Red Cliff silently sneaked itself into my Top Five favourite places to eat after merely a few visits. My first dining experience there was well over a year ago after the coaxing of an enthusiastic friend who happens to be a friend of the owner/chef. I dread trying new places as I am disappointed most of the time and I thought this time it would be no different. My doubts increased after hearing that Steven is a self taught young chef who spent some years prying over his mum’s shoulders. However, my curiousity of Wuhanese cuisine got the better of me so I relented despite the inconvenient location in Carnegie.
Now I frequent the place monthly and am pleased to add that the consistency has never faltered with my favourite dishes. The decor is simple and economical and the prices reflect that. The only battle here is the slow wait staff and their lack of attentiveness. There also seems to be a conspiracy with serving spoons as we have to ask for them each and every time. The menu has changed recently to feature more Wuhanese dishes with a few generic Szechuan dishes. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province that lies in Central China. Its cuisine has somehow been neglected with surrounding heavyweights like Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Szechuan. So thank you Steven for bringing a piece of Wuhan to Melbourne!
I would suggest dining there in a group of at least 6 people as the servings are quite generous and all the signature dishes differ to each other hence a bigger ordering choice. I thought for this post I will detract from the usual and focus on sharing only my favourite dishes. Fortunately there were 7 diners for this meal which allowed me to order ALL my favourite dishes.
For starters the stewed duck necks are a must. This is one of many cases of taste wins over looks at Red Cliff. Its not something I would jump to order if it were not highly recommended. The intense flavors hit you like a slow motion punch in the face. The culprits – mind numbing Szechuan peppers and chillies ground so fine you cant see it. It is said that the sellers on JingWu Road in Wuhan city were the pioneers of neck snacking that in turn started a trend with chain stores spreading throughout China.
To soothe the tummy after that always comes the best chicken soup in town, yes I said that!! It is served in a deep earthern pot and at first glance it looks like any complimentary soup you would get at Chinese restaurants but go closer and you will see a ”healthy” layer of shimmering oil on the surface from slow boiling of what tastes like 20 free range chickens. Scoop deeper you will see glass vermicelli and cuts of chicken. This and hot steamed rice alone will almost suffice, almost.
Another Wuhanese specialty is the sesame paste noodles. It is served cold at Red Cliff but heard it should be served hot as it is eaten for breakfast by locals every morning. The sesame paste is the hero of this dish and however simple it looks the flavors can go horribly wrong if its too little or too much of the paste. The next dish I am told is cooked at home by every mother. It comprises a sandwich of lotus root slices with layers of minced meat, battered and deep fried into light crispy nuggets.
The main courses are all worthy contenders and each have their winning ingredients. The stir fried “Sun Dried” pork belly slices is another homely dish and is a new addition to the menu. Its a popular winter practice in Wuhan to cure the meat on one’s balcony so every household will have a stash of them at their disposal throughout the year. Simply wok tossed with garlic stems, onions and dried chillies, I think this dish is here to stay.
The next dish always sits pretty and inviting. Pork mince shaped into round balls encrusted with glutinous rice then steamed. The glutinous rice gives it a dewy and shiny appearance hence the name Pearl Meat Balls. Best eaten first if it comes out together with other dishes as the rice dries out a bit if you leave it too long. Another staple is Beef and Tendon stewed with potatoes and beancurd strips to soak up the volcanic Szechuan sauce.
Lamb is also on the menu, stir fried with spring onions, the tender lamb fillets are juicy and aromatic with a peculiar spice that we are not familiar with. The stir fried snake beans and minced pork and dried chillies are delicious too. Other Szechuan restaurants will have this dish laced with crushed Szechuan peppercorns so its a welcoming relief to have it omitted here.
And the last favourite dish is the slow braised Pork Hock. A dish seldom ordered because of its sheer size. The thick sticky caramelised sauce has serious health implications especially combined with melt in your mouth pork skin but who cares. Decadence is at its best behaviour here.
We had a tiny opening in our tummies for dessert so we ordered a serve of Taro springrolls, rolled in a very thin layer of bread and deep fried. Mr Photographer was too slow this time, they were gone in a matter of seconds!
Highly recommended.Restaurant Details
358 Neerim Road
Tel : 9568 6555