When modern-Russian bar and restaurant Red October announced its impending closure last week, most customers asked the same question: what about the dumplings?
“People started a campaign asking us to bring dumplings with us,” says Red October co-owner Marina Tazhdynova. “One of my staff members started collecting signatures. So we’re taking the dumplings.”
Tazhdynova and co-owner, husband Roman Tazhdynov, (who also own Bibliotecha Bar & Book Exchange) are in the midst of closing their venue on Gilbert Place, and opening a new one: a bar at the former Barbery site on Hindley Street. The Moscow-born couple have decided to bring their “Hong-Kong style” bar Suzie Wong – formerly tucked away downstairs at Red October – above ground.
They believe the Suzie Wong concept, with its Asian-driven bar menu, is one that will appeal year-round. “Russian cuisine in Adelaide is a tough gig,” says Tazhdynova. “Traditional Russian food, come summer in Australia – no one needs it.” It’s the reason they always emphasised their modern take on Russian cuisine. But venues in the city’s west have long struggled at the beginning of the year, during the Fringe season, when people are drawn to the east end. Then Covid-19 hit.
When restrictions came into force, Tazhdynova frantically signed the restaurant up to all of the delivery platforms she could. A stroke of good fortune meant that they had already designed a new, takeaway-appropriate menu that was ready to go.
“I signed up with Uber Eats straight away, and Deliveroo. But they take time. And especially when everyone jumped on their bandwagon… it was a three- or four-week wait to get everything done,” says Tazhdynova. “Meanwhile, we signed up to Bopple, which allowed us to do everything ourselves. That was the one we tried to push the most, because it was a very small fee that they were charging.”
When their request to join Uber Eats was finally approved, they realised the company’s pricing would end up costing them more than it was worth. “We figured out that when an order was placed through Uber, we’d pretty much break even with their 33 per cent charge,” says Tazhdynova. “But then we realised there was the GST on top of that. So, we said, ‘let’s just pray that not that many people order through Uber’.” (Uber Eats reduced their commission fees after pressure from its partner venues, but only to 30 per cent).
The new Suzie Wong will feature the same red-gum bar top, seating and pictures from their cocktail lists as a tribute to the old venue. The new brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows will draw attention to their whisky collection: currently Adelaide’s largest at 520 bottles, and set to expand to at least 600. There’ll also be wines, spirits and (mostly whisky-based) cocktails. “We’re trying to twist classics, and trying to educate people on which particular whisky will be good for this drink, or that drink,” says Tazhdynova. “We also used to run whisky classes and tastings, and we’ll still be doing that.”
The spirit of Red October will live on quietly at the new Suzie Wong. There’ll be dumplings (the staples will stay, but there are plans to experiment with different fillings) and, of course, Russian vodka. “Even if we’re not running a Russian venue, with us, you can get this any time,” Tazhdynova says with a laugh.
It’s been a tough year. But in spite of everything, Tazhdynova is optimistic.
“I wouldn’t really call [Red October] a casualty. I would say, it was probably good timing,” says Tazhdynova. “It’s kind of a shame that we have to let Red October go – but new beginnings are always good as well.”