The Sourdough Prawn Finger clung gently to the roof of my mouth, but a little tickle with the tongue moved it to one side, and delivered it gently but certainly to my eager gullet. A short pause, and I was devouring the honey glazed ribs, eyeing the Peking duck (should it now be Beijing duck?), and sizing up the other elements of this exotic feast.
With this kind of meal a degree of planning and strategy is required – some idea on how to figure out which course should go with what and in which order. I always find English food so easy – there’s a starter, a main course, a pudding, and maybe cheese if one is feeling particularly accommodating. With Chinese food it’s never quite so easy, is it. Is the Sourdough Prawn Finger meant to be eaten with the duck, or before it, or after it. Happily, Eddie Sum, China Red’s proprietor and manager, and very much a hands-on kind of chap, is there to guide us through the mysteries, although if we had gone with all his recommendations I fear we may still be eating a day or two later.
For me, one of life’s great pleasures is eating out, and I’m told I am at the extreme end of discerning when it comes to matters of taste, texture, flavour and aroma. And so it was that we arrived to sample the delights of Guernsey’s leading (by a long way) Chinese restaurant, China Red. Eddie is one of those people who just knows how it should be done, and he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of food from different regions of China, as well as Hong Kong, but I’m sure nobody can beat his intimate knowledge of the plethora of exotic and fascinating teas he has on show.
We descended like seagulls on a bin night when the plastic bags have been put out at the kerb too early. The feast was gargantuan, without even a hint of deference to my ever-expanding girth. I had missed lunch, just to limber up my digestive system, ready for the fantastic onslaught that is China Red. The range and breadth of tastes and colours is legend. In fact, when I first ate out in Guernsey many years ago, China Red was the place to which I made my pilgrimage, to worship at the altar of fabulous food. It’s one of the handful of places in Guernsey where there is always just a knowing and confident nod when you mention its name, and a hushed reverence when discussing the menu.
Having been brought up living close to a Chinese takeaway my knowledge was limited to sweet and sour sauce and mono sodium glutamate (whatever that is). Many, many visits to Eddie’s culinary emporium over the years have helped me to understand the subtleties of Chinese food, in all its different forms, and I can not recommend the place highly enough. I have had unfailingly efficient and friendly service, never a moment of being rushed or pushed, and I can safely say that every mouthful has been a genuine delight of palate titillation.
It’s a family business, and China Red’s tentacles spread across the English Channel, as it was recently voted No. 7 in The Independent’s top 10 UK Chinese restaurants, and the top restaurant in Guernsey on TripAdvisor. No matter their accolades, they simply do great food and service.
What really stands out is the ‘FEED ME’ menu. You can choose the value per person, and Eddie and his team will chat with you for a while, to ascertain your tastes, then select and serve the most extraordinary array of dishes, updated from the usual Chinese favourites. We went A La Carte (I don’t know what that is in Mandarin) and we started our treat with Sourdough Prawn Fingers, Barbecue Spare Ribs with Chinese Honey & Soya (fabulously tasty) and Vegetable Shanghai Dumplings.
What is immediately notable was the very wide choice for the two vegetarians amongst us, with the Tofu cubes with Szechuan peppercorn salt being very popular. Also, vital these days, is the numerous gluten free choices – Chinese diet turns out to be extremely healthy, if you choose wisely, but we won’t mention the toffee banana and ice cream until later….!
What is immediately apparent when talking to Eddie is his passion and boundless enthusiasm for good food, and quality wines. By the way, here is a little secret for you – almost next door is a very, very well stocked quality wine merchant, and Eddie has the keys, so anything you would like with your meal is likely to be available, from a glass of modestly priced new world crisp white to a bottle of the most fine Domaines Barons de Rothschild Chateau Lafite for a mere £1,600. We were thoroughly spoilt, and encouraged to try just about one of everything on the menu, but we did draw the line at the top-end wines!
Eddie takes great pride in bringing new food ideas to the relatively sophisticated palate of the average China Red client. There are so many modern variations on old established Chinese traditional dishes, but none of them so far from their origins as to cause anything but delight – new twists on established traditions. Also vital to China Red is the relationship with local suppliers, especially the locally caught seafood and fish – the scallops are divine. Eddie goes to great lengths to source fresh local vegetables, and has built a very special working relationship with Grow Ltd. one of the treasures of this lovely community.
What is also immediately apparent is that the level of service here is simply as good as it gets. I was going to say West End of London standards, but if you’ve eaten in some of London’s top-end restaurants lately you will be aware of inconsistencies when it comes to standards of service. We were royally looked after in China Red, and we always have been. Eddie has that knack of picking the right people, training them well and rewarding them for their efforts, and it clearly shows. There’s a certain graciousness about the mixture of the oriental and British philosophies here. It’s easy to get it wrong, and challenging to get it just right, but Eddie has done it really very well. He boasts of bringing the latest ideas and innovation from London, and elsewhere, but I have a suspicion that others may be following his lead, and many a Chinese restaurant in London could learn much from the way Eddie runs his domain.
Every course evoked reactions of culinary delight from all of us, and I can only describe the whole evening as a sublime experience in the world of Guernsey dining. Our main courses just achieved perfection with fine and subtle flavours of China Red chicken with toffee walnuts and sesame seeds, whilst the veggies amongst us were treated to stir-fried asparagus and lilly bulb in black pepper, and a rather special sauce, with just a hint of spice.
Interestingly, China Red has a takeaway menu (why wouldn’t they), offering most of the range of dishes from their main menu. China Red is enormously popular, so make sure you don’t call up 15 minutes before you want to eat, and at absolute peak times Eddie and his team may decline to take your takeaway order, just because the kitchen is working to maximum capacity. Instead, why not make the commitment and organise your next family gathering in their private function room.
If you want to eat at China Red you’ll likely need to book in advance, even mid-week, as it is immensely popular. It’s less than ten minutes from the visitors’ marina in St. Peter Port, and, I’m told, a favourite amongst visiting French yachtsman. I read recently of a family that moved from Paris back to London, delighted to finally find restaurants with atmosphere rather than the dour and sober experience on the French side of the little pond. Perhaps that’s why China Red is so popular with visiting French folk, because the atmosphere is lively and full of laughter, without being noisy or obtrusive.
In no rush at all to leave, we spent a lazy half hour imbibing Eddie’s fascinating wealth of knowledge on the subject of tea, and we slurped more than our fair share of light and fragrant teas, but that was after the toffee banana and ice cream….!