One of the first things you notice when you step inside Botanic House is the outside. The reimagined restaurant in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens – formerly known as Botanic Gardens Restaurant – has windows everywhere, and the verdant surrounds are calming.
What you see then is an intricate single-line drawing on the wall. It wraps and weaves its way around the room – even finding its way onto the cover of the menu.
The menu is less straightforward, a reflection of Nguyen’s family history. The chef’s parents fled Vietnam in the ‘70s and grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to Australia. And his grandfather is Chinese. Those influences all combine for a genre-crossing collection of dishes.
There are hand-rolled mud crab-and-scallop dumplings; crackling pork belly in charcoal bao; soy-sauce ice-cream; and crisp-skin chicken that’s first poached in a master stock from Nguyen’s other restaurant, Red Lantern on Riley. Dishes are paired with wines, cocktails and loose-leaf teas.
There is a lemon myrtle tree Nguyen says you can smell when the breeze wafts into the kitchen. He decided to add it, and a few other natives, to his otherwise modern-Asian menu. You’ll find native pepper berries with the squid, and tempura saltbush sprinkled over the grilled king prawns. Lemon myrtle-infused coconut milk coats seared mulloway fillets.