Kate reviews: Sunda EXP — ‘vibrant, flavour-packed food that’s easy to finish off at home’
Our mate Ando asked recently for a recommendation for a restaurant to try at home. Believe it or not, I still get nervous steering people toward eateries, it’s so very subjective.
But I told him I had loved Sunda when I ordered it, and noticed that since I did, they’d put a pretty amazing looking prawn toast on the menu. He clearly went with it, because that Saturday night I received a text.
“I just ate one of the finest creations in history”.
Boom. My order went in.
Sunda opened in the city to rave reviews. It was an ununsual sounding concept. The name itself refers to the landmass that once connected Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore – so we’re talking modern, pan-Asian cuisine, and they’ve added an Australian native bent. Hence we ended up trying vegemite curry, and kangaroo tartare with nam jim-style dressing when we visited in January. I loved it.
In lockdown, head chef Khanh Nguyen and his team have come up with a fun, punchy menu that’s really easy to finish off at home. What I love is that Khanh is forever innovating, playing around with whacky ideas like cheeseburger rotis, banh mi en croute, and the forementioned prawn toast. He might offer them as a one day special, or they may end up on the menu. You can get a sneak peek by following him on Instagram (@genghiskhanh).
So the prawn toast – was Ando right? Yes. It was bloody good. When it’s done bad, Khanh says there’s not enough prawn and way too much grease. Well, he fixed that, and added his trademark south-east Asian influence. He uses quality sourdough and toasts it before slathering it with a mix of Kaffir lime and Australian prawns. A red curry Marie Rose sauce with coconut is whacked in the middle of the toast. It’s all coated in Japanese breadcrumbs, rice flakes and sesame seeds. On the side, a vibrant papaya salad for a little extra freshness and texture. It’s crunchy, and gooey, and saucy – a brilliant snack that is easily warmed up in the oven.
The Pork & Spring Onion Dumplings are made with Khanh’s mum’s meatball recipe – hand-chopped pork shoulder, red shallot, lemongrass, and garlic into the dumpling wrappers. The dressing a not-so-traditional brown butter, black vinegar, onion, garlic, ginger and chilli. These are great, chunky little parcels of joy.
Wagyu rendang pies were one of my favourite snacks when I visited Sunda. Wagyu beef cheeks cooked down, stuffed into Chinese-style bun dough and served with a spicy fermented sambal. Sounds simple, but there are around 40 ingredients all up, and it’s an 18 hour process to make them. At the restaurant, they fry them before serving. At home you’re given the option of microwave or steaming, and you could then finish by frying them. We went with microwave and I wouldn’t again, mates have steamed and said they were terrific.
I’ve ordered a couple of side dishes twice now, and have not been disappointed. The rice noodle rolls with sesame, cauliflower, chilli oil and black vinegar don’t sound so exciting but I love them. We’re talking dumpling-like Korean rice noodle cakes, cauliflower florets, and shiitake mushrooms, stir fried in garlic oil and finished with a sauce based on a Sichuan dish called ‘strange flavour chicken’ – with white sesame paste, premium chin kiang black vinegar, coconut milk and a house-made chilli, garlic, Szechuan pepper and a sesame oil blend.
For your vegetable intake, I seriously recommend the not-so-healthy sounding Brussel sprouts with chinese sausage & chilli jam. Sprouts cooked just long enough to become soft and caramelised, topped with Chinese sausage and house-made Thai-style chilli jam.
Plenty of choice in the mains, if you want to go all out there is always the glorious Wagyu beef short rib – tremendous, but with a price tag to match. The wagyu beef short ribs are grilled over red gum wood before marinating in toasted coconut and tomato curry paste. Then they’re slow roasted overnight, ready for you to finish at home with a caramel and mushroom soy glaze. A few pickled onions add texture and also a little acidity to cut through the richness of the fatty beef.
You can order it directly from Sunda if you’re within 15km of the city, or if you’re further out, they’re on Providoor too.
I’ve ordered from these guys twice now this lockdown, and probably will again. They’re making vibrant, flavour-packed food that is easy to finish off at home. It’s a menu that is continually evolving (there are new items this week) from a team that seem to be having as much fun as they can in these tough times.