Lanterne Rooms takes a bit of finding. There's not a lot of signage from the outside on Constitution Avenue. It's tucked into the Iskia building in Campbell having moved in late 2019, and looks to be doing well here. Most tables are booked and there's a fun, laid-back atmosphere in the restaurant.
I've come looking for a taste of Malaysia. It's been more than two years since I've been back to the country where I was born, and Lanterne Rooms promises "bold Nyonya flavours, dishes with a A-ma (grandma) soul, presented with modern elegance".
Plants sit in traditional earthenware pots, the kind my mother had growing up. It's a beautiful space - dark wooden floors, archways and woven rattan chairs reminiscent of a traditional Malaysian house. Outside there's a covered bar area that houses Lanterne Botanical, still temporarily closed post-COVID.
If cocktails are what you're after, they've got them here. The new cocktail menu has been designed in collaboration with the newly opened Mu Omakase; both are part of the Chairman Group.
I love when staff give me their recommendations - tonight, our friendly waiter points me in the direction of Dreams of the Orient ($25), a boozy concoction of Roku gin, yellow chartreuse, Jasmine tea-vermouth, fino sherry and orange blossom. It's a lovely layered drink, floral in the top notes which gently gives way to aniseed and juniper. I like the Financial Hanky Panky too ($24), a bright orange cocktail with Botanist gin, fingerlime, Lillet Blanc, Fernet Branca and rhubarb bitters. They're both rather potent - we're not tempted by wine to follow. The wine list is worth a look at though, or there's beer (even a non-alcoholic option) and cider for those who prefer it.
Food wise, there's a three-course a la carte menu where you can choose your entrees and mains ($85) or a $100 degustation. The latter is quite a lot of food - some of it ends up as my lunch the next day, which is a win really - the staff even thoughtfully top up the rice before packing it.
I find the seafood dumplings in tomato consommé and basil oil a surprising start - mostly because tomato and basil aren't particularly common in Malaysian cooking. The flavours are good though; there's a lovely lingering warmth from pepper, a gentle sourness from the tomato and the contrasting freshness of basil.
Next up - prawns, tom yum sauce. Two large prawns are deep-fried, topped with a light sauce. Is this a twist on tom yum soup? The prawns are perfectly cooked but the sauce is not like a tom yum at all - not particularly fiery, lemongrassy or sour. Thin slices of rockmelon and apple make for an unusual accompaniment.
My favourite dish tonight is duck breast, smoked and with crisp deep-brown skin. It looks simple but is technically impressive - he duck is still faintly pink, with just the right level of smokiness. Pickled daikon and goji berries bring a welcome freshness, a light crunch.
I've opted for the degustation largely because it includes a whole fish - there's something about a whole fish was part of special occasions growing up. It's certainly impressive, a whole snapper butterflied, deboned (hurrah!) and deep-fried, topped with Singaporean chilli crab sauce and crescents of grilled pineapple. I like the combination of clean, almost sweet white fish against the sourness of pineapple, but the flavours of the sauce aren't as punchy as what I've grown up eating. It's a much subtler version of the dish, perhaps adapted for Australian tastes.
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I like the Nyonya-style chicken, even though it's the third deep-fried dish of the night. Deboned thigh is drizzled with a dark tumeric and chilli soy sauce. It's served with strips of grated cucumber which I expect to be cool, but pack a surprising hidden punch from Szechuan pepper. The lingering tingle is quite a lot, especially after the pared back flavours here tonight.
A side of wok tossed green beans and oyster soy are a surprise highlight. There's beauty in the simple things done well.
The mango sago pudding isn't the sweetest of finishes. Mango and sago pearls are topped with candied palm seeds and crumble. The mango flavour is good, but there's a slight bitter undertone throughout. Something feels like it's missing, like there isn't enough interest in terms of texture.
Lanterne Rooms delivers familiar flavours and technically sound food. The dishes are refined and elegantly crafted, with flavours inspired by Malaysian-Singaporean food. It's just not quite the bold flavours or the soul food reminiscent of my grandma's cooking, as the website promises. It doesn't pack the punch I'm after but this restaurant doesn't need validation from me - the fully booked dining room is proof enough that there's a demand for this sort of cooking.
Address: 139, 81 Constitution Avenue, Campbell
Phone: 6249 6889
Hours: Lunch, Thursday and Friday. Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday
Chef: Aravinth Sriramulu
Manager: John Chow
Dietary: Shouldn't be a problem
Noise: No issue
Outdoor seating: Outdoor area for large bookings and functions
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