Growing up in Sydney, we had one restaurant that was our go-to for family get-togethers and celebrations. Birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, promotions, graduations, engagements were all marked with a lazy Susan’s worth of everyone’s favourite Chinese food at Red Hat in Kingsford.
It wasn’t a fancy-schmancy restaurant. It had a casual come as you are welcoming quality with tasty food and affordable pricing. They could somehow always fit you in, no matter how large your group, and there was a little something for everyone on the menu, from toddler cousins to fussier grandparents.
It was an extension of home where we all felt comfortable. It was quite a loss when they shut for renovations suddenly one evening and never reopened. It has been over 10 years since it closed, but we still remember it fondly, and the countless evenings we spent there laughing and eating.
I got the same familiar feeling when I walked into the 1980 Chinese Restaurant. Located where the city meets the Australian National University on Childers Street, the eatery has undergone a transformation this year with a name change, renovation and menu update.
Owner Richard Hou has been at the helm of the popular restaurant originally named Spicy Ginger Cafe since 2013. Known for its Yum Cha buffet and spicy food, 2020 proved to be an introspective year for Richard. The combination of COVID-19, which saw his usual customers of ANU students and office workers dry up and turning 40, led him down a path of wanting to upgrade the design and menu to appeal to more families.
Walking in off the street, you notice one of the new additions to the restaurant straight away: two seafood tanks, housing live fresh and saltwater options. The space looks deceptively small from the outside as you can only see one of the dining rooms, but if you keep moving through, there are options aplenty for seating.
There is a renovated VIP function room to accommodate up to 18 people in a large room. It comes complete with a rather nifty-looking electronic Mahjong table, couch and smart television. The doors can be closed to this room for complete privacy as Richard specifically wanted somewhere for families to feel free to make a little noise, switch on the TV for the kids at the end of the meal and just relax, or have a competitive game of Mahjong.
There is also courtyard seating and an additional dining room for overflow, or it can be used for private events for up to 54 people.
As for the menu, the Yum Cha buffet has gone, but they continue to serve old customer favourites of brightly coloured handmade dumplings, warming cumin lamb, crispy chilli beans, along with the exquisitely made special braised chicken with handmade noodles and potato.
The new selections include fresh live seafood dishes of lobster, mud crab, abalone, prawns and the fish of the day. There is also a new addition of entrees, with an intriguing cold salad full of fresh coriander, pippies and mustard sauce.
With the big interesting menu, tasty well-executed food and welcoming casual atmosphere, I feel like I have found my own ‘Red Hat’ replacement in 1980 Chinese Restaurant right here in Canberra.
1980 Chinese Restaurant is located at 2/25 Childers Street, City. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday for lunch from 11:30 am and dinner from 5:30 pm.