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9 Russell Street
With Redfarm joining Balthazar a couple of doors up, Russell Street is turning into a mini Manhattan. This first international branch of Redfarm is just one of owner Ed Schoenfeld’s 56 restaurants and, with its gingham tablecloths and whitewashed brickwork, is a Xerox of the West Village original. Most of the seats on the ground floor are at a long, shared table, although there are banquettes for four; more civilised tables for two will be available when the first floor opens.
Redfarm’s schtick is to graft a frenetic fast-food ethos onto Cantonese cooking. It might not be the place for Chinese food purists, but it sure is a lot of fun; were it not for the rowdy, adults-orientated atmosphere (10 cocktails, 20 wines), it would be the perfect place to keep kids entertained.
The signature Pac-Man dumplings are already all over Instagram and involve four well-crafted har gau ‘ghosts’, tinted with natural food colouring and dotted with sesame-seed eyes, chased across the plate by a sweet potato Pac-Man, jaws agape. Xiao long bao soup dumplings cleverly come pierced with a straw to suck up the pork and prawn broth to avoid any chin burns. Daily specials, meanwhile, might include cheeseburger spring rolls: minced beef and stringy cheese encased in golden flaky pastry accompanied by a gherkin-flecked dipping sauce that’s a dead ringer for a Big Mac’s secret ingredient.
Other small plates include a pitch-perfect version of crispy chilli beef, and bao concealing strips of pork belly, as lusciously fatty as Wagyu. Don’t fill up on the dim sum, though. The best thing we ate was the banquet classic of shrimp-stuffed chicken, a yin and yang of a dish in which the perky blandness of the surf and turf is offset by the most divinely crisp seasoned skin.
Two big downers: peak-time queues are likely to be long and prices are twice what you would pay in Chinatown, although the novelty value of the presentation is backed up by serious skill in the kitchen. But refreshingly unpretentious Redfarm undeniably brings a bright flash of colour to the London restaurant scene and is right at home in the theatrics of Covent Garden.
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SquareMeal 2 Stars
Best in Covent Garden
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9 Russell Street
Covent Garden Tube Station 253m
Charing Cross Tube Station 509m
London Transport Museum 39m
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