The red belly of this old Surry Hills terrace acts as a beacon on bustling Crown Street. With a moody interior reminiscent of a Saigon eating house, Red Lantern lures in diners with promises of traditional Vietnamese cuisine and a few creative twists. The restaurant's story is an interesting one, with its roots tracing back to owner Luke Nguyen's parents fleeing Vietnam in 1978. Newly arrived in Australia, food played a key role in binding the family together, and it's these recipes that have been passed down and painstakingly recreated in the Red Lantern kitchen.
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Treasured by local foodies, Red Lantern's red and dark wood interior creates a moody atmosphere, with diners packed to the brim and antique cabinets set on polished wooden floorboards. Incredibly efficient and knowledgeable waiters educate guests and suggest meal combinations, while also matching drops from the quality wine list. With an emphasis on ethical eating, local sustainable and organic produce features heavily on the menu. Dishes come out one at a time so diners can savour each creation's unique flavours, such as the incredibly popular – and incredibly spicy – chilli salted squid. These light morsels are dangerously addictive, particularly when dipped in a zesty lemon pepper sauce. Banh hoi is a DIY dish definitely worth trying; crisp crepes echoing turmeric and coconut milk flavours are stuffed with sauteed Berkshire pork, prawns and fresh herbs. Fill the table with other standouts such as the goi vit duck salad and ca chien don whole snapper. If there's any room left for dessert, banana fritters crumbed in coconut rice and served with vanilla ice-cream will surely do the trick.
Red Lantern also offer daily, seasonal 'lunchboxes' for $35 including a glass of wine. There is no better way to do a business lunch.