Thursday, June 16, 2011

In position: Lotus Asian Restaurant

Several paces away from Marrickville train station on Illawarra Road may seem an unlikely position for a neighbourhood gem.

Among the numerous Vietnamese eateries in Marrickville, but away from the main road, Lotus Asian Restaurant stands out – not only for its pan-Southeast Asian approach, but for its well-appointed, zen-inspired décor.

The warm orange and red hues are especially welcome on a fiercely cold night, and with its communal table and well-spaced seats, one could easily mistake it for a postcode 2010 venue.

Inside Lotus Asian Restaurant, Illawarra Road, Marrickville
Marrickville is littered with affordable eating options, and while it’s not destination dining as such, it might well be the antithesis of the glammed-up queues for no bookings, two sittings, tiny-share-portion trendiness.

Having previously eaten at nearby casual Thai restaurant Let’s Eat – and loving that gem of a place – I was lucky and pleased to have Lotus Asian Restaurant brought to my attention.

The dining area
Lotus Asian Restaurant is unapologetically pan-Asian, with owner Kim Nguyen happy to differentiate from the plethora of Vietnamese eateries with what she calls “the best of each country”.

Having worked at Balmain’s Blue Ginger as well as restaurants in Chinatown, owner and chef Danh Cao’s menu works its way through Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore as well as China.

They pride themselves on quality ingredients, highlighting the fact that everything is made from scratch: from the Thai fish cakes to the spice pastes that form the bases of their numerous curries.

Steamed pork with shiitake mushrooms & water chestnut dumplings

The wonton pastry-wrapped dumplings
We start with wonton pastry-wrapped steamed dumplings, which arrive at the table in a bamboo steamer with soy sauce. The bouncy minced pork fillings are pleasing, with a good helping of both shiitake mushroom pieces and diced water chestnut, as well as coriander.

We’re also treated to a McGuigans Pinot Grigio which is full bodied and fruity, while matching the often big flavours of Asian cuisine well (the restaurant is BYO wine at $3 per person).

Char grilled lemongrass prawn on skewers
We head to Vietnamese (-ish; or Thai?) territory with the lemongrass prawns; skewered, tail-on specimens that have an amazingly crisp bite to them, subtle lemongrass aromas and a mouth-watering surface char. A double, if not triple, serve of this would have been ideal.

Braised pork belly with green papaya salad
We opt for the pork salad from the selection of four salads, with me thinking that a braised texture would be interesting in a salad. What the menu overlooks is that it while it is indeed braised pork belly – it is then deep fried to create dark and crunchy nubbins of spice-braised pork.

‘Crunchy braised pork belly’ is a winner in most books, and is certainly here – a key part of the well-balanced salad of green papaya strips, fresh mint  and coriander leaves, onion and chilli.

Salt & pepper soft-shell crab with nam jin
While I really need to stop ordering soft shell crab, it is a great dish to compare restaurants across cuisines – usually quite the impossible task.

Here, the batter is neither too thick nor thin and deep fried to an impressive crunch; although perhaps it’s just a little darker and oilier than I’d prefer. I think delicate Japanese tempura still wins out here.

Malaysian-style chili sambal beef
Arriving at Malaysia with the chilli sambal beef, there was a manageable level of heat in the dark red sambal that would probably need to be lifted for chilli lovers. The accompanying beans and fresh baby corn satisfied the vegetable quota while the tender slices of beef had a delectable smokiness to them.

Malaysian Rendang chicken - someone's already attacked it!
We stayed in Malaysia for the rendang chicken, making good use of the steamed jasmine rice to partner the rich, creamy, thick sauce. The fall-apart chicken was a twist on the usual beef, and a lighter protein at that – entirely appropriate for the amount of food we were consuming.

Crispy skin chicken with chili, basil & black vinegar dressing
Last but certainly not least of the mains was the perhaps-Chinese-inspired crispy skin chicken; thankfully mostly deboned but unexpectedly lukewarm. The breast meat was nicely tender and juicy still, and the feature skin was spot-on with an audible crunch and a moreish mix of spices flavouring it.

The black vinegar dressing was simply divine with the white meat, and it’s quite the generous dish too; gorgeously plated as all the dishes are in a modern style not really typical of your local Asian eatery.

Banana fritter with palm sugar syrup & coconut ice cream
Though I often skip desserts (give me a break – I’m no longer a sweet tooth), I find myself more inclined to have Asian desserts than otherwise. I think something misguided in me tells me that coconut cream and deep fry are somewhat better than full cream, chocolate and butter.

