Originally published on Concrete Playground.
Where Southeast Asian flavours meet native Australian ingredients.
If you learn — and respect — the intricacies of particular cuisines, you can successfully fuse them together. And that’s exactly what is being done at Punch Lane’s newest restaurant.
Tucked behind Chinatown, Sunda marries together the flavours of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam with native Australian ingredients. The use of native plants and flora in Australian restaurants noticeable flourished after Copenhagen’s Noma popped up in Sydney for ten months in 2016, where Khanh Nguyen, now at the helm of Sunda, worked as a chef. Nguyen has also had experience working at Sydney restaurants Red Lantern and Mr Wong.
The two-storey restaurant is located in a former car park and the design of the 78-seat space gives away absolutely no clues as to the cuisines the restaurant is serving up. Walk in and you’ll find bar seating right near the open kitchen, which could be the most exciting place as the sounds of blowtorches and cocktail shakers add to restaurant’s energy. Designed by award-winning architect firm Kerstin Thompson, Sunda is tastefully minimalistic, founded on a neutral palette of concrete and light timbers — allowing the true focus to fall on the food, whose vibrant colours beautifully contrast against the interiors.
The waitstaff recommend ordering two to three things per section if you visit in a pair. After having some house-made pickles to start, you could indulge in the oysters with coconut curry vinaigrette and Tasmanian pepperleaf ($5 each). Or the roti with Vegemite curry dip ($10). Yes, you read that correctly: Vegemite. It’s combined with sourdough and blended to make a salty, creamy accompaniment to the Indian-style bread — the perfect intersection of cultures.
Bigger dishes include a cured kangaroo with purslane, smoked egg yolk and toasted rice ($22); and a Fremantle octopus paired with bush tomato and a lemongrass sambal ($24). The menu effectively covers a range of proteins, from land, sea and sky. If you’re a seafood fan, don’t look past the marron, cooked with belacan (shrimp paste) butter, wakame and Vietnamese mint ($42).
The inventive cocktail list continues the same theme of uniting flavours from several countries. The Saigon punch ($18), for example, combines cognac, Chartreuse, lemongrass, ginger and lime; and the Sunda Sling pairs Tanqueray with andaliman pepper, Benedictine and soda.
There are some restaurants that open in Melbourne to get excited about – Sunda is one of them.
Photography: Kate Shanasy