The Red Chamberby Amy Searll / 25.09.2013
The Red Chamber is a restaurant in a larney mall, but please trust me on this, it’s not how it looks. Since it opened, it’s been all food and very little fluff. And I would know, I’ve been eating at this special place literally my whole life.
My parents started visiting the Red Chamber before I was born, and since then we’ve returned for family birthdays, Saturday night dinners, any excuse we can find, really. The genius behind the restaurant is Emma Chen, who came to South Africa when she was twenty-three. I love Emma, and her knowledge of food is incredible. When she opened The Red Chamber (originally in Rosebank), she didn’t expect to be in business for more than a year or two but with food like she serves, there was no way the place wouldn’t be a complete success. And despite that success, Emma has never lost sight of what’s important – she knows her regulars by name and greets them with hugs as they arrive. She’s also made sure that the food is as wonderful as ever. I’ve never once been disappointed when I’ve eaten there.
Everything on the menu is good, especially the dumplings. I haven’t had better in Jozi. They’re healthy, and they’re filling enough to satisfy you, but no so filling that they put you to sleep, so they make a perfect lunch.
Dumplings are a strange thing. They seem simple but they’re very difficult to get right. When they’re bad they’re terrible but when they’re good they’re heavenly. Red Chamber’s dumplings aren’t cheap, but they are enormous, and if you order one portion of pork and one of vegetable, you have lunch for two. The steamed vegetable dumplings (R49) are massive, tasty things, filled with Bok Choy, spring onion, glass noodles and the slightest hint of ginger. It’s a clean, fresh taste.
The pork pot stickers (dumplings that are steamed then fried) are deliciously juicy and dangerously moreish. They’re filled with pork mince, ginger and some surprising lemongrass which stops them from becoming heavy. We also snuck in some Prawn toasts (R51 for eight). Sliced prawn meat is layered onto fingers of white bread, covered in black and white sesame seeds, fried and served with sweet and sour sauce. They are beautiful to look at, with a delicate and slightly nutty taste thanks to the toasted sesame seeds.
The waiters are always friendly and on the ball, and unless specified on the menu, the food arrives quickly. If you’re not sure what to have, ask Emma to recommend something – that’s how I discovered her amazing three flavour chicken (R93 – serves two). Half a chicken cut through the bone Chinese style, and cooked in sesame oil, basil, lemongrass and ginger until it’s brown and syrupy on the outside with the skin sticking to the bowl. After you have one bite, you won’t be able to stop eating it.
Not only does Red Chamber serve the perfect lunch, it’s also the perfect lunch venue. Its low lighting, teak tables and enormous fish tank give it a calm atmosphere and a sense of escape. You certainly don’t feel like you’re in a mall. It’s a great place to catch your breath during a busy day.
This is not a place you eat at all the time. The food is so good it feels like you should save it for something special. And yes, it is a little more expensive than other Chinese places but you certainly get what you pay for. This food has been passed down to Emma from her mother and grandmother and it shows. It manages to be humble and spectacular at the same time, it’s honest and it’s simple. This might be a restaurant in a mall but it certainly doesn’t behave like one. So I urge you to go treat yourself to the best lunch in town.
The Red Chamber, Jan Smuts Avenue, Hyde Park Corner, Hyde Park, Johannesburg, 011 325 6048