The Good Food guide chef hats for 2015 saw Lanterne Rooms lose its chef hat. A sad moment, but nothing that would deter me from trying this restaurant and the modern take on Nyonya cuisine. Considering how lowly scored Canberra restaurants are on Urbanspoon, a 92% rating is quite remarkable and higher than all of Aubergine, Courgette, Ottoman and Temporada (plus almost all of the other current chef hat places).
The location is nicely away from the hustle of city life, meaning that parking is easy and the only people around are those there for the restaurant. It promotes this place as a nice dining venue for a special occasion rather than during a casual night in town. The decor has some attractive artwork and lampshades, although some actual candles and lanterns would add some extra ambience.
Given the bargain value degustation of $85, it was an easy choice, although I would like to have tried the Crispy Tofu & Eggplant entree and Pork Belly with Black Vinegar & Palm Sugar (could it be the next Longrain pork hock for me?).
- (complimentary) Oysters, pickled cucumber relish with pipette for smoked whiskey - a new dish they were generous enough to allow a sample. Mild raw oysters, tangy cucumber and a potent drunkenness-inducing whiskey. I personally would prefer a strong oyster, but that isn't for everyone;
- Cured Ocean Trout on Fennel & Carrot Confit - trout with chilli and peppers;
- Fish Otak Otak (with Banana Blossom Salad) - a delicious cubic prism of soft ground fish mixed with a strong curry paste;
- Tom Yum Crispy Prawns (with Rock Melon & Apple Slaw) - quality crispy prawns with a creamy sauce that didn't really taste like tom yum (not enough galangal or sourness) but still very nice. The rock melon was an unusual and welcome combination.
- (fish of the day 1) Steamed Ling (with peppers, pineapple sauce, Sichuan peppercorns) - nice more mature Chinese almost refined sweet-and-sour fish dish with the pleasant numbing sensation of Sichuan;
- (fish of the day 2) Fried Barramundi (in Malaysian coconut cream, turmeric, peanut curry) - my favourite dish of boneless fish pieces in a thick heavy nutty curry as they should be. Finished off the sauce with a spoon;
- Duck Rolls (with Kaffir Lime Chilli Dressing) - the most sophisticated crispy spring roll with shreds of duck meat and an exceptional kaffir chilli sauce. No need those typical Chinese pork and prawn versions any longer;
- Slow-cooked Blackmore Wagyu 9+ Beef Curry Kampung Style - probably the dish I liked the least. I've never known whether a wagyu 9+ cut is better for anything other than medium-rare sirloin seared. I didn't feel the meat was more tender than a less expensive breed and the curry sauce was quite mundane compared to the wonderful flavours of fish #2 curry and generally all the dishes;
- Warm Roasted Vegetable Salad - tastiest roasted vegetables I've ever eaten which they told me was due to a savoury sauce of miso and soy (would never have picked that);
- (dessert 1) Buttermilk Kulfi Icecream with Peppered Pineapple - Indian dessert of a *shard*-textured icecream with some "Middle Eastern nuts" (pistachios?) and more juicy pineapple;
- (dessert 2) Zabaglione with Summer Berries - an eggy, creamy concoction which seemed a little strange cumin (which I like) and salt flakes (which I prefer not). Wanted the Chocolate & Coconut Panna Cotta with Pandan Pearls instead but sadly they were finished.
Our waiter Taiki was friendly, professional and knowledgable even suggesting a more suitable wine than one that was ordered. There were also 3 of people that served us intermittently - something I don't mind as all were good, but others who prefer one dedicated waiter may.
I really enjoyed the south-east Asian flavours balanced with light, juicy fruit and mild chilli. Given all the restaurants I wouldn't mind returning to, this is one I actually want to return to. Give them back the chef's hat.
Next time I would order the degustation for a first visit as you get to sample so many great dishes. On a second visit, I'd opt for a la carte and stick to Duck Rolls, fish of the day and try the Tofu & Eggplant, Kapitan Duck and Pork Belly.