantra on Russell. It proved a convenient location, close to the city, restaurants, shops and tram stops, and right next to Chinatown. We walked through the Chinatown arches on multiple occasions, enjoying the delicious sights and smells, gawking at roast meats hanging from steel hooks in greasy front windows, glistening and dripping fat stalactites. I’m never so keen on the spruikers, each trying to persuade us to choose their restaurant, but that’s just a part of being in any Chinatown.

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After all these years together, we often find ourselves in this situation – indecisively wandering up and down an eat street with the vaguest of plans, surrounded by choices, our conversation edging into hangry bickering. It even happens when we’re on holiday.

We found China Red inside an arcade on Bourke Street in Chinatown. The dining room looked busy as we peered through the window but we decided to try our luck for a table. As it turned out, it was no problem at all – there’s another dining room downstairs and plenty of room. China Red’s logo bears the Chinese characters for ‘double happiness’ – for us, double relief.

Ordering is done via a colour touchscreen menu at your table. We browsed hard copy menus that featured larger full-colour pictures, made our choices, then ordered using the touchscreen, which was pretty easy to use. We jumped right in and ordered a couple of drinks to start – Tsing Tao Lager for Jac (AU$7.50) and iced lemon tea for me (AU$4) and just like magic, without having spoken to a waiter, they were promptly delivered from the bar to our table. The ease at which the touchscreen ordering worked for the drinks was encouraging, and crankiness began to wash away.

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We picked a main course dish each, and ordered rice to go with them (AU$2.80 per person). We didn’t have to wait long for our dishes to arrive. As it turned out, we both chose dishes featuring pork – double pork happiness. Jac’s choice was pork spare ribs in Mandarin sauce (AU$20.80) – with tender pork pieces, onion, green capsicum and thick chunks of juicy pineapple in a sweet barbecue-style sauce served on top of brightly green steamed broccoli.

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I chose a dish I always order if I see it on a Chinese restaurant menu: stir-fried string beans with minced pork. The addition of black bean made it a strongly flavoured and moreishly salty dish. The vividly red crinkly chillies looked potent and certainly added heat to the dish, but a chilli wuss like me could appreciate the burn, plucking pork nubbins and wrinkled beans from the plate and leaving the chillies alone.

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You can probably find a cheaper feed in Chinatown, but the food was delicious and we enjoyed our experience at China Red. The touch screen menu is a novelty but easy to navigate and fun to use – kids would get a real kick out of it – we hungry big kids certainly did. We didn’t need to hail down a waiter for tech support at any stage. Thankfully, you have to confirm every item ordered with an extra press of the button, so you can’t ‘accidentally’ order a banquet. Note – once you’ve ordered a dish, you can’t change or cancel it.

But now, savoury stomachs satisfied, another decision to make: dessert.

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China Red (warning – auto-play background music you can’t switch off)
Shop 6, 206 Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
Telephone: (03) 9662 3688

China Red on Urbanspoon

A few more scenes from Melbourne’s Chinatown:

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About this series


In December 2013, my partner Jac and I went on holiday – Melbourne (3 nights), then 3 nights in Launceston (Jac, to stay with a friend) and King Island (me, for a photographic safari with a couple of friends), and finally, Hobart, where we spent Christmas (6 nights). This trip was not sponsored in any way.

The complete set of Melbourne posts
Not bad for three nights’ ‘work’, eh? Hope you’ve enjoyed the series.

For a preview of some of the stories to come, see Holiday sneak peek. I’m halfway through the Melbourne posts – there’s more to come.

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  • Craig Hind

    Caro and I find ourselves in similar situations of hangriness when we end up in a shopping centre for food and have no plan. I hate looking for food without a plan, but mostly because it often ends up with us having an average meal, or just something we didn’t really want at the time. Fortunately it looks like you found a decent place.

    I love those touchscreen ordering panels. They make it so easy. All restaurants should have them!

    • Yeah, that’s the danger of being hangry – desperation to end the hangriness does usually end with mediocre food. I wasn’t as taken by the touchscreens as Jac initially but was quickly won over once we started using them.

  • Dea

    That string bean dish is one of my favourite things ever. That and hot white rice. So indulgent (I mean, it is a deep fried vegetable dish), sooo damn good.

  • Oh The Mantra on Russell! You’ve picked a fantastic location for your trip. I enjoy China Red as well and the touchscreen service actually works! Food and wait staff attend to you in a jiffy after a click of a button. You make Chinatown look so vibrant and beautiful, sometimes I admit I do take that place for granted. Thanks for the humble reminder of its beauty =)

    • Winston, we were really chuffed with our choice of accommodation – very comfortable and yes, a very convenient location. Chinatown WAS vibrant and such pleasure for the senses!

  • I really like those restaurants with the touch screen order systems – while you don’t get that interaction with wait staff to talk about specials, it’s great for knowing exactly what you’re ordering…and you can order slowly as well, a dish at a time so you never over-order!