Virtually every Chinese restaurant in Melbourne offers dim sum but the ones that do it well are harder to find. For many years, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband regularly trotted down to their local Cantonese in the heart of Chinatown and feasted on a selection of favourites. Sadly, though, a change of management resulted in a much less attractive (and tasty) outcome. We needed to look further afield and headed to Red Emperor in the Southgate complex on the banks of the Yarra River.

Melbourne’s Chinese cooking is dominated by Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine. It led to some confusion when, on our first trip to Shanghai, we thought we were being extremely clever by referring to dishes by the names we’d always known – har gow, siu mai, and so on. We quickly discovered that Cantonese names gained no recognition there.

Red Emperor has been through a few changes as well. It was originally on the top floor of the complex, with soaring ceilings and mezzanine seating. During the shopping centre’s ongoing renovations, it was moved to the first level and initial impressions of the new space weren’t favourable. It was noisy, crowded and the food seemed to be lacking. We were prepared to give it away but on a mid-week public holiday in Melbourne (perhaps the only city in the world that gives its citizenry a holiday for a horse race) we decided to give it another shot. And we’re very happy to report, it was exceptionally good.

Anyone who’s ever wondered how good a humble dumpling can be, has probably never stood in line at a Shanghai stall, queued for the Michelin-starred variety at Tim Ho Wan or tasted the sublime soft perfection of the scallop dumplings at Flower Drum. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband have had enough dry, stodgy and flavourless versions over the years to know good ones when we taste them. Red Emperor did us proud.

We like to think the dishes here are reasonably authentic, but Greedy Girl suspects our first morsels were devised primarily for UK/Australian consumption – sesame prawn toast.

sesame prawn toast

Authentic? Perhaps not

These golden slices are made from good old white bread, topped with a prawn mixture (think ginger, garlic and prawn mixed together with a little cornflour and rice wine) and coated in white sesame seeds. They’re crunchy, tasty and exceedingly yummy. A great start.

Next up was a dish Greedy Girl has only ever seen at Red Emperor. These are prawns wrapped in bean curd and deep fried (pictured at the top of this blog). They’re slightly crispy and utterly delectable.

These were followed by one of the most traditional of dishes – siu mai. These are steamed pork and prawn dumplings, known also by their Chinese name ‘shao mai’. These are quite dense dumplings but light and fresh in flavour. Unlike many other dumplings, that are completely enclosed by the wrapper, these are served open.

sui mai dumplings

Delectable prawn and pork

It was time for some closed, steamed dumplings. First was prawn and corn.

prawn and corn dumplings

Prawn and corn steamed dumplings

The wrapper on these plump little parcels can get a bit sticky and if they’re too close together in the steamer, they can pull apart, spilling out the contents. They are, however, absolutely delicious, especially when corn is in season and the kernels are bursting with flavour.

These were served alongside seafood and chive dumplings.

Seafood and chive dumplings

Seafood and chives

The flavour from liberal snippings of garlic chives is just delightful. It’s a perfect accompaniment to the seafood (mainly prawn).

Gluttonous husband was treated to one of his favourites – prawn dumplings sitting in a ginger broth with fresh ginger matchsticks on top.

Ginger prawn dumplings

Liberal use of ginger here.

He pronounced these particularly good – the broth was a little thicker and stickier than he remembered and it coated the dumplings well. He was a happy lad.

Greedy Girl took another old favourite – spring onion pastry – but this time, it had a twist.

Prawn and spring onion pastries

Prawn and spring onion pastries

These coiled delights also featured rather large pieces of prawn. They were slightly doughy for Greedy Girl’s tastes, but the outer flaky pieces of pastry were very good and she certainly didn’t leave any of it behind.

Finally, we needed a little sweet treat – egg custard tarts.

Egg custard tarts

Egg custard tarts

These are particularly good when they come to the table still warm. Greedy Girl’s only quibble was the pastry was a bit too thick, but they’re a wonderful way to end the meal.

As is traditional with dim sum (or yum cha if you prefer) the various dishes are wheeled around the room on carts and you can choose what you’d like. There’s an all-you-can-eat option at Red Emperor but you’d have to eat a serious amount of food to have that work in your favour.

There are a lot of variations available, particularly in terms of other meat dishes, vegetable options and there is also a range of other seafood. In the past we’ve particularly enjoyed a satay calamari dish. It’s fun and perfect for groups to share. We opted just to have Jasmine tea with our little feast but, being Melbourne Cup Day, there was plenty of champagne flowing at other tables.

It’s a highly enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Greedy Girl will be back for more.

Red Emperor

1st floor, Southgate Shopping Centre, Melbourne

Red Emperor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tagged under: , , , , ,