Don’t you love it when food adventures bring you to unexpected places? The night started out with a plan. The plan was called Porteño.
I had watched the most recent episode of No Reservations where Anthony Bourdain had sampled the delights of Porteño. A sudden, irresistible need to gorge on whole animals that have been through the rites of fire and salt engulfed me. I needed meat and I needed it NOW. And so off we went.
Danny, Cara, Sam and myself headed off down the dark streets of Surry Hills, keeping a nose out for the distinctive aromas of sizzling unadulterated meat. We turned down Cleveland St — we were so close! But why couldn’t we smell the meat?— and were met by the disappointing sight of closed doors and sealed windows.
Wasn’t it only closed on Mondays? But it was a Sunday! All sorts of indignant desperate thoughts flew through my stream of consciousness as sweet dreams of pig’s heads were dashed and shattered before my very eyes.
So, disillusioned and hungry, we set off in the direction of Crown St, hoping to find some other food to serve as our rebound. Surely a rebound love could not ever meet our impossible expectations? But oh was I wrong.
Deep red walls and an exotic exterior caught our eye. We had somehow arrived at Luke Ngyuen’s Red Lantern. Hope bloomed in our hearts like plant in spring. A new exciting experience awaited!
Between the four of us, we decided to share two entrées and two mains for maximum food variety.
The Goi Vit Ung Khoi Tra proved to be an absolute favourite. Tea smoke duck breast sat atop a medley of pickled vegetables. Every bite was an explosion of tangy crunchiness followed by the soft embrace of juicy duck. If I remember correctly, the duck is marinaded, seared then smoked with green tea — thank you SBS food! — and the whole process brings a myriad of salty, meaty flavours that bring me so much joy.
In comparison, the Goi Kho Bo ended up being only okay. Don’t get me wrong, the marinaded and dried Black Angus beef was just the right amount of chewy and tasty, but because it followed that spectacular duck, it didn’t stand a chance. It’s something that I would order again, but just not as a first choice. Even while I was enjoying it, my greedy hungry eyes kept going back to the duck and the equally exciting juices that sat at the bottom of the plate.
Now that we have gotten a taste of something that really excited us, we were afraid. What if nothing else matched up to the gorgeous duck? Our mains then descended upon the table.
The Thit Cuu Nuing Xa was a chargrilled, marinaded lamb that was gracefully escorted by fresh, crunchy greens. We were surprised and delighted by the addition of strips of tart green apple, and in my opinion, it lightened the dish and provided balance.
Next to the rich colours of the lamb, the Thit Heo Nau Mam — which was a braised pork shoulder in lemongrass, shrimp paste and coconut juice — looked a little…ordinary. But having had pork braised in coconut juice previously at Luke Ngyuen’s Fat
Duck, whoops Freudian slip Noodle, my heart still held plenty of hope.
And it did not disappoint. Rich flavours softly cajoled and serenaded my taste buds, while the pork shoulder melted seductively into my mouth. While. It did not bring the same kind Ida excitement that the duck did, it definitely made me want to sink slowly into my chair and expire in exquisiteness.
The problem with such good food is that you often feel like there wasn’t enough, and that was the feeling I had the whole time through. Yes, we were four people sharing four dishes, but for the price that we paid I did still get the feeling that it was not somewhere that I could keep going back to often. It was definitely the kind of dinner out that was more of a treat than a constant comfort.
We ate at:
Red Lantern on Crown
545 Crown St, Surry Hills NSW
(02) 9698 4355