So the second part of the other half's birthday was actually on his birthday. Well, I wasn't going to spend it in the kitchen, so I tried to find somewhere that was not as 'special', so as to overshadow as the main birthday meal (first part was at Ocean Room, here), but fancy enough for another night out.
Enter the newly opened Red Lantern on Riley.
So much for thinking this was just a casual, neighbourhood Vietnamese place - this is much more than that!
Very swish decor, though at night it's a bit hard to see (dim lighting).
Must have cost a pretty penny, and it's certainly beautifully turned out, with bentwood chairs and French Colonial-inspired tiles melding with old mirrors, family pictures , red lanterns(!) and Vietnamese-style screens. Lovely flower arrangements (orchids).
Not knowing what the serving sizes were like, we ordered a couple of entrees, and some mains. Plus room for dessert, of course. Here's what we had.
Goi Cuon ($19.80) – rice paper rolls with tiger prawns, free-range pork, vermicelli, herbs. These rolls were super fresh, some of the best (and most expensive!) I've had.
Muc Rang Muoi ($25.30) – chilli salted squid with lemon and white pepper dipping sauce. The chilli squid was piping hot (freshly fried, mmm!) with a light batter, like tempura, not too spicy but incredibly moreish.
Red Lantern guys, if you're reading this, the Muc Rang Muoi was $15.30 on the menu, but we were charged $25.30. Misprint somewhere?
Bun Thit Nuong ($30.80) – chargrilled pork marinated in honey, served with mint, perilla leaves and lettuce to wrap. This dish is deemed a 'mid course' rather than a main. You take one of the soft lettuce leaves and pile on some of the luscious pork and bean sprouts together with a couple of torn herb leaves, then wrap it up and devour. This dish is simple but amazingly good.
Vit Quay ($41.80) – roasted Burrawong Pekin duck with spiced orange sauce and fennel watercress salad. Quite a few meaty duck pieces, and the salad was a refreshing complement.
We also had Rice ($3.30).
To drink – 333 beer ($9.35) and a pot of jasmine tea ($8.25). Does anyone else think these pricings are a bit strange/odd? Maybe they include carbon tax!
Dessert platter for 2 ($24.20) – coconut crème caramel, black sticky rice and sesame and rice flour dumplings filled with soursop. All a nice enough end to the meal.
All up, a great meal with the best ingredients - all the dishes were prepared beautifully and the serving sizes were fairly decent. The waitstaff we had were perfect - observant, a bit familiar, but knowledgeable about the food.
My only gripe is the prices - I certainly wasn't expecting to pay as much as this for a 'casual Vietnamese' meal (those are my quotes, by the way), but I suppose you have to take into account the inner city location and the lovely decor and quality of the food. The experience is quite different to the rusticity that you see owner Luke Nguyen encountering on his wonderful tv programs on Vietnam and the Mekong.
Overall, it was a fine finish to the other half's birthday celebrations and I'd like to go back to try other dishes - it would be great if someone else was paying, though!
Red Lantern on Riley
60 Riley Street, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010
ph: 02 9698 4355
I booked online by choosing a date and time and they called back to confirm, plus a text reminder as well. Very smooth procedure.