As I stared into the wide blue yonder at 39,000 feet, I wondered where exactly the lightning was that had closed Sydney airport. We went round in circles for over an hour and I sent up a silent prayer to the gods of aviation that we not be diverted to Canberra.
I checked the time and was confident that I would make my dinner reservation at Red Lantern at 8.15pm. As it turned out my 4.15pm flight out of Melbourne got me through the door of the restaurant at 8.12pm. I could have got to Perth faster than that!
Thanks to the storm that delayed us for so long, Sydney was hot and sticky and as we were shown to our table, my eyes were darting around in search of a therapeutic cocktail as I entered Red Lantern. True to its name there are red lanterns hung around the restaurant, which is a converted terrace with red walls, dim lighting and dark wood fixtures. I could take in no further information until I'd had a drink. Our waiter obviously saw the desperation in my eyes and advised there were two cocktail specials before she'd even seated us. I was impressed.
As my lovely friend and I caught up and cooled down, we sipped on a most refreshing mandarin and rhubarb caprioska with pomegranate juice, that served to take the edge off and got us ready to order. The pomegranate seeds bobbed alongside chunks of mandarin and lots of ice.
We decided to try a few dishes and share, starting with Cha Gio Chay, which are basically vegetarian spring rolls. However, do not be fooled into thinking these are just any old rolls. There was not a hint of oil on them and the pineapple, chili and Thai basil dipping sauce they were served with was just the right balance of acid and spice. Inside the rolls was glass noodles, tofu, carrot and mushrooms and the flaky texture of the pastry was just superb, making a lovely popping sound as we bit into them.
The Tom Kho caramelised prawns arrived in a clay hot pot, with tomato and fresh green beans. The prawns were enormous and very meaty and tasty, with a hint of char-grilled flavour.
We teamed them with the day's special of mixed fungus, that was served with lotus root and fresh water chestnuts. There was not an overwhelming flavour in this dish but the opposing textures of the silky mushrooms and crunchy roots and nuts kept me going back for more.
The wine list at Red Lantern is award winning and I had the most divine glass of rose with our main meal, needless to say I am now on the hunt for the biodynamic Spanish drop. I thought its colour was due to the decor, but when I held the wine up to the light I realised it really was that pink and was sorry we hadn't ordered a bottle when we sat down.
Overall the dining experience at Red Lantern is a delight. The food is fresh, the service attentive and friendly and I love that you can get a table at the drop of a hat, even though head chef and owner Luke Nguyen has just launched a new book and his TV show is currently screening. His 'celeb-chef' status seems to have had only a positive effect on his restaurant as there are no pretensions at this place, however it is a little pricey on some dishes.
I give Red Lantern 4 cravats out of 5.
Where it lost points? I was a little disappointed that a dish touted as a 'special' did not live up to my expectations, and I'm not a fan of being served rice when I specifically didn't order it.
The price tag on the prawn dish was also a little steep for what it was.
Red Lantern is at:
525 Crown Street
Surry Hills, Sydney
Ph: 02 9698 4355