I am having dinner at Lanterne Rooms, a Chairman Group-owned restaurant inspired by Nyonya (a blend of Chinese and Malay cultures), both in its architectural design and its food.
A lot of thought has gone into the feel of the interior. A salvaged timber floor stretches out, raw and unpolished. Above hangs a floating ceiling of rustic wood slats, coarsely stained. Wicker chairs flank long tables covered in crisp white tablecloths and set with earthenware bowls, amplifying the exotic, colonial feel. While the archways between the dining rooms evoke a traditional Nyonya house, the flavours that come out of the kitchen are a refined modern take on the cuisine.
The outdoor veranda area had not been completed the last time I was here. Its airy space is fully enclosed, yet lets in all the available light, giving it a glasshouse feel. Muted jazz floats around us. The vibe is relaxed.
I’ve returned because Lanterne Rooms’ a la carte menu has returned.
“This feels like the right moment to relaunch it,” says restaurant manager Adrian Law.
“The market is ready and we are bringing back some of our old favourites. But we have noticed that the dining scene has changed subtly over the past few years. We want to see how the public responds to our new menu as its development is an ongoing process.”
While Lanterne Rooms also offers degustation and a banquet menu, the return of a la carte options will appeal to those who may want to enjoy a casual meal, something not so hearty. I notice the restaurant’s famous Tom Yum prawns feature, as does the whole fish of the day.
I order my meal from the a la carte menu. The starter is lime-cured scallops on coconut cream, stained with a saffron hue from the infusion of yellow Peruvian pepper. Each mouthful is infused with pungent red onion, the citrus fragrance of lemongrass and aromatic galangal. The scallops themselves seem to melt away in the mouth, they’re that tender.
The sticky rice curry dumplings arrive at the table. I have never had dumplings where the dumpling mixture is made from sticky rice. The deep-fried crunch gives way to glutinous sticky deliciousness. Addictive. The curried vegetable inside brings enough heat to get my nose running. The accompanying tofu salad is nutty and mild with smooth and crunchy elements.
I want to try the fish of the day in Singapore mud crab sauce, one of Lanterne Rooms’ iconic dishes. Today’s fish is a whole barramundi. It comes out deep fried, then it’s drenched in Singapore mud crab sauce and mixed herbs. Most of the fish has already been deboned so you can enjoy pulling it apart.
The tang of the sauce blends sweet, sour and salty and pairs perfectly with the gentle crunch of the batter and the barramundi’s robust flavour. Shallots and grilled pineapple cubes add fresh zest and tang to this comfort food dish.
Lanterne Rooms’ three-course banquet menu entices with its variety. Their degustation menu looks delicious too, featuring Tom Yum prawns and braised beef cheek in the intensely flavoured bak kut teh broth.
Keep an eye out for some big celebrations coming in 2023 as Chairman Group celebrates 30 years. There are some exciting ideas in the pipeline.
Lanterne Rooms is located at Unit 139/81 Constitution Ave in Campbell. It is open for dinner until 31 December, then closed 1 to 24 January, when regular trade resumes. Usual opening hours are dinner from 6 pm to 10:30 pm Tuesdays to Saturdays and lunch from noon on Thursdays and Fridays. Follow Lanterne Rooms on Facebook and Instagram.