What to order at Summer EXP by Sunda

Published on 4 December 2020

Photo: Summer EXP's prawn toast

Sunda chef Khanh Nguyen has been busy. Despite not having a restaurant open for much of the year, he ran not one but two takeaway concepts, with the second of those, Sunda_EXP, now expanding into a dine-in restaurant. Popping up over summer in the Hotel Windsor’s ground-floor space that was most recently occupied by Lekker, at Summer_EXP Nguyen and his sous chef Nabil Ansari (latterly of Ansari Indian) are bringing together a relaxed Italian style of eating and the Southeast Asian flavours that are a hallmark of Sunda’s food.

“It’s not too serious,” says Nguyen. “A menu designed for long summer evenings with some great cocktails and a solid drinks list to match.” Ansari and Nguyen tell us what their picks are of the opening menu.

Name the dish that is quintessentially Summer_EXP.
Khanh Nguyen: You can’t go past the prawn toast. It’s everything about Sunda EXP, distilled into one dish: simple, fun and exciting food. We take a huge slab of sourdough and spread it with coarsely chopped prawns. The crumb is made with white rice flakes, sesame seeds and panko. In the centre is a Marie Rose sauce – a nod to the prawn cocktail – but we spike it with red curry paste. The sauce oozes when you bite into it – it’s pretty much a self-saucing prawn toast. Don’t worry – there’s a fresh salad on the side to cut through all that richness.

Nabil Ansari: The baked flounder with tamarind butter, cannellini beans, coriander and chilli. I’m a big fan of whole fish and I think Khanh has taken the sauce on this dish to the next level. It’s bold and flavourful – one of those sauces you don’t forget. When you combine it with the simple, fresh garnishes, it’s the perfect balanced dish for summer.

How about a drink?
Nguyen: The Windsor Club Spritz with vodka, strawberry, pepperberry and lemon is so refreshing and delicious. Our head bartender Nate White has done an amazing job with the cocktail list. I’d actually have one of everything, if I could.

Ansari: For me, the perfect way to start would be the Staycation Spritz which is a blend of tequila, agave, salted grapefruit and thyme. I’m also a big fan of riesling, so the Jean-Luc Mader gets my vote (and it’s available by the glass). 

I’m here for a good time not a long time.
Nguyen: Go for the burrata with nasi lemak garnish. I know it sounds odd but, trust me, it works.

Ansari: Start with a few oysters and the crudités, follow it up with the burrata with nasi lemak condiments and finish with the smoked octopus. If you can, definitely try to squeeze in the roasted bone marrow, too. It’s a winner.

Got anything light and fresh?
Nguyen: The kingfish crudo with preserved lemon nuoc cham, horseradish and caper berry is as light and fresh as it gets. If raw fish isn't your thing then the gem lettuce with hot and sour vincotto, marinated anchovy and macadamia is the way to go.

Ansari: Lots of our dishes are packed with flavour but something on the lighter side would be the compressed melon with smoked chilli salt. I think this even works great as a palate cleanser between dishes. The kingfish is also really summery, citrussy and fresh.

I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals.
Nguyen: There are plenty of vegetarian options: the piel de sapo melon makes a great starter and I also love the salt and pepper tofu puffs with fermented bean curd “bagna cauda”. The hand-cut noodles with fermented black bean and soybean are also very delicious! We’re calling the dish aglio e olio, but it’s not as you know it.

Ansari: I can vouch for the noodles – they are AMAZING.

Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me?
Nguyen: I have a habit of always over-ordering so I feel very qualified to answer this. How about coming with a table of five or six friends and ordering one of every dish? That’s probably what I’d do.

Ansari: An indulgent night for me would involve ordering most of the starters, followed by the roasted cauliflower with sage, brown butter and capers, and the wagyu beef cheek. I’d have to get some sides too: the aglio e olio noodles, broccolini with tamarind and almond, and the gem lettuce with our take on vincotto. A bit of red Burgundy will help it all go down. Try the Domaine Nicolas Faure "Les Herbues” – ooof!

And to close?
Nguyen: There's only one dessert on the menu plus a soft serve. Both are equally great but tiramisù is one of my favourite desserts of all time. Ours plays on the flavours of Vietnamese coffee and adds coconut, wattleseed and condensed milk. Its so, so good.

Ansari: Youhave to get the tiramisù. It’s completely unique to Sunda EXP and such a great way to finish. 

Summer_EXP by Sunda, 1 Bourke St, Melbourne opens on Saturday 5 December and will operate throughout summer. Open Thurs-Sat 5pm-10pm, Sun noon-5pm. sundaexp.com.au

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