545 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW
(02) 9698 4355
Prices: Entrées $16-$25, mains $22-$38, desserts $15, tasting menu $55 or $65 plus $10 additional for dessert
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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