With RedFarm joining Balthazar a couple of doors up, Russell Street is turning into a mini Manhattan, in fact this first international branch of Cantonese fast-food joint is a Xerox of the West Village original with its gingham tablecloths and whitewashed brickwork. It might not appeal to Chinese food purists, but it sure is a lot of fun; it would also be the perfect place to keep kids entertained, were it not for the rowdy, boozy atmosphere.
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 come cleverly pierced with a straw to suck up the pork and prawn broth, while daily specials might include anything from cheeseburger spring rolls to minced beef and stringy cheese encased in golden flaky pastry accompanied by a gherkin-flecked dipping sauce.
Other small plates range from lusciously fatty pork-belly bao to a pitch-perfect version of crispy chilli beef – although it’s worth saving room for one of bigger items. 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.
Be warned that 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. Overall, refreshingly unpretentious Redfarm feels right at home amid the theatrics of Covent Garden.