Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Orange Lantern ~ Authentic Vietnamese Cuisine

My bro is one of those who got their year-end bonus on the 12th of December and he wanted to bring his family out for a dinner treat. Also to celebrate my mum's birthday in advance.

We were having a headache when planning on what to have. From one buffet to another. This type of cuisine or this type of cooking style... Frustrated, I asked that my bro just asked my mum herself.

Turns out, she already had a place in mind. And one day before the dinner, I managed to book a table for us 5, inc. my kiddo. There, that settled everything. Phew!

My mum seemed to be curious about Orange Lantern, a restaurant that we've passed by on many, many occasions in Harbourfront Centre but never stepped into. Besides, I guess she's really curious about Vietnamese food in general because I kept regaling her about my experience with Mon An's food.

We arrived after a busy phase and the stuff were busy clearing the tables. They pointed out to the table that's been reserved under my name. It was at a nice corner with booth seats on one side and enough space for 6-7pax. I initially thought that it was too much space but I guess not… You'll know why, later.


Tentalising combo sets

I really like the combo sets. If I come in small groups and would want something for myself, I'll definitely go for this, which has a bit of everything.

Hot lemongrass w/ honey tea ~ $4.90

For my parents and myself.

Fried seafood platter ~ $7.90

My bro ordered this and seeing how small the portion really was, he ended up having it for himself and shared some with my kiddo.

Gỏi cuốn ~ $6.90

Vietnamese soft rice paper rolls. We were told that each portion has only 2 pieces so I ordered 2 plates. My bro refused to even touch the single piece that's left (too raw for him, he said). We eventually doggy-bagged it.

We were asked if we want the prawn of chicken version. We chose prawn.

True to it's popular name(s): salad roll or summer roll; this is indeed refreshing. It's served with this strong-tasting dip containing hoisin sauce, peanuts and some chili, or tương xào made from tương, a Vietnamese fermented bean paste/soy sauce.

Chả giò ~ $7.90

Vietnamese Imperial Rolls. Spring rolls made with this net-like skin that get really crispy when deep-fried.

We were told that each plate has only 3 pieces so we ordered two. But when it arrived it looked like there's much more! Apparently, each roll is pretty long, to begin with. So they cut them into 2 parts. And there are now 6 pieces on each plate. 2 plates of these meant that we've got to finish off 12 pieces!

Should have just ordered 1 portion. We also doggy-bagged the remaining ones.

Inside the Chả giò

These are one of the better ones so far. The fillings don't look like much because of the thick layer of super-crispy egg-based skin. But it really is good.

Comes accompanied with Nước chấm (Nuoc cham) dipping sauce that are served quite frequently as condiments in Vietnamese cuisine. It is a sweet, sour, salty and spicy sauce made of fish sauce, sugar and lime juice or vinegar.

Goi Xoai ~ $7.90

Mango salad. Has a much cleaner taste as compared to the more exotic-tasting Thai version. That crispy shrimp floss on top really amped this dish. Otherwise it was pretty bland.

Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Skewers ~ $7.90

Oh, these were awesome!

They seemed pretty heavy-handed with the spice so there's a strong taste and scent to the minced chicken meat. But it wasn't overwhelming and the taste caught on.

There's another version with minced prawn meat on sugar cane, if I'm not wrong.

Kid's meal: Fried rice w/ chicken wing ~ $6.90

I was happy to find something for kiddo. Alas, he didn't like it one bit.

I thought that he was turned off by the bits of mixed vegetables but when I have a taste, I found out that the fried rice was actually bland. Like they forgot to season it or something. For my kiddo who's used to spicy fried rice made with potent sambal belacan, I guess this is a no-no for him.

He even refused the chicken. My bro had a bite and deemed it delicious. It's actually honey fried chicken. Guess kiddo's appetite got really turned off. Yeah, he's at one of those frustrating, 'I don't-wanna-eat!' phases. Pfft. 

Seafood fried rice ~ $11.90

My bro's order. I was worried that he may not find things to his liking but he seemed happy with this.

The mini wok was filled with a chock-full of ingredients. You can see from the pretty chunky pieces of seafood there.

Canh Hai San ~ $6.90

Spicy Seafood Soup. Also my bro's order. In the back ground is his glass of ice lemon tea ($3.90).

I don't know what it was with him ordering all the seafood stuff, that day. But I sure didn't expect him to order soup!

