Thursday, August 29, 2013

Red Lantern, Surry Hills

So lucky me got to tick off not one but two items on my Sydney dining wish list in one weekend! Saturday night saw me heading to Red Lantern on Crown with the family. Having attempted to make the booking only a week in advance, we were there for the 6pm early sitting, which suited me just fine considering I was starving after a whole day of brain numbing uni lectures. 

In a converted terrace house on the busiest street in Surry Hills, painted bright red with beautifully lit up lanterns to greet your arrival, Red Lantern takes it's name quite literally and then some. Inside it's red, red and more red, which may have been on trend 10 years ago but I couldn't help but think this was a rather dated look for a restaurant in 2013, specially when one took notice of some of the lanterns adorning the front entrance which had obviously seen better days!

The a-la-carte menu is surprisingly quite limited and I was immediately very disappointed to note that the goat curry, which was one of the dishes that I had my heart set on after reading the online menu, was in fact not on the menu that was handed to us that evening. It annoys me when restaurants don't do the basics such as updating their online menus but I'll leave that rant for another time.

After consulting with the waitstaff we decided on a selection of three entrees and three mains to share for our group of five. The service was quite pleasant and efficient all night but all the staff had a rather tired and "been here and done this for far too long" attitude to them. Their body language clearly lacked any energy or enthusiasm which made me think  that a boost in morale or a kick up their bum was needed to make them at least pretend to be liking their jobs! But again, that's a rant for another time.

A word of apology about the quality of photos to follow. This restaurant is incredibly dimly lit as it was and add to that the annoying red hue that glowed brightly from all directions, this was a logistical nightmare as far as taking photos went!

Prawn and sweet corn fritters served on cos lettuce and Vietnamese herbs (top left, $24) was a rather average start to the meal unfortunately. We couldn't taste any prawns in this and it just had a very bland deep fried taste to it. And served with some kind of a sweet chilli sauce it was rather ho-hum.

Seared scallop, pork belly, pomelo and lemon grass salad ($22) was also unfortunately a let down. The scallops were overcooked (not by much, but it was very noticeable) and we had to search the dish with a fine tooth comb to find any bits of pork belly. Hmmmm what's going on Red Lantern? By this point I was starting to develop some serious anxiety over my choice of restaurant.

Lightly battered chilli salted squid with fresh lemon and white pepper dipping sauce ($23) was the saving grace of the entrees. The squid was delightfully crispy with a light batter and the light dusting of chilli complimented the squid perfectly. It actually tasted much better without the dipping sauce which we all found to be too citrusy and over powered the dish.

Given only one out of the three entrees even came close to hitting the mark, I was extremely nervous as to what we were going to get from our three mains. Luckily the mains were infinitely better than the entrees!

Wok fried whole fish served with green mango, prawns and tomato sauce (market price) was divine! The fish was deliciously crispy on the outside and flaky soft on the inside. The accompanying mango salad was fresh, tangy and zesty. We demolished this generously sized fishie and licked our fingered clean (almost).

Char grilled pork chop marinated in honey, oyster sauce and lemon grass served with cabbage and green apple slaw (bottom left,$36) was also fantastic. The pork had a beautiful smoky char-grilled taste to it and it was perfectly moist on the inside. The marinade was well balanced in flavours and the accompanying salad also worked really well to tie the dish together.

Roast duck served with orange and fennel salad ($36) didn't rock my world but it wasn't bad. I had the most amazing roast duck at Mr Wong just two weekends ago and this just didn't compare to that. This duck had a nice crisp skin to it but it was overcooked making it quite dry and chewy. The sauce did help to add some moisture but at these prices the condiments should not need to come to the rescue of a signature dish.

Despite the average experience with the food so far we decided to soldier on and ordered a dessert platter ($22) to share.

From the left, we have sweet corn and sticky rice pudding with coconut ice cream, date and tamarind pudding with salted palm sugar ice cream and caramelised tamarind sauce and sesame and rice flour dumpling filled with spiced kumquat served with cassia anglaise. I must be developing a taste for Asian desserts because I actually enjoyed all three. The flavours were quite unusual; they weren't overly sweet and the balance of sweet and sour, tangy and spicy or hot and cold was just right in all three desserts.

So the verdict: You know me, I take my eating seriously. I had very high expectations of Red Lantern because of the long standing popularity of this Surry Hills institution, not to mention Luke Nguyen's celebrity chef status. I'm very sad to say that I was left rather underwhelmed by the experience. The food was ok, the ambience was ok and the service was ok... just ok... no wow factors, no raving reviews and not in a huge hurry to go back. You can't win them all folks!

Red Lantern on Crown on Urbanspoon 

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh! How disappointing! I've wanted to eat here for ages and have never booked early enough - I love Luke Nguyen - but it sounds like it didn't quite get there in terms of expectation. Maybe all his energy is going into his new venture at the Star?