Kirsten Lawson June 21, 2012
The interior decor of the Lanterne Rooms at the Campbell Shops. Photo: Graham Tidy
Most little shopping centres have a restaurant and many are Asian, but Campbell is one of the lucky ones. Places as fine - and fun - as the Lanterne Rooms are rare indeed.
This is part of Josiah Li's small empire that began with the Cantonese Chairman and Yip, then to the Malay Lanterne, and next to a place in the Burbury Hotel that will bring all Josiah Li's talent at mix-it-up ultra-cool Asian dining to Sichuan food.
The set up at the Lanterne Rooms brings to mind colonial-era Malaysia - wood floors, exposed beams, big fans circulating above, wicker chairs, wooden shutters.
The spaces are small and divided further with the help of curtains.
It feels good being here, and having our hands on this wine list, carefully chosen with some interesting varietals, but unfortunately on our most recent visit no-one with the intimacy and aplomb of James Duffell, who used to be here, to help you get the most out it. That's the problem with an interesting wine list; it needs a sommelier.
The food, as we say, is themed on Malaysia, from Borneo-born chef Jeffrey Shim.
You'll find dishes such as tom yum-infused prawns ($16.50), a study in orange with a rockmelon salad. Crispy and hot. Or a little medley of starchy, sticky cassava ($15.50) with coconut, cumin and mustard seeds, served on top of fried sweet bread.
In the mains (which you share) pork ribs with black vinegar and palm sugar ($28.50); braised beef cheek with lotus root and Chinese ''red cheese'' - fermented-bean-curd ($29); and slow-cooked wagyu brisket ''Kampung style'' ($31.50), or village style, a rustic, powerful dark-red curry.
You can get some joy out of desserts too - and that's a statement you can't make about Asian eateries with ease. Here, they head the European route with a ''pannacotta'', which comes as striped layers of coconut and chocolate with pandan pearls on top; and a zabaglione; or you can get kulfi with peppered pineapple; or date mousse.
Lanterne Rooms is a place all its own, eclectic, a little wacky even, but also hugely satisfying and loads of fun.