Now, to the other end of the Vietnamese dining spectrum.
I’ve always intended to go to Red Lantern. But my resolve to actually dine in this much-lauded restaurant became even greater after my wife gifted me with Luke Nguyen’s (the restaurant’s owner/chef) Songs of Sapa for our 12th anniversary.
Most Vietnamese restaurants I know are either in the city’s
The restaurant suggests you book at least 2 months in advance if you plan to have dinner there on a Friday or a Saturday night. I did not have that much notice to give. Dinner was definitely out of the question. So I booked lunch instead.
With my very good friends from
No Asian kitsch in sight. The restaurant is tastefully decorated in mainly vermillion and black. It gives you the feeling of being in a well-to-do but traditional Vietnamese family home.
So as we do not miss anything I thought the best way was to go for their tasting menu. Unfortunately, with less than 4 adults in our party we were dissuaded from doing so. There was no other choice but to go a la carte.
We started with the following entrees:
Goi Du Du
Green papaya, Tiger prawns and
Twice cooked quail stuffed with Kurubota pork served with salad of fennel in citrus and soy dressing.
Char grilled lemongrass beef wrapped in betel leaves with vermicelli, peanuts and shallot oil.
For mains we ordered:
Con Dom Hap
Mussels steamed with garlic, lemongrass and chilli. Finished with coconut milk.
Char grilled ‘
Ca Hap La Chuoi
Curry marinated fish fillet wrapped in banana leaf and steamed
I can sum up the whole experience in one word: “underwhelming.” For a restaurant with such strict booking requirements I came with very high expectations. Red Lantern, I thought, would be a step above the best Vietnamese dining experiences I’ve had in the past. It all comes down to the flavours. They were all there but somehow muted. Rather than an explosion I only got a hint of this and a whiff of that.
As much as I love Luke’s book I’m afraid I can’t say the same for the restaurant. It promised so much but delivered so little.