Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Red Sun

Red Sun, Marylebone

If you have ever wandered around the back streets off Marble Arch towards Marylebone, you have probably encountered Red Sun - a Shanghainese restaurant on New Quebec Street. It has a bright red shop front, decorated with Chinese lanterns and a massive folding fan, it is hard to miss.

My first visit to Red Sun was three years ago. When it comes to organising a dinner with my Cantonese friends, normally there are two choices - a Chinese restaurant or karaoke (or both). Don’t get me wrong, we love other cuisines too! But we also love having meals together around a big table, so that everyone is facing each other... after all, who doesn't like fighting for food on a ‘Lazy Susan’? :)

We went for the Shanghainese ‘tasting menu’ (which must be pre-booked). The menu is only revealed the day before as it depends on what is available from the market. The meal started with cold appetizers and steamed dumplings, followed by an array of main courses of seafood, chicken, pork and vegetables, and finally a dessert - all for a fixed price of £15 a head. The amount of food we had was immense, to the extent that even if they had taken two or three dishes off the menu, we would still have found that there was too much food.

Recently I had the opportunity to eat at Red Sun again, after a friend of mine said she wanted to try Shanghainese food, and I thought it was about time to try their special menu again. Here is what we had...

Cold appetizers
Drunken chicken

Smoked fish

Stuffed lotus root with sticky rice in Osmanthus syrup

Duck gizzards

Cucumber, carrot and black fungus salad

Pickled vegetables with tofu

Boiled pork dumplings

Steamed Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings)

Main courses
Sweet and sour pork ribs

Baked sea brass in tomato sauce

Stir fried prawns

Steamed scallops

Sichuan style deep fried chicken with chillies

Stir fried dry bean curd, Chinese celery and pork

Braised pork belly

Vegetables in clay pot

Stir fried cabbage, pork and sticky rice cake

Fermented sticky rice balls with mixed fruits in Osmanthus syrup

All of the above dishes were supposed to serve eight people. Again, there was too much food. We could not finish it all, so each of us had a doggy bag to take home at the end of the meal.

The best part of the meal was the cold starters. The drunken chicken was delicate with a mellow taste of Xiao Xin wine coming through. The gizzards were cooked just right, crisp and crunchy, on par with the ones I have had in China. The lotus dish was an interesting one, each of the ‘tubes’ was stuffed with sticky rice, forming a beautiful cross section when sliced up. The syrup was quite sweet, so if you prefer to have savoury and sweet dishes separately, it may not be your cup of tea.

Although the Xiao Long Bao were not as neat as the ones in Ding Tai Fung (a Taiwanese XLB specialist, more info here by MrNoodles), they were freshly made and juicy. There was still room for improvement regarding the thickness of the skin, but I could just about see the little meat ball swimming in the soup inside. It was a pretty good effort compared to the XLB offered on the regular dim sum menus in China Town. I would be happy to come back to Red Sun just for these.

Relatively speaking the main courses were not as spectacular as the previous ones. The highlights were the braised pork belly, vegetables in clay pot and the stir fried bean curd. However some of the mains were relatively bland and ‘predictable’. My heart sunk when I saw the Sichuan style chicken. I have no idea why they served a Sichuan dish in their signature-tailor-made-Shanghainese-menu. You know the feeling when you see a dish, and you know right away that it is going to be bad? The chicken was overly tenderised, and deep frying had further destroyed the texture. The scallops were fresh and steamed in their shells, unfortunately they were overcooked so a bit chewy for my taste. The sweet and sour pork was rather bony, I could only get a little meat from each piece, although the sticky sauce was lusciously flavoured with black vinegar.

As a customer, £15 per head was really a bargain. But I would also be happy to pay £25 or even £30 per head, if all the main ingredients had been fresh. Why use frozen prawns, while the sea bass and scallops were fresh? And why use tinned fruit in the dessert? Compared to a few years ago, people are generally much more aware of the quality of ingredients and the skills involved when eating out in a restaurant. Especially in London, all the restaurants that serve good food are always fully booked, or have a long queue of hungry customers waiting outside. I can understand there are corners to be cut for the super good value deal that Red Sun advertises, but three years down the line, maybe it is time for them to reassess their strategy?

In the meantime, I will go back for more gizzards and XLB.

An a la carte menu is also available

Red Sun on Urbanspoon


  1. Looks interesting! There are so few Shanghainese places in London (only other one I can think of is M & Z). Shame about some of the dishes, and it's also a bit poor that a few corners were cut. I'd rather pay an extra £5 or £10 for better quality ingredients.

    1. Exactly! I really enjoyed the starters and the dumplings, it is such a shame that some of the main courses were not as good.

  2. Ah, so this is the Red Sun you guys were discussing the other night! Thanks for letting us know what's good there!