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Darlinghurst’s Red Lantern Comes Out of Lockdown with New Look and Vietnamese Street Food Menu

By on November 11, 2021 0

When Darlinghurst’s institution, Red Lantern, reopened after the lockdown, it got a new lease of life.

In addition to maintaining Red Lantern’s thriving drive-thru banquet service, chef and co-owner Mark Jensen spent much of the closure refreshing both the dining room of the beloved Vietnamese restaurant and its menu, in the aim to rediscover the dynamic spirit of street food for which it has become known.

“I wanted to inject energy into the joint,” says Jensen, who opened the first iteration of Red Lantern on Crown Street in 2002 with co-founders Luke and Pauline Nguyen. “I think people forgot about us a bit. I’m sick of running into people who say they like the restaurant, and I ask them when they last came in, and they say, “when you were still on Crown Street”. We moved to Darlinghurst almost 10 years ago.

The refreshed space evokes the tropical, worn-out glamor of Vietnamese cities: lush foliage springs from pots throughout the dining room, iconic red lanterns create a crimson glow of crankiness, and a new bar area offers punters a place to take a drink after work.

Jensen says the renewed focus on street food is appropriate for the post-lockdown recovery led outdoors in Sydney. But it also presents an opportunity to reintroduce more traditional flavors from Southeast Asia, from which his cuisine had moved away to appeal to a larger market.

“There’s a dish I put on the bar menu that uses fermented fish sauce,” he says of a new post that sees peppers filled with pork, dill and lime makrut, before being grilled. “The fish sauce is quite hot, but the other ingredients tone down that fermented flavor, so it’s authentic, but also accessible.

“I had really backed down on those strong flavors, but now I’ve found a way to use them and not alienate people. Connoisseurs of cooking will really identify with these dishes.

Other examples of the new clean menu include banh khot, small turmeric pancakes topped with tiger prawns and shallot oil, and the basic northern Vietnam banh cuon, steamed rice noodles rolled up. around wood-eared mushrooms and ground pork.

The drink menu was also reinvigorated, with batch cocktails showcasing even more Southeast Asian flavors. Jensen’s favorite? A summer blend of lime makrut infused vodka, ginger liqueur, lychee liqueur and coconut water called the Femme Fatale, available both for those who dine on site and for those ordering dishes take out via the restaurant’s drive-thru service.

Jensen doesn’t see the lock-down era drive-thru enthusiasm diminishing. And The Cut Barbershop and Gentlemen’s Collective, which operates out of Red Lantern’s private dining room during daylight hours, continues to perform well.

“At the end of the day, I just wanted to get a fresh take on the place and find out how to be as versatile as possible,” says Jensen. “I want to avoid this being a fine dining experience and make it an inviting mix of delicious street food, cocktails and music, while transforming the restaurant into an eclectic home of creativity.

“It’s just about trying to stay relevant in an ever-changing world. “

Red lantern
60 Riley Street, Darlinghurst
(02) 9698 4355

Hours:
from tue to sat from 4 p.m. to late

redlantern.com.au
@redlanterngroup



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