A playful dumpling joint has crossed the Atlantic
Landing just off London’s Covent Garden Piazza, USA-transfer RedFarm fits instantly with its surroundings (it is, after all, just down the street from fellow NYC expat Balthazar), a glossy, black-fronted restaurant with a small queue of people waiting outside. Inside, the light-filled room is dominated by a communal pine table and plenty of red gingham (hence the ‘Farm’). It’s the third RedFarm opening, the first outside of Manhattan (the others, opened by Joe Ng, are on the Upper West Side and in the West Village). A well-heeled crowd is made up of Americans with bundles of shopping bags, chic business women entertaining clients and pretty young things documenting everything on their phones. It could be in danger of veering into see-and-be-see’ territory but that’s avoided by super-attentive staff and a buzzy atmosphere. No one is taking themselves too seriously – least of all the chefs.
The menu is substantial, offering enough memorable starters, salads and dim sum to fill you up before you’ve even moved onto the mains. To navigate it deftly, we’d recommend trying the classic spicy crispy beef and an order of the pastrami egg rolls. In the USA, this trademark dish is stuffed with Katz’s Deli meat; in the UK, Monty’s Deli pastrami is packed into the crunchy shell. Don’t dismiss ordering the Pac Man shrimp dumplings. They might be a social media hit, and yes, they are utterly bonkers (a deep-fried wedge of sweet potato, with a blueberry ‘eye’, looms over four candy-coloured dumplings), but filled with tasty fish and served on smashed avocado, they’re also completely delicious – and coloured naturally with ingredients such as beetroot. These aren’t the only good-looking item on the menu: the soup dumplings come with a candy-striped straw to slurp out the crab filling. For main (if you still need one), the roast duck with wide noodles is full of smoky flavour (and big enough to share between two), while the sautéed green beans and sprouts are as far from a sad Christmas day side dish as you can get. Determined to squeeze in pudding? The custard bao may be pillow-soft, but it will still have you waddling home. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Cocktails are on the blow-out side of most budgets but special enough to justify ordering at least one while you scan the menu. We tried the punchy Manhattan of London (Bulleit rye, Carpano Antica vermouth, angoustura bitters) and the Shanghai Mule; sweet and tart, made with vodka, goji berry, ginger syrup and lime. The Comte de Provence rosé comes highly recommended by the waiters: we were sceptical, but the sweetness matches the big flavours of the food brilliantly.
If you like your supper taken seriously, book elsewhere. This is a tongue-in-cheek, quirky take on a classic Chinese, with a menu to make you smile, and a loud, tinkly atmosphere that makes it perfect for a group.
Address: RedFarm, 9 Russell Street, London, England WC2B 5HZ