I initially expect this to be similar to the Thai tom yum. I mean, it sure looked like it. But when I randomly had a taste, I realise that this wasn't that much spicy. In fact, it also wasn't sour… at all! It's was really savoury, with pretty sweet after-taste, prolly due to the prawns inside.

Bowl of Pho Bo ~ $11.90

Vietnamese beef noodle soup. Both my parents ordered this. They may flip through the menu back and forth but they still end up ordering this. Pfft. Guess it's something that they'll never tire of.

Funny thing was, after placing the orders, we saw this huge bowl being served to someone at the next table. They were like, Whoaaa…!

We thought that that was something the couple would share but it turn out to be a single portion of Pho Bo! My mum was aghast and remarked that they both should have just shared a single bowl…

Pho Bo bowl

Just look at the size of that bowl! It's just crazy!

The soup was nice and savoury but I was surprised to see that the bowl lacked much herbs and greens. This bowl was very simple, unlike the ones I'm used to, from Mon An.

Bun Bo Nuong ~ $11.90

Grilled Beef w/ Vietnamese vermicelli (it's different from our local beehoon). My order.

When it first arrived, I was like, "Okayy… How do I eat this?"

I recall seeing someone dipping the grilled beef into the Nước chấm sauce and eat it with the the vermicelli like how one eats rice. But I find that to be too much hassle so I poured all of the Nước chấm into the bowl and gave everything a good mix. Ala Korean bibimbap.

This dish is yummy!! I love it. The beef, my gosh. It was sooo nicely marinated with goodness-knows-what but the taste reminds me a lot like satay! It does carry a strong taste of lemongrass. The bowl looked hefty but I cleaned it up in no time. The raw greens on the side help to balance things out. Beef and salad? Bring it on!

I ate one of the spring roll but I realise it just wasn't as good as the imperial rolls.

Thịt Bò Nướng Lá Lốt ~ $12.90

Or 'Bo La Lot' for short. Vietnamese grilled beef wrapped in wild betel leaf. I've always been curious about eating wild betel leaf (also known as 'daun kaduk' to the Malays).

My late great-grandma used to chew on betel leves ('daun sireh') wrapped around some lime (kapur), pieces of areca nut ('pinang'), cloves and shreds of woody vine ('gambir'). She will chew on these and the remnants (some reddish lump) will be spit out later.

It was a pretty disgusting habit and being the kid that I was, I got curious and tried to chew on that fresh betel leaf. Immediately spat it out. Bitter as hell with a weird after-taste. I wondered why my great-grandma looove chewing on it so much.

When I told my mum of this dish, she got excited. She saw people eating this in tv programmes about Thailand and Vietnam. Even some in Malaysia. She was very much curious about the taste of this wild betel leaf too.

In the picture, it looked like the Mediterranen dish called 'sarma' or 'dolma', where grape or cabbage leaves are wrapped around a filling. It's an an appetiser dish, if I'm not wrong so I thought the same for this one, too.

Wrapping the Bo La Lot

Little do I know that this dish is a meal on its own. Ooops.

When it first arrive, I took one of the 3 parcels out of its skewer (there were 2 sticks). I had a bite and was taken aback by the very strong taste of the beef. It's almost like the the grilled beef I just had but much stronger. The betel nut itself doesn't taste like much.

I was wondering why the beef was flavoured in such a manner. I looked back at the plate it was served in and had a 'light bulb moment'.

I placed another parcel with the peanut chunks inside a piece of green-leaf lettuce, included some stalks of bean sprouts, 2 sticks of julienned cucumber, a piece of basil leaf and some vermicelli. I then dripped some of the accompanying  Nước chấm sauce on it and proceed to wrap everything up tightly before stuffing it into my mouth.

If you find the process familiar- yes, I was inspired by how the Koreans eat their 'Samgyeopsal'.

And you know what? That seem to be the way to eat this dish after all! Guess those items that accompanied the skewered wrapped beef were not mere garnishing.

I made a parcel for my mum and made yet another one for myself, this time adding some pieces of mango from the mango salad… Fwahhh!

I read somewhere that they used to serve sheets of spring roll skin with this. That would have made more sense, right? Hmmmm...

Anyway, all in all the whole meal came up to almost $180. Sounds pricey but we really ordered a lot. Such that our tables were filled! And the food is really amazing.

If you eat beef, I highly recommend the beef dishes. I didn't order much chicken because my dad was nursing a cough that time.

The Orange Lantern
1 Maritime Sq
HarbourFront Centre

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