Lantern by Nu regulars are returning in droves since Nu Suandokmai reopened his beloved Thai restaurant last week, and the first thing to notice inside the laneway entrance is a change of Buddhist statues.
Suandokmai has appointed two guardian lions – Buddhist symbols of prosperity to welcome guests back into the restaurant which has been closed for several months. The statues replace a likeness of Buddha and represent what the chef hopes will be a new era for the restaurant he founded about four years ago.
The statues are not the only change at Lantern. Suandokmai has taken back full ownership of the venue from a previous business partnership, allowing him complete freedom to design a new menu and guest experience.
The menu has been condensed from what Suandokmai says was too extensive an offering, but still includes favourites such as pad Thai and slow-cooked beef cheek with green curry paste.
“I changed the whole menu, with some items that are more like real Thai street food. It is also inspired by my mother,” says Suandokmai, who returned to his homeland last year to create cookbook Fire and Flavour: Nu’s Food.
“By keeping the menu shorter, I’ll be able to keep introducing new dishes every week, focussing on local produce and healthier styles of cooking, along with more vegan and vegetarian options,” he says.
There have been some minor tweaks to the restaurant fit-out, which continues to encapsulate the chef’s connection to his upbringing in rural Thailand. There is a Buddhist prayer room where the chef prays each morning, framed family photos adorning the bare-brick walls, and an outdoor dining area that is surrounded by a herb garden.
The 120-seat restaurant is currently seating 83, making use of the many spaces within the 90-year-old building on Selby Street.
“While extremely difficult for the entire hospitality industry, the break has provided a great opportunity to re-focus Lantern by Nu, reassess the way we look after our customers, improve our service standards and provide an even more satisfying Thai dining experience.”
When the coronavirus forced Lantern’s closure, Nu came to welcome a break from the restaurant kitchen, giving him plenty of time to experiment with new recipes at home.
“I’m 54 in October. I work almost seven days and I don’t have time off, so when corona happened, it actually worked out well for me. I’ve never been at home on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays.”
It’s been a long time since the prolific chef enjoyed such a break. Nu emigrated when he was about 20 years old and began his career at Gouger Street’s Star of Siam.
Since then, he opened his own restaurants, Nu Thai and Mrs Q, and had a hand in the success of restaurants such as Gin Long Canteen and Golden Boy, and today continues to consult for various restaurants abroad.
Before the pandemic, Suandokmai was regularly flying to Bali and Sydney to consult for big-name hotels.
He says he’s instilled a new service-focused culture at Lantern, along with new social distancing and cleaning.
‘“I’m fussy with hygiene,” he says. “I like my house and my restaurant really clean.”
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