In any case, the simply plated banana fritter across the table looks and smells the pick of the bunch. The battered and deep-fried banana coupled with coconut ice cream is a match made in tropical Asia. We later find out that the ice creams are sourced from Paddington’s Nice Cream.

Black sticky rice pudding with coconut sauce
Most of the time I can’t resist black sticky rice and I’m not sure that it’s not entirely to do with the reddish black colour. Here, an appropriately petite bowl holds the glutinous ‘pudding’ which is gooey, yet retaining discernable grains of long rice.

The rice is sweet but lacks the big kick of coconut that I’m used to, and even the white blob of coconut sauce on top is not quite adequate. I do enjoy the toasted white and black sesame seeds sprinkled over though, adding a nutty smokiness to the sweetness.

Fried coconut ice cream with passionfruit sauce
The classy plating of the fried coconut ice cream is worlds away from that at Chinese restaurants from my childhood. Gone is the round metal bowl, replaced with a martini glass and a shot glass of passionfruit sauce.

I manage to steal but a bite of this, and confirmed that the golden-fried batter over the scoop of coconut ice cream is as good as any childhood dessert memory, while the slight tartness of the passionfruit makes for an ideal finish to the dessert.

Like many neighbourhood eateries, Lotus Asian Restaurant appears popular with the locals who eat in as well as order takeaway. But unlike your average local eatery, it’s a real dining-out experience – and for the Marrickville locals, it looks like a pretty good position to be in.

Food, booze and shoes dined as a guest of Lotus Asian Restaurant with thanks to Charlotte Foot Public Relations.

Lotus Asian Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Interesting journey through Asian cuisines. You're right, it totally looks like a Surry Hills restaurant.

MissPiggy said...

The prawn skewers and soft shell crab both look really nice. I quite like the idea of pan-Asian, something for everyone.

joey@FoodiePop said...

I've heard from others the service is very slow, even when the restaurant has few patrons. That would frustrate me no end. The food looks okay though. Shame about the location.

Jasmin said...

Those prawns and wontons look absolutely amazing.

This is on my wishlist and I think you've just moved it up a few notches.

Great pictures.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Interesting how they cover a few different Asian cuisines!

Bianca said...

That food looks amazing especially the crispy braised pork and wontons yum!!

Tina said...

Hi lateraleating - Yeah, so quite a classy journey ;)

Hi MissPiggy - Yes, it's sort of changed my mind on pan Asian. The prawns were a highlight.

Hi joey - Off the beaten track locations don't bother me too much. Beats 1-hour long queues, I think.

Hi Jasmin - Yes, be sure to check it out!

Hi Lorraine - Yes, but it seems to be becoming the norm; sort of in the same vein as the likes of Sugarcane, Ms. G's even

Hi Bianca - It looked and tasted great!

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

Love the look of that Black sticky rice pudding!

Julie said...

shame its in marrickville, coz if i was there i would go pho :(

Dumpling Girl said...

Lol, you are right, the classiest dried ice cream I have seen too. Shame about the black sticky rice though, love that stuff.

Quay Po Cooks said...

Everything looks delish. The crispy skin chicken looks so mouth watering appealing. Makes me hungry.

Simon Leong said...

i'll have to try those lemongrass prawns tonight and maybe the chicken rendang. i've also got the salt and pepper squid on my wishlist — they have so many dishes I'm wanting to try.

sugarpuffi said...

the food looks awesome! im gonna dine there tonight! :D

Tina said...

Hi Corrine - The perfect winter dessert!

Hi Julie - Aw, well if you're not feeling like pho and in M'ville - you know where to go! ;)

Hi Dumpling Girl - But pretty impressive desserts overall.

Hi Quay Po Cooks - Yeah, it's all making me hungry again looking at the pics...

Hi Simon - Hope you got to try the prawns; they were my fave!

Hi Sugarpuffi - Hope you enjoyed it :)

john@heneedsfood said...

Joey, "shame about the location?" what's wrong with Marrickville? The black vinegar dressing with the cruspy chicken sounds divine. Will have to check this place out sometime

Tina said...

Hi John - I think it's the fact that it's off the main road than Marrickville itself. The crispy chicken was awesome.. :)

thehungryduck said...

OMG I really want to try this place! I love black sticky rice and its almost impossible to get good black sticky rice in sydney. Thanks for the tip :)

Tina said...

Hi thehungryduck - Must admit I've had better balck sticky rice, but it's still a great little spot.


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