Friday, January 13, 2012

Red Lantern, Surry Hills

It wouldn't be too long ago that I would've thought meeting a group of strangers from the Internet for dinner to be a bit...weird. But that was before Twitter, and it's this Twitter meet-up (or tweet-up as the cool kids say) that I have to thank for the chance to experience the awesome food at Red Lantern in Surry Hills. 

Red Lantern has been on my radar for awhile as owners Luke Nguyen, Pauline Nguyen and Mark Jensen are big advocates for ethical and sustainable produce. Where possible all of the produce in the restaurant is free-range as well as being ethically and sustainably sourced. They even have a kitchen garden out the back of this converted terrace where some produce is grown. 

The reason for the tweet-up is to welcome Canberra food blogger Lizzy, and her partner Peter, to the big smoke.  Lizzy had been tweeting about a visit to Sydney to visit some of our wonderful food suppliers like the Orange Grove Markets, Fish Markets, Urban Food Market, Bourke Street Bakery...and the list goes on. Fellow twit, I mean tweeter, Karen offered to show Lizzy and Peter around and when Lizzy mentioned she wanted to go to Red Lantern a group of us quickly invited ourselves to dinner. As you do.

There we are...our big group of blurry Twits (Ester, Karen, Moi, Dave, Catherine, Lizzy, Peter and Joy)
As our group is quite large we have to go with the tasting menu ($65 per person plus $10 per person if you choose to have dessert - which we did). I actually think having a set menu with a large group is often the best option, as it leaves more time for chatting and less time trying to figure out what to order.

Dinner kicks off with Goi Cha Cuon Soft - rice paper rolled with pork and duck terrine, vermicelli, cabbage and pickled carrot.  A really nice, fresh flavoured beginning to the meal and a great indication of the quality of the food to come.

Sorry for the fuzzy photo folks, but as we know green or brown food along with dark lighting is my arch nemesis *shakes fist*.  That said there was nothing fuzzy about the flavours in this Bo La Lot - pasture fed Wagyu beef with lemongrass and shallot wrapped in betal leaf and chargrilled.  The betal leaves are slightly peppery and match really well with the fresh flavour of the lemongrass. Needless to say the Grass-Fed Wagyu is tender beyond belief and just goes to show that Wagyu can be top notch and NOT be grain-fed. Just saying.

I really love the slightly tart flavour of green papaya salad so was excited to try the Goi Du Du - twice cooked pork belly, tiger prawns, green papaya, perilla and mint.  The salad was studded with little pieces of pork belly which has got to make it a 10 out of 10 in anyone's books...very flavourful. 

It was the Muc Rang Muo - lightly battered chilli salted squid served with a fresh lemon and white pepper dipping sauce - that really had The Boy and I going back for more...and more...and more.  The squid was so tender and the dipping sauce was a great, zesty counterbalance to the deep-fried batter. Lucky for us that Lizzie and Catherine were engrossed in conversation as it meant The Boy and I got to polish most of this dish off.  I would definitely order this on my next visit to Red Lantern.

The first main served was Cha Ca - pan fried Mulloway fillets marinated in turmeric, dill and shrimp paste. Served with a green mango salad.  This dish was a real hit with both Lizze and Catherine who declared with every mouthful "oh my, this is delicious". That about says it all really.

The verdict on the Xuong Suon Voi - free range pork ribs braised with soy, chilli and garlic with broad beans and artichoke leaves - was unanimous, it was delicious. The charred pork was smoky and amazingly tender and definitely the star ingredient on the plate.

Another blurry photo folks, but again I blame the light...really not my fault! Really. Ga Chien Doncrisp skin Burrawong pasture raised chicken poached in master stock with ginger and oyster sauce - is amazingly tender and succulent.  The masterstock is wonderfully flavoursome and salty. This dish is a must order (along with the pork, salt and pepper squid...well, everything really).

