Red Emperor offers fine Cantonese cuisine with dashes of flavour from Hong Kong and other mainland regions. Considered one of Melbourne’s best Chinese restaurants, Red Emperor’s Chinese New Year Prosperity Dinner and their daily Yum Cha are popular with locals and visitors to the area. We have a chat to Red Emperor’s manager of 21 years, Christine, about what makes Red Emperor Southgate so special.
You relocated from the upper to mid level last year, what changes have happened with the new venue?
We moved a year and two months ago and are busier than before. Our new restaurant is much smaller and it fills up very quickly given the large amount of regulars we have. We have always been more well-known for our yum-cha so Sunday yum-cha is usually booked out and dinner is picking up as well. We seem to be getting more pre-theatre goers whenever there are good shows going on.
We serve a pre-theatre special in the area looking into the shopping complex. Within five minutes of opening the door it can be filled up and the others will simply spill into the rest of our dining room and when that is full, to our neighbours. There have been many nights like that and the turnover is very quick. Many times, customers come in with only half an hour to dine. It’s very intense and always great to be able to meet their needs so quickly and many of those do come back for more leisurely meals later.
People come before shows at Hamer Hall next door, and a lot have come from the NGV exhibition Monet’s Garden as well.
Do people give you their reviews of the exhibition?
Most of the time, especially post theatre. The other day I heard one about Monet. He said too much flowers. I said of course, you’re a guy!
What are the popular items on your menu?
Peking duck is always the most popular as well as our delicate dim sums and dumplings from the yum-cha selections.
We’ve two new chefs in the kitchen. Lin Chan is the new head chef (pictured). Now, both our first and second chefs are from Flower Drum. It’s really exciting. We’re thinking of doing some new things with our menu once they both settle in more.
Are there some hidden gems on the menu that you’d like to see people try more of?
People should try the steamed Chatham Island blue cod from New Zealand. It’s a really great piece of fish and we need to eat more fish. I personally believe it to be as good as Coral Trout. Sometimes when there’re only two customers dining, I always offer to cook the cod two ways for them. Half steamed and the other half pan-fried; 1 fish with 2 different flavours and texture.
I would like to see more people add vegetables to their meals. We get fresh vegetables delivered daily such as snow pea shoots, bitter mustard and choy sum. My favourite at the moment is stir-fried snow pea shoots with goji berries which is high in anti-oxidants – healthy and delicious!
If we were to find you having dinner in the restaurant, what would you order from the menu?
My whole family loves the roast belly pork. That’s one of the new items on the menu since we moved. We roast one to two large pieces every night and we simply can’t keep up. It usually sells out within one or two hours. It’s not something that the chefs can do straight away –they need time to dry the skin so the crackling is crispy and crunchy. A lot of our new dishes revolve around pork – we use good quality Berkshire Kurabuta black pig. Its breed hormone free from the border of Victoria and NSW – soft, pink, top quality pork meat.
We will definitely have Lobster plucked fresh from one of our 4 seafood tanks, cooked with ginger and spring onions with lots of noodles – really delicious! We’ll also be having steamed fish and fresh vegetables as these are always essential parts of a Chinese dinner.
Another dish is pork ribs cooked three times. People always ask why do you cook it three times? We jokingly answer because the chef needed 3 times to get it right! Not really, it’s actually the whole cooking process. It’s first boiled in master stock for about an hour to infuse flavour, then drained, added with more herbs and spices and steamed about for 3 hours until tender. We then fry the whole piece to give a really nice fragrance. It’s then sliced, topped up with sauce and served with Chinese broccoli. They have a Chinese name for it, but the translation makes it difficult. Much easier to give it a simple name so most people could remember it.
And you think people judge a good pork by its crackling?
Oh yeah, they always want great crackling. It’s not really good for you, but then, I guess once in a while won’t hurt!
Tell us about the Dundee selection.
Crocodile and kangaroo!
People find crocodile very interesting. It’s a little bit like a cross between fish and chicken, nice and lean, not fatty. Asian cultures believe crocodile has medicinal qualities – they use a lot of it in herbal soups, it’s good for the respiratory tract.
And kangaroo is a good source of iron without much cholesterol, a very lean meat. Kangaroo cannot be overcooked as it will be really tough. Most people do a slow cooked braise or barbeque, but we do a very fast stir fry so it’s nice and tender. Customers gamed enough to try it after bad experiences elsewhere are always surprised by our dish. It’s a very healthy selection.
What do you think the team in the kitchen likes the most about being here in Southgate?
The customers at Southgate are very discerning in their taste and know their food. They don’t stick to the typical 70’s or 80’s Chinese dishes – sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken or beef and black bean sauce. Most Chinese restaurants will sell a lot of this. We still have the ingredients for these so they are still available by request; we just don’t put them on the menu.
We love for our customers to venture into other Chinese food and explore different delicate flavours achieved by stir fries and steaming where techniques and timings are critical. I believe that is when our team in the kitchen can put all their years of practice, skills and experience to the test.
Christine Yong has been the manager of Red Emperor for over 21 years. The new venue can be found on Southgate’s mid-level. For bookings call 9699 4170.