Monday, February 12, 2007

Red Chilli

Fri 09 Feb 2007

I've written about Red Chilli a couple of times before, and while I've usually been quite enthusiastic I've always wondered what I'd think if I actually visited without sitting in the pub beforehand.

On Friday night, a half pint of Golden Pippin into the evening, I actually managed it. In summary, I actually found it rather disappointing. And at this point, I should add the disclaimer that I am not the greatest fan, or aficionado, of Chinese (Szechuan or otherwise) food.

The dining experience didn't start well. We had a reservation, we arrived and our table was not ready. And this was at 7:30pm! Red Chilli doesn't have a waiting area, and while the bar is near the front counter, it's not set up for hanging around. The front of house staff didn't even suggest that we order drinks, so it's lucky we took it upon ourselves!

In the past, influenced as I have been by a few beers, I've been less than impressed by the level of service at Red Chilli, and Friday night did very little (if anything) to improve that impression. I do not want to be left loitering in a lobby for a reserved table and I most certainly don't want to hear an absolute cacophony of crockery while the staff set the table next to me. If you add this to previous encounters (where the staff haven't been able explain dishes on the extensive, but scantily worded, menu) you can probably understand why I'm feeling less than generous.

But let's move from service to food. As usual, the portions are hugely generous. We were at a table of six and started with just three starters: half an aromatic duck, a serve of salt and pepper ribs and a cold spicy beef salad. I do quite enjoy the salt and pepper ribs and the spicy beef, although I personally find the aromatic duck a little pointless (partly because I don't like hoisin sauce, and partly because I find the cost offensive). We moved on to two hot pot style dishes - one pork and one chicken, a tofu dish and pork in sweet vinegar. The pork in sweet vinegar, chosen by Andy, was a bit of a disappointment as it was more a sweet and sour style pork - battered, fried and overly sweet. The chicken in the hot pot had quite a strange texture - almost no texture at all. The pork in the hot pot was sliced incredibly finely and the chillis in it had a fearsome kick. The tofu I didn't like at all.

Now - I realise I am very much in the minority here. Most people I know (and this includes someone from Hong Kong, who is better placed to make a judgement than me) love Red Chilli. You cannot fault portion size or even value for money (I guess - for the above food, which was more than enough for 6 people, with beers, it cost £17.50 a head, including tip). But I often leave feeling as though the staff feel they have done me a favour by serving me. At best I could describe the service as desultory. And I always feel the food is less than clever. Perhaps part of that is that I'm sceptical about how well a brigade can execute such a massive menu. And perhaps part of that is that I am always left feeling as though I've eaten a small salt pan, with a good dash of oil.

So - Red Chilli - good for a post beer feed, but I think for slightly more serene night out I'll take my stomach elsewhere.

1. Red Chilli, 6 Great George St, Leeds LS1 3DW, phone 0113 242 9688.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tried Red Chilli recently, and it was good. I guess you'll have to go with some chinese friends next time to know what dishes to order, and what 'westernised' dishes to avoid. All my friends from China rave about it. I'm with you on the service though

12:14 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

I'm sure you're right about needing to go with people who can come at the menu with a more educated eye. I think on Friday night our dish selection was a bit wide of the mark. There are plenty of dishes I have enjoyed there - for example a chicken and peas dish.

I also think a restaurant does itself a disservice by having 'westernised' dishes on the menu. Personally - I'd much rather a shorter, better explained menu, with good food. After all, dining out shouldn't depend on who you take along with you!

I'm sure I'll be along to Red Chilli again soon and end up having a completely different opinion!!

12:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the service relates to chinese style service. Unlike the americanised 'I'm here to serve you and grovel all night, though I don;t know anything as I'm just a student really' Chinese waiters are usually very efficient but don;t give or expect social nicities. That being said, my chinese wife says that westerners get preference and chinese talked to quite shraply. As my mother in law (chinese) was there at the same time they got sharpness back at them.

10:01 am  
Blogger Alex said...

I'm sure part of the service is a cultural thing and I'm also sure that if I found myself in China I'd be totally tolerant of it, and appreciate it in some kind of wider social context.

I also know I'm incredibly fussy about service - I hate it when waiting staff are anything other than efficient and unobtrusive! But, part of that efficiency is knowing the menu and answering diners' questions. I guess part of being a good waiter is judging your customers' moods - talking sharply to those who expect it and explaining the menu to those of us who don't know what a dish is!

1:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very Poor Service.
Myself and my partner went in on a quite sunday night. We were seated at around 630pm,ordered about 5 minutes later, and got out 2nd(and final) course at 750pm. At one point, after 40 mins of waiting for our first course a waiter told us the food was on its way! People around us got served with quickly enough.
The menu was complex, and should only be tackled by those who know their Beijing and Sichuan cuisine from standard chinese.
The food was OK, but not enough to make up for the service.
I would not go here again, nor would i recommend it to anyone.

10:53 am  
Blogger Alex said...

Well, that last comment is pretty scathing! I haven't been to Red Chilli for quite a while, but I am thinking it's time to investigate some of the other Chinese restaurants in the city centre ...

2:31 pm  

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