RED HOUSE DIM SUM (456 Bloor West, at Howland, 416-535-3572) Complete meals for $16 per person, including all taxes, tip and a beer. Average dim sum $2.99. Open Monday to Thursday noon to 11 pm, Friday and Saturday noon to midnight, Sunday noon to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms upstairs. Rating: NN Rating: NN
When you visit Red House, rest assured that you won't have to endure airport-bright lighting, 400-item menus, crowded tables, rushed staff, specials listed in Cantonese only and the chance that you might be ordering a plate full of sea cucumbers.
Unfortunately, also absent is any of the culinary excitement an authentic dim sum experience can offer.
The decor is calm, comfortable and verging on chic, the attentive staff friendly, the menu brief and understandable. All dim sum options are explained, as are the stir-frys, combos, chow meins and rice platters. All the items arrive in good form: hot, fresh from the kitchen and properly cooked. And boring.
Veggie spring rolls ($2.99) and their sticky plum sauce could be from any food court. Turnip cakes ($2.99) are bland, their only flavour delivered by what the staff describe as Chinese mushrooms. Peking beef dumplings ($2.99) are nicely browned but lacking in character, as is the chicken curry ($6.99), which isn't even much of a deal considering it's mainly root vegetables and rice. BBQ pork buns ($2.99) are distinguished only by their sweetness.
Baby bok choy ($8.99) with garlic and Chinese red dates almost rises above the competently mundane with its fresh greens and sweet whole cloves of garlic, but it suffers from too much water in the wok. Also worth mentioning is sticky rice in lotus leaf ($2.99), which at least has some exotic floral qualities imparted by the wrapper.
It's only a 15-minute walk to the bright lights of Chinatown, but the dimness of the dim sum at Red House makes it feel much farther away.