Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Luke Nguyen's Red Lantern (plus a little bit of sugary success)

So the plan this weekend was to lounge around ignoring the terrible Sydney weather and write a couple of blog posts. Things didn't quite go to plan and life, as thankfully it often does, got in the way so I didn't actually have time to write anything (this is also my excuse for the fact that my room currently looks like a tornado went through it). But don't worry, there's two pieces of good news. For those of you who didn't read last week's post, I've never had much success with sugar. But, the first piece of good news is I successfully overcame my terrible track record with caramel and made a delicious (if I do say so myself) salted caramel and chocolate tarte. Here's a sneak preview picture of the finished product. I'll share the recipe Thursday, but I'm too excited not to share a picture today!

The second piece of good news is that I had dinner at Luke Nguyen's Red Lantern Sunday night for my Mum's birthday, so I wanted to share with you a few of the dodgy, dark photo's I've taken and a few of the food highlights.

It was our first time that we'd been there, and I have no idea why we waited so long. Overall, I think the food was fantastic (although one person mentioned to me it's gotten a lot more expensive than it used to be which is a shame). Some beautiful mixtures of delicate flavours and unusual combinations. A couple of  underused ingredients made appearances, like pork floss and banana blossom, which was nice. It was quite spicy, but I'm certainly not upset by that, although for people who don't like chilli there may be a few dishes to avoid (but then why would you be at a vietnamese restaurant!?).

We got the 'Saigon Scrumptious' five course set menu, which was great as we didn't need to think too much about what to order. We weren't starving, so it was probably a little too much food and I might not go the set menu if I went again. But the great thing was we got to try a huge variety of different dishes.

I ordered the Dau Hu Rang Muoi (otherwise known as lightly battered chilli salted tofu with fresh lemon and white pepper dipping sauce) off the set menu as it sounded too tempting to miss. And it was. Amazing. I like tofu, but even my dad who doesn't, agrees that it was fantastic. The dish came out nice and fresh. The coating on the tofu was crispy, and the mixture of the lemon in the sauce and the salt on the batter was perfect. I could have eaten another serving.

I also swapped the standard broccolini out for the water spinach in fermented bean curd sauce. Although I'm seeing it more often, you don't get water spinach that much in Australia, so when I see it I usually order it. It's a lovely light Asian green that's a great replacement if you get bored of the standards. Like most greens, it soaks up the amazing sauce that it sits in.

Another fantastic dish was the Banh Tom, Aunty 5's rice cakes with tiger prawns, caramelised pork, pork and shallot oil. Basically, it's lovely crunchy rice cakes (not to be confused with rice crackers) topped with prawns and lovely sweet pork.

And then of course there was dessert. Now, I'm not usually a massive fan of Vietnamese desserts, but these made me change my mind. I don't know if it's because these were relatively westernised, or if I've never given Vietnamese enough of a chance, or both, but these were worth forcing myself to eat, despite the fact I was overfull. We had a desert platter that was made up of Kem Flan (coconut creme caramel made with coconut milk), Banh Cam Mang Cau (sesame and rice flour dumplings with black sesame ice cream) and Com Nep La Chuoi (red sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf served with jackfruit and coconut ice cream). Of the three, I think the Banh Cam Mang Cau was my fave. I've never tried black sesame ice cream, but it was surprisingly sweet.

The only real disappointment was the Battered Chilli Salted Squid. It essentially is the non-vegetarian version of the tofu I loved, and a friend had recommended it. After trying, and loving, the tofu, I was HANGING OUT for the squid to be delivered. But when it was, it tasted a little like it had been left sitting for a little too long, a little cold and a just not quite what I was expecting.

But no matter what, dinner was about family. And it was a lovely night that could only have been made better if Arielle and Andy were there to celebrate with us. Happy Birthday Ma!! xx

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