5:30pm - 11:00pm
18 Punch Lane Melbourne 3000

18 Punch Lane was originally slated to become Honcho, a Japanese-Chinese-Korean grill. When chef Adam Liston backed out, operator Adipoetra Halim (of Hotel Windsor) moved onto a different concept.

The fit-out, a collaboration between Kerstin Thompson Architects and Figureground is a not-so-sly nod to this period of uncertainty. Rough brickwork, internal aluminium scaffolding and plywood accents clearly reference a construction site. The room has a restrained energy – you won’t have to yell to make conversation. Downstairs, there are two 16-seat communal tables and five coveted spots at the bar, where you can watch young chef Khanh Nguyen do his thing. A roomier mezzanine is upstairs.

The Vietnamese-Australian moved to Melbourne in 2017, after nearly a decade working with Sydney’s top chefs and restaurants. Even before then, he knew he wanted to change people’s perception of Vietnamese as a cheap cuisine.

At Sunda, Nguyen has loosened that original goal to include food from across all of South East Asia. (The name Sunda refers to a prehistoric landmass that united modern-day Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.)

Cigar-sized baby corn is smoked in its husk and laid on a dark plate in the form of a tiger-stripe. Briny oysters get topped with curry oil and mounted on a little pillar of whipped eggwhite, salt and seaweed powder. And “Vietnamese coffee” is a textural dessert of wattle seeds, cacao nibs, chocolate-and-coffee ganache, coconut granita and condensed-milk ice-cream. The techniques and presentation have more in common with a refined wine bar than a typical South East Asian restaurant.

The French-Italo-Australian wine list looks beyond rieslings and other crisp whites usually paired with Asian food. Local highlights include Commune of Buttons’ pinot noir, Cullen’s cabernet merlot and Jamsheed’s Illaj syrah.

Updated: June 23rd, 2021

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