Sydney Dining Out: Red Lantern, Surry Hills

by April@MyFoodTrail on March 3, 2010

in Dining Out, Sydney, Vietnamese

Red Lantern
545 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW
(02) 9698 4355

Cuisine: Vietnamese
Prices: Entrées $16-$25, mains $22-$38, desserts $15, tasting menu $55 or $65 plus $10 additional for dessert

Outside & inside Red Lantern

Red Lantern is a small, cozy upmarket Vietnamese restaurant owned by Luke Nguyen, his sister Pauline and Pauline’s partner, Mark Jensen. The restaurant has a focus on ethical eating by using the freshest in local sustainable and organic produce. Ever since we purchased and read Pauline Nguyen’s memoirs/cookbook, Secrets of the Red Lantern, and met Luke Nguyen at a Books for Cooks session, the restaurant Red Lantern has been on our list of places to visit when we make the trip to Sydney. We managed to score cheap flights to Sydney ($128 for the both of us, including taxes!) so we headed off for a long weekend of feasting.

Our first stop (in fact, straight from the airport!) was Red Lantern in Surry Hills for a late dinner. Hubby and I were also dining with my brother BT and his lovely girlfriend Miss CW. Red Lantern was very dimly lit so you will have to excuse my poor quality photos!

We started off with Goi Vit Cuon which was soft rice paper rolls filled with roast duck. I’m probably the only person I know who doesn’t like soft rice paper rolls (because of the fresh herbs), but I ate one anyway! The others really enjoyed the freshness of the roll and the dipping sauce. The serve normally comes with 3 rolls, but the waiter suggested another roll since there were 4 of us and adjusted the price accordingly.

Goi Vit Cuon – soft rice paper rolled with roast duck, enoki mushrooms & fresh Vietnamese herbs $16.50 for 3, or $22 for 4

The next entrée was Bo La Lot which was chargrilled lemongrass beef wrapped in betal leaves. This is similar to the Greek dish dolmades but I find the leaf used in the Vietnamese dish more edible. I always end up leaving the leaf behind at a Greek restaurant and scooping out the filling. Here I ate it all, filling and leaf – it was very tasty.

Bo La Lot – char grilled lemongrass beef wrapped in betal leaves with vermicelli, peanuts & shallot oil $16

The last entrée was the vegetarian spring rolls, or Cha Gio Chay. Vegetarian spring rolls don’t sound all that fancy, but these spring rolls were one of the best I have had! The skin was super crisp without being oily and the filling of tofu, glass noodles, carrots and Chinese mushrooms worked so well together. I wanted the whole plate to myself!

Red Lantern Cha Gio Chay – crisp parcels filled with tofu, glass noodles, carrots & wood ear mushrooms $15

Hubby has taken a liking to goat and the goat curry is a speciality at Red Lantern so he has been looking forward to trying it. The goat was boneless and had been slow cooked to ensure the tenderness of the meat. Miss CW and I had eaten goat before, but I don’t like the flavour so would not order it by choice. BT had never tried it and took quite a bit of coaxing to finally have a (small) mouthful, but I don’t think he will be having it again! Hubby was happy to have most of the dish to himself.

Cari De – boneless goat meat slow cooked in a mildly spiced turmeric & coconut milk curry $28

The second main we ordered was the char grilled pork cutlets. I hesitate to order pork cutlets because they can end up so dry when overcooked, but I needn’t have worried at Red Lantern. The pork was juicy and flavoursome with a hint of sweetness from the honey. They were actually a bit too salty and needed to be eaten with some plain steamed rice.

Suon Nuong – Char grilled ‘Berkshire’ pork cutlets marinated in honey, lemongrass & shallot oil $30

The last main to arrive was the Black Angus sirloin cubes. It was quite a simple seasoning of garlic and black pepper, but the quality of the meat and smoky flavour from the high heat of a wok gave the dish another dimension. Somehow the cube shape also added to its superiority over a normal beef strip stir-fry. Definitely the best dish of the night and a must try dish.

Bo Luc Lac – cubed pasture fed Black Angus sirloin tossed in a flaming wok with garlic, sesame & black pepper $30

It turns out Miss CW knows Leroy, the youngest son in the Nguyen family, from school and he was working on the floor the night we visited. We had all passed on dessert, but Leroy was kind enough to bring out a coconut crème caramel compliments of the chef. I am so glad he did because I normally overlook a crème caramel on a dessert menu and I would have no idea what I was missing at Red Lantern! The coconut crème caramel was absolutely sublime – the texture was so smooth and soft with the coconut combining with the caramel and eggs like a match made in heaven. Make sure you leave room for this!

