Scorcher reviews: Sunda
18 Punch Lane, CBD
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“He’s so hot right now” is how Will Farrell’s character describes Owen Wilson’s Hansel in Zoolander as he sashays down the catwalk.
Well, Hansel can shove off now because there’s a new hottie in town.
Sunda – a restaurant serving up Indonesian, Malaysia and Vietnamese dishes with an injection of Aussie flavours – is so hot right now.
It’s hotter than a sambal sauce in the Sumatran sunshine.
Sunda is the best thing to come from an Aussie-Indonesian coupling since Ketut gave Rhonda a foot massage.
The space itself is Melbourne through-and-through; a glass-panelled façade encases a room of exposed brick and metal scaffolding.
Two long communal tables run parallel to the kitchen. So if you’re a misanthrope who doesn’t enjoy sitting next to strangers, Sunda might not be the place for you.
But we took full advantage of the convivial vibe and at one stage quizzed the couple next to us about their fish: “Beautiful. Not overcooked, just the way we like it. We’ll be back.”
I know it’s early in the foodie season but, for me, Sunda has rocketed right into flag contention for 2018.
And chef Khanh Nguyen – who’s touched down in our fair city after stints at Mr Wong and Cirrus Dining in Sydney – is certainly kicking goals in the kitchen with his unique Asian-Aussie fare.
One of the dishes that has punters swinging to get a table at this Punch Lane belter is the roti with Vegemite curry – a rich, fluffy nest of roti with a side of dipping sauce made from eschalots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves and the iconic Aussie spread.
It’s a fun, memorable plate of food that had me chanting roti canai-oi oi oi.
The otak otak (a traditional fish curry that translates as ‘brains’ in Malay) is a thinking person’s spanner crab curry. Sunda’s version is made from crab stock and in-house curry paste and arrives in solid, rectangular form – more parfait-like than saucey – and is spread on house-made rice crackers.
Other dishes we enjoyed were the wagyu beef cheek rendang buns with pickled radish and fermented sambal sauce (the only possible way beef rendang can be improved is by sticking it in a doughy, Chinese-style steamed bun); and the smoky XO sauce egg noodles with devilish chicken crackling is another must-have.
Sunda had me wishing I was a cow. Having four stomachs would have come in handy as there was so much I wanted to order but didn’t have the space to fit it in.
Some of the dishes I was eyeing off but didn’t have room for: the cured kangaroo with witlof, smoked egg yolk and toasted rice sounded interesting, and the West Australian marron with belacan butter and Vietnamese mint smelled divine on the table behind me.
So if you’re keen to try something a little different, consult your calendar and find a date to sashay down to Sunda.
You may just walk out a happy little Vegemite.