Karen tells us that the mushrooms in the Cai Xanh Xao - mixed organic Asian greens wok tossed in preserved bean curd sauce - are supplied by The Mushroom Depot stall she helps (wo)man at the weekly Orange Grove Markets and this makes the dish all the more special.  The mushrooms are GREAT by the way, meaty, firm and packed with flavour.

I really enjoyed the Bo Kho - pasture fed beef braised in tomato with cinnamon, cassia bark and star anise.  Once again the meat is incredibly tender and flavoursome, and I really think this says a lot about the quality of the produce, and the life that produce has led.

I really am failing at my New Years resolution not to eat desserts and the dessert platter really is my undoing. The tasting menu platter has a tasting of three of Red Lanterns desserts: Com Nep La Chuoi (red sticky rice in banana leaf and chargrilled with fresh mango, and coconut ice cream = YUMMO); Kem Flan (Coconut Crème Caramel); and, Banh Cam Mang Cau (sesame and rice flour dumplings filled with Sour Sop and served with black sesame ice cream).

I don't know why I waited so long to go to Red Lantern, but I know I won't leave it as long before my next visit.

545 Crown Street Surry Hills NSW 2010 Phone them on 02 9698 4355.

Red Lantern on Urbanspoon


  1. I'm dying to check out Red Lantern! Your photos made me want to get on that even quicker!

  2. Mel, such a fantastic wrap up on our twEAT up... what an evening we had and you have captured it all so brilliantly. Was great to meet you and The Boy... and great to share food with a group of like minded people at the acclaimed Red Lantern.

  3. Sounds like a great night! And the pictures are really nice, don't you worry!
    I'm gonna have to go back there soon, it's been at least 5 years I haven't been and these dishes look really appetizing :-)

  4. Silly me, I had Red Lantern under the "celebrity" category (aka overrated) and did not know they used pastured-fed/free-range meats. I'll make sure to visit them shortly.

    1. Hi Gaby, I think chef Mark Jansen is VERY into sustainable/ethical food. They may be celebrities but I totally respect what they do (just like Kylie Kwong).

  5. the wagyu beef with lemongrass looks great! i havent been to red lantern yet D:

  6. I really need to go to Red Lantern it all looks soooo good! And great pics too! :)

  7. We went to Red Lantern late last year and very much enjoyed our meal there - lovely photos Mel. I think most reputable restaurants nowadays get at least free range if not organic or specifically grown produce and breeds for them. It's just what they do and how they can justify some of the prices too.
    PS Love Moshroom Depot for their variety of exotic shrooms. I get mine from Peter at Double Bay. Great supplier!

  8. What a lovely meet up opportunity! The food there looks so good. We have tried to go there a few times but it has always been fully booked. Ah well, one day! :)

  9. YUM that Bo Kho looks so juicy and tender. I admit i steer away from red lantern but think it deserves a visit!

  10. It's been many years since I ate at Red Lantern and it was my last attempt at trying to make a booking that put me off returning. Perhaps one day I'll break that drought.

  11. I really enjoy Red Lantern (esp when I recognise dishes from Luke's Songs of Sapa book - fave travel/cook book ever!) but some of my Vietnamese friends just baulk at the prices compared to anything in Cabra or Bankstown...

  12. Hi Tina, I agree that it is not cheap, though the banquet is very good value. I suppose we are paying for quality, sustainable and ethical produce that they use.

  13. Love the scooter photos Mel, and the food of course :)

  14. Good to hear that Red Lantern is good again. I went aaages ago and loved it, but when I thought about going back I heard bad things. Have checked Urbanspoon etc every so often and it seems to be a divider. But perhaps this year I'll go back and see for myself.

  15. Red Lantern has been on / off my wish list over the last couple, but after reading two great reviews recently I'm definitely going to try and go.

    I saw Red Lantern on the order board at Feather and Bone in Rozelle, so you'd be safe eating the meat there if you are looking for provenance.

  16. The tasting menu looks and sounds wonderful! I'm really excited for dinner this Saturday - especially for that dessert platter... Great photos Mel :-D


Thanks for leaving your comment!

You Might Also Like:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Free Blog Template by June Lily