By Becca Johnstone
Lotus Asian Restaurant
393 Illawarra Road
When I see the words ‘Asian Restaurant’ or ‘pan-Asian’, I am immediately skeptical. What on earth is Asian food? I can’t think of a more diverse continent in terms of food, so I get a little worried when restaurants try to put it all on a single menu. I guess it comes down to that old saying, ‘Jack of all trades, Master of none.’ But you know me, always open minded when it comes to a meal out. So luckily, I was pleasantly surprised with Lotus in Marrickville. An invitation was extended from Charlotte Foot PR via the lovely Simon of Simon’s Food Favourites, and a group of us intrepid foodies made our way ever so slightly south of the station on a brisk Sunday night.
A little set back from the Marrickville restaurant hub, Lotus presents a mix of Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian cuisines. We kicked our night off with a couple of starters of char-grilled lemongrass prawn skewers and Malaysian-style chicken satay. The prawns ticked all the boxes for me: sweet, tangy, perfectly cooked, a real Vietnamese treat. I could happily have polished off the whole plate myself! The satay was ok, I just felt it lacked a little punch. I say this as a hardcore Malay style satay fan, it was just missing a bit of heat if you ask me. But perfectly cooked, moist chicken so perhaps a good one for kids who are just starting to develop their palates.
Malay style chicken satay.
Next out were two salads: braised pork belly and green papaya and roast duck and lychee. The duck and lychee salad had a pleasantly strong dressing, a nice amount of duck, but I fear not very many lychees. I tend to rave about the Thanh Binh pork belly and green papaya salad to anyone who will listen, and now it’s been knocked off it’s perch. This salad is the bomb. It has amazing textures from the crispy pork, crunchy papaya and mountain of herbs and explosive flavours. A really winning dish. Everyone was generally impressed with the salads, but the hands down favourite was the pork belly. A definite must order if you make it to Lotus.
Pork belly and green papaya salad.
The fried goodies made their way out next, and this was on the form of salt and pepper squid and salt and pepper soft shell crab with nam jin sauce. The squid looked glorious, but I found it a little chewy truth be told. It was very sweet and had some nice crunch to it, but yes, just a bit too chewy for me. The soft shell crab however was bang on - crunchy and sweet, really great rich crab flavour and a spicy little dipper to go with it. It was definitely a talking point dish, it makes me want to be better at life (well, my own cooking of soft shell crab if nothing else).
Salt and pepper soft shell crab.
A very tasty chicken rendang followed, and with steaming jasmine rice, it was the perfect warmer for such a cold night - now this was one that certainly delivered on spice value. We also had a dish of braised prawns with chilli, pumpkin, lemongrass and coconut. The jury’s out on this one I’m afraid. It was perfectly edible, but I get the feeling it was just a few too many things put in a curry, saved by some super sweet and juicy prawns. And for all the different ingredients it, like the satay, seemed to be missing a little punch.
Malaysian chilli sambal prawns.
The two standout mains for me were the Malaysian-style chilli sambal prawns and the M.B.S (mushroom, bean curd and snow peas). The sambal prawns were fiery, salty, sweet and sharp, excellently cooked with some still just crisp beans - exactly how I like them. This sambal style of cooking is one of my absolute favourites and I certainly wasn’t let down. I wasn’t expecting to love the M.B.S as much as I did - something I’d probably skip over when reading a menu. But I’m so glad we got it! In fact, I’d say it was my favourite dish of the night. It was a beautifully delicate, well balanced dish, that really let the tofu speak for itself. It’s just a simple, nutritious, feel-good dish: the sort of Chinese mums make for their kids when sick, I’m sure! The mushroom, bean curd and snow peas were gently stir fried with a little oyster sauce, and not much else. I really respect chefs who let their ingredients just sing.
I rarely order desserts in Asian restaurants (with the exception of cendol and sago with gula melaka if I’m going Malay), so I was interested to see what we were presented. We ordered some tasting plates to share, and a some of the fried coconut ice cream with passion fruit sauce. The tasting plate consisted of a lychee and a mango sorbet, dark chocolate truffle with raspberry sauce and black sticky rice with coconut. The chocolate truffle, while lovely, just didn’t really seem to fit for me (but I’m not a great chocolate person). The sorbets and black sticky rice however, were heavenly. Both sorbets were refreshing and rich with tropical fruit flavour and the sticky rice so moreish and warming, I just wanted a big bowl of that and my Pride and Prejudice DVDs.
Dessert tasting plate.
The crowd favourite was definitely the fried ice cream. I must confess, I’ve never been a huge fan. Whenever we used to go out for Chinese when I was a kid, my brother would always get the fried ice cream, while I went for the staple tinned lychees and ice cream. But how my perceptions were blown! Aaaahhh… so this is how fried ice cream should be? It was golden and crunchy on the outside, and rich and creamy and full of coconut flavour on the inside. I personally didn’t think it needed the passion fruit sauce, I just want to live on that dreamy coconut cloud. Just gorgeous.
Fried coconut ice cream with passion fruit sauce.
Lotus is a tricky one. The food is good and reasonably priced. But the wait time between dishes was just a bit too much - that coming down to only having one chef in the kitchen. The decor is lovely and it’s a really warm environment, but it’s a bit off the beaten track. I think it’s got the making of an absolute hit place, particularly among the locals, so if you are ever in that part of Sydney definitely check it out! A big thanks to Simon for being our gracious host, and my fellow diners, Denea, Phouc, Jen, Leona, Simon, Betty, Richard and Sara.
What do you think? Ever been to Lotus? Or are you scared of ‘Asian’ restaurants like me? Let me know firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bonvivantblog