Ever since Coda took its sugarcane prawns off the menu, customers have been asking for them back. The balls of sweet-and-sour prawn meat are surrounded by crisp mung bean noodles resembling the hair of a mad scientist, complete with a stick of sugarcane jutting out for easy eating and added sweetness.
"When I'm waiting tables everyone grabs me and says, 'Whats that?' and I tell them, 'Oh it's our sugarcane prawns' and they say, 'We'll have four'. It's visually appealing, interesting and easy to do at home. You can impress without going to too much trouble," says Kate Bartholomew, who owns Coda with husband Mykal Bartholomew and chef Adam d'Sylva.
Signature dishes such as these came about after the couple was set on opening a smart-casual French restaurant but d'Sylva was adamant about cooking Asian food because he'd just returned from Vietnam. They ended up with a French-Vietnamese hybrid and what Kate describes affectionately as "the weirdest menu I've ever worked with".
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Serves 4 (3 per serve)
vegetable oil, for frying
2 garlic cloves
3cm piece of ginger
1/2 stalk lemongrass, white part only
1 long green chilli
300g prawn cutlets, tails removed
2 teaspoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon caster sugar
1 small handful of coriander
1 stick of fresh sugarcane, cut into 12x10x1cm sticks
100g mung bean noodles, cut into 2–3cm lengths
Sweet Chilli Sauce (makes about 1 1/2 cups)
100g long red chillies, deseeded
1 garlic clove
3cm piece of ginger
1 cup caster sugar
125ml rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt flakes
To make the sweet chilli sauce, add the chillies, garlic and ginger to a blender and blend until smooth. Combine the sugar, vinegar and 125ml of water in a small saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Add the chilli mixture and salt and simmer for 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Refrigerate leftover sweet chilli sauce in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Preheat a deep fryer or large saucepan of oil to 180°C.
Using a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chilli to form a smooth paste.
Add the paste to a blender with the prawns, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar and coriander and blend until smooth.
Mould the prawn mix around the sugarcane sticks, roll in the noodles and fry until crisp, about 2 minutes.
Serve the sugarcane prawns with the sweet chilli on the side.
This is an extract from The Broadsheet Melbourne Cookbook, which contains 80 recipes from the city’s best restaurants, cafes and bars.