Kem Flan – Coconut crème caramel made with bio dynamic eggs & organic coconut milk $15 (includes tea or coffee)

Overall: The restaurant had a lively atmosphere, which also meant it got quite noisy – not exactly the best place for a catch up conversation! The service was fantastic (and not just because Miss CW knows Leroy), with the waiters being very attentive to clear plates quickly and refill nearing empty water glasses. The quality of the food was excellent and you could really taste the freshness of the ingredients. The prices were on the expensive side for the size of the serves, but this might just be a Sydney thing and I am used to the cheap and cheery Vietnamese I frequent in Melbourne.

Would I return? Yes, my mouth waters at the thought of the beef and coconut crème caramel!

Over & Out, Rilsta xx

Red Lantern on Urbanspoon

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Yen March 3, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I became a fan of Luke Nguyen after following his show Luke Nguyen's Vietname on the SBS, and even bought my first ever Vietnamese cookbook (Songs of Sapa). I have not tried Red Lantern and definitely not in a hurry to try as it is very upmarket and westernised. But if I ever go the first thing I order would be the flan – it looks fantastic!


penny aka jeroxie March 3, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Great review! I may check it out the next time I am up in Sydney. The coconut caramel seems like the winner to me


Von March 3, 2010 at 10:58 pm

I only heard of Luke Nguyen from the television series he did a while ago and then on blogs. His restaurants sound really interesting!

I like you photos- even if the lighting is funny =] It makes the food look so good! Expecially the goat curry!


Conor @ HoldtheBeef March 4, 2010 at 12:14 am

I would be all over that goat curry like a goat eating the clean washing!

Interesting to see the Bo La Lot – I am not familiar with this and get the feeling I would like it a lot (well, a non-beefy version I guess).

Great review 🙂


Hannah March 4, 2010 at 7:10 am

That creme caramel looks yum! I wonder if it's dairy-free, being coconut-based and all? Would be lovely to know there was a safe option out there for me! 😛


Ellie March 4, 2010 at 7:55 am

I have been there once. The food is good but expensive. Good choice of places you have visited in Sydney. Can't wait to read more.


Rilsta March 4, 2010 at 9:24 am

Hi Yen: Even though it may be westernised, the food still tasted good! Do try the flan if you go!

Hi Penny: There are just too many places to check out when us Melbournians visit Sydney, but think about adding this to your list!

Hi Von: Thanks! I guess the advantage of dim lighting is that the background looks nice & dark!

Hi Conor: Thanks! I see the bo la lot in pretty much every Vietnamese restaurant I have been to and unfortunately it seems to always be beef wrapped in betel leaves.

Hi Hannah: The recipe is in the Red Lantern cookbook and it has coconut milk but also cream and eggs.

Hi Ellie: Thanks, my next few posts will be on the places I went to in Sydney!


Kat (Spatula, Spoon and Saturday) March 4, 2010 at 9:41 am

we are going this weekend. should we book? or do you think it will be right for us to rock up?


Mareelouise March 4, 2010 at 10:05 am

I'm so glad you enjoyed it- Red Lantern was a favourite of ours when we lived in Sydney…and his recipes in Secrets are always a winner!


Rilsta March 4, 2010 at 10:59 am

Hi Kat: Definitely book to avoid missing out. We were there late and it was still really crowded.

Hi Mareelouise: I haven't tried any of the recipes yet but will get around to it soon!


Jo - SecondHelping March 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm

I want to eat all of it – has to go on the list for next visit to Sydney.


Iron Chef Shellie March 5, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Still amazing photos! I'm drooling a little 😛

I'm so heading there when I do my foodie tour of Sydney!


April @ My Food Trail March 10, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Hi Jo & Shellie: It is worth the visit if you're in Sydney!


Agnes March 15, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Damn, that creme caramel looks a thousand times better than the one I made in the weekend. Wah! It looks like a fantastic meal too.


sewa mobil April 15, 2010 at 5:04 pm

we are going this weekend. should we book? or do you think it will be right for us to rock up?


April @ My Food Trail April 15, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Hi Agnes: Hehe, your one looked great too!

Hi sewa mobil: I would recommend booking if you are going on the weekend just to make sure you don't miss out!


kitchen tables August 17, 2010 at 6:59 pm

This kind of post keeps me visiting this blog. It is so interesting and you will learn new things and information. This blog is just so informative.


April @ My Food Trail August 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Hi kitchen tables: Thanks.


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