Unveiling the Secrets of the Red Lantern

When I was discussing Asian food with Kevin Hui, owner of the China Sichuan recently, he mentioned his interest in Vietnamese food and his belief that it will grow in popularity in Ireland in the coming years. He introduced me to the writings of Luke Nguyen and lent me his book Indochine which documents the profound effect of the French on Vietnamese cuisine. He told me a little of Luke’s fascinating personal journey from being born in a Thai refugee camp, after his family fled Vietnam as boat people, to becoming chef and owner of the award-winning Sydney Vietnamese restaurant, The Red Lantern.
I’ve ordered the book Luke co-authored with his sister Pauline Nguyen, Secrets of the Red Lantern, from Amazon, so that I can get some sense of how Vietnamese food differs from Chinese.  I look forward to trying out some of his recipes starting with this one which, in yet another coincidence, @Pat_Whelan passed my way recently. These Red Lantern Crisp Parcels – Cha Gio – are another take on spring rolls and different in filling and dipping sauce to the recipe I used earlier today.
But first I wanted to hear first hand what his food is like.
So, after whetting my daughter Claire’s appetite with a sumptuous Chinese meal at the China Sichuan when she was home in Dublin for a few days recently, I despatched her and Mike for dinner at The Red Lantern, on one condition – that they would review it for me (I love this delegation lark). I will let her take up the story from there.
“Review of Red Lantern on Riley
No AA Gill, my review can be summed up in one word, YUMMY!
I was thrilled when Mum (Shananigans blogger, social media guru and slighted obsessed Chinese cooking nut!) asked if she might send myself and my husband Mike off to the Red Lantern so that I could review it for her blog. It ended up being our 2nd Anniversary celebatory dinner following a trip home to the UK and Ireland, where incidentally I ate more Chinese food than on my trip to Beijing in June!
First up I must confess that I booked us into the wrong place. I had thought that we were going to the original Red Lantern on Crown St but we were actually eating in the 4 month old new addition to the the Nguyen clan food empire on Reilly St. The restaurant is the brainchild of TV chef Luke Nguyen, his sister Pauline, brother-in-law and chef Mark Jensen and partner Suzanna Boyd.
My initial disappointment at my mistake was quickly dashed on arriving at the restaurant, cozy and dark with red wallpaper and obvious Saigon influences in the furnishing. Tables are close together but not on top of each other. My husband does not enjoy it when you are sitting on the knee of the person next to you so he was suitably pleased. Best of all the kitchen is glass fronted so you can see the chefs working away and the dance of an Asian kitchen in full flow.
The staff are great and put my inner waitress at ease immediately. They are the right mixture of bubbly, knowledgeable and engaged. They got us started with a cocktail from Red Lilly the funky cocktail bar at the restaurant. Mike had a whiskey sour which he enjoyed and I had a Halong Breeze, yum, I’m a sucker for anything with passion fruit and vodka!

Life’s a (Halong) breeze in Sydney

We decided to have the 5 course tasting menu plus wines (thanks Julie and Derry) called ‘Delicious Dalat’ at $135 with matching wine.
The first course was Goi Cha Cuon, soft rice paper rolled with pork and duck terrine, vermicelli, cabbage and pickled carrot and Muc Rang Muoi lightly battered chili salted squid with fresh lemon and white pepper dipping sauce. In Vietnam we took part in a Vietnamese cooking class in Hoi An and I can tell you the Red Lantern’s rice paper rolls were a lot better than my attempt! Both the rolls and the chili squid were very tasty and a great start to the meal.
Our favourite course was the Chim Cut Chien Don, a crispy 5 spiced Quail and beetroot salad and the Goi Tom Thit, tiger prawns, free-range pork belly and pickled vegetables. The pairing of tiger prawns and pork belly was divine and we could have munched on the quail all day! We had a 2010 viognier Milton Vineyards from Gisborne NZ, floral enough to be a match for the pickled vegetables.
Chim Cut Chien Don (Quali) & Goi Tom Thit (Tiger Prawns)

Next up was a fish course of Ca Kho, NZ King Salmon and Chinese broccoli braised in a claypot with caramel sauce and Cua XO, WA Blue Swimmer Crab Meat, wok-tossed with glass noodle, carrot and snake beans and Red Lantern’s XO sauce. The XO sauce didn’t quite have the punch I would have liked but the salmon was excellent, sticky and sweet and full of flavour. The course was paired with a light red sangiovese from Heathcote Victoria that complemented the fish surprisingly well and makes me think it would be a good choice at home.
Ca Kho – salmon in a clay pot

It was a meat finale, Vit Quay, roasted Burrawong Pekin Duck with spiced orange sauce, fennel and watercress salad; Bo Luc Lac, cubed pasture fed Black Angus striploin wok tossed with garlic, sesame and black pepper and a side of Rau Muing Xao Chao, water spinach wok tossed with fermented bean curd sauce.
We were properly full at this stage and I was starting to feel sleepy. Thankfully Red Lantern has the perfect pick me up, a Vietnamese coffee. An individual drip filter sits on top of a glass cup sporting a layer of condensed milk. Mix it together and you perk right up! We still had a dessert platter to go and although I’m not a huge fan of Asian desserts the black sesame seed ice cream was unusual and delicious.
Vietnamese filter coffee

I highly recommend the Red Lantern on Riley, yummy food with a lovely balance of flavours and textures some really delicate and some more punchy. The tasting menu had great sized portions, small but lots of them and the wine was spot on with each. For a Sydney restaurant, especially one with a celebrity chef, we thought it was good value. I imagine as word grows this place will be booked out every weekend so I’ll have to book early when I take my parents on their next visit to Oz.”
Looking forward to it already Claire and I’m glad you and Mike enjoyed your anniversary treat. This sounds like seriously good and sophisticated food.
Mum xx