His elevated take on South-East Asian hits such as rendang, roti and otak-otak pairs native Australian ingredients with clever technique and plating, earning him high-praise from critics. Sunda has been described as “boundary-blurring, progressive, flavour-forward”, and the roti and Vegemite curry has become one of the city’s must-try snacks. It’s no surprise, given the chef’s training in Sydney hot-spots such as Mr Wong, Cirrus, Bentley and a stint at the Noma Australia pop-up. Just as Melbourne has embraced Nguyen, he’s embraced his newfound home.
I know I’m in Melbourne when I am surrounded by laneways filled with beautiful art.
My first defining food moment in Melbourne was about seven years ago at Attica. I had just qualified as a chef in Sydney and came here to eat my way around town. I remember leaving Attica and thinking “wow”. There were so many courses that stood out, especially the fried mussel, the bread and butter and the course we had in the garden, which at the time was marshmallows that we got to toast over an open fire. There was also a dish of lightly pickled cucumber with a cheese-based sauce that really blew my mind. Since then it’s still been one of my favourite dining experiences.
The best new thing I’ve found is Uni Boom Boom in Glen Waverley. This place serves sea urchin on rice and I think it’s the best place to go if you love uni as much as I do.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I take a drive to the Mornington Peninsula and have lunch at Laura. Fantastic views and delicious food – you seriously can’t go wrong. What I love about Phil Wood’s food is the creativity and clean flavours. I was blown away by a dish that was a simple potato dressed with salmon roe.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than Bar Saracen, one of my favourite restaurants that’s right next door to Sunda. My go to dish would definitely be the prawn hummus.
And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to dine at several restaurants in one night — yes, I love over-feeding myself. Start with snacks and a glass of wine at Embla: anything on toast there is great and their chickpea pancake is awesome. Then I’d head to Tipo 00 for their tagliolini al nero, one of my favourite pasta dishes ever, then on to Bar Saracen for their fried okra, cheese borek and prawn hummus. To finish I’d head to Shandong MaMa for the pan-fried mackerel dumplings (although all their dumplings are excellent). But you’ll have to eat fast because Shandong closes quite early.
In the mornings you’ll find me going for a run around Richmond, then stopping at my local, Hectors Deli, for a sandwich and coffee.
My local is Hectors. They serve some of the best sandwiches in town with delicious coffee. I order the tuna melt and a double espresso, but the beef and pickle sandwich is also very tasty.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be absolutely nothing. I love the food scene in Melbourne.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the food culture, and diners’ willingness to try new things.
Sunda, 18 Punch La, Melbourne, (03) 9654 8190, sunda.com.au