Celebrated chef Nu Suandokmai has finally found a permanent home and it’s one worth visiting again and again.
It’s been four years since I last came across Nu Suandokmai in the kitchen — working the pans at Gin Long Canteen in North Adelaide. Since then he’s hopped across town to establish a series of new eateries that have each benefited from his diverse culinary expertise. But all of these venues lacked a key ingredient: a place for Nu to call home.
It’s a busy and buzzy Thursday night at Nu’s new home just off Gouger Street, Lantern by Nu. The main dining room is almost full and we’re seated at high tables with direct views into the open that is in close proximity to the bar. The exposed brick walls and bare rafters resemble a workshop of sorts, but the interior is filled with objects from Nu’s homeland including woven baskets and recycled mesh lighting features that warm the space slightly. More heat comes from the kitchen, as blazing wok burners deliver dishes soon after we order.
Choose the ‘Greed’ menu and Nu’s team will feed you a selection of their best for $65 per person. It’s a good deal but we’re here to try a few dishes that are the talk of the town, so we dive right into options from the ‘Street Bites’ menu.
A selection of betel leaves with various fillings pack a delicious punch. Prawn with caramelised coconut, peanut and lime offer a tropical taste with a resounding sweet and nutty end, but the version featuring crispy pork belly and a son-in-law quail egg comes up trumps. Crispy chicken winglets are a little fiddley but worth the sticky fingers. Nu’s fish cakes paired with a herbaceous salad are a fantastic nod to his heritage. The delicate spongy cakes are perfectly seasoned and mildly fishy, swimming in a Thai sauce that offers the right balance of sweet, salt, spice and tang.
More local seafood is highlighted in the form of raw king fish served in a simple dressing and slivers of green chilli. Fillets of crispy-fried garfish are curled atop a fresh salad of coriander and chilli, and seasoned with turmeric that offers aroma and flavour to this delightful dish.
Another delight is duck larb, as the blended salad dish of shredded duck is filled with bright colours and flavours, showcasing plenty of fresh herbs with balanced acid thanks to plump cherry tomatoes and sweetness courtesy of whole lychees and pomegranate seeds. More run-of-the-mill is a lamb salad, with slices of nicely cooked fillet on a salad that’s a bit under-dressed.
Now onto those dishes that are talk of the town. First, from the main selection, is slow-cooked beef cheek, which swims in a pool of curry-style sauce and is topped with shredded coconut. Balance again reigns supreme, and the beef falls apart with the lightest encouragement from greedy forks.
Finally, the perfect dish to finish: roti, which is rolled and topped with an appropriate dose of condensed milk with a side of fluorescent green pandan custard. Sweet but not overpowering, this sauce confounds the senses and transports us to the tropical shores of Thailand, to Nu’s childhood, and the very beginning of his culinary adventures.
Dining at Lantern by Nu is an authentic culinary journey worth undertaking.
Lantern by Nu
10 Selby Street, Adelaide
Open: Wednesdays to Sundays, lunch and dinner