Almost two years after opening Sunda, the sleek Southeast Asian restaurant at 18 Punch Lane, Khanh Nguyen has announced he’s opening a second restaurant in the city, a block from the Bourke Street Mall and Swanston Street.
The Vietnamese-Australian chef has yet to name the restaurant at 268 Little Collins, which he co-owns with Adi Halim (owner of Sunda and The Hotel Windsor), but says he and his team have been working on it for around a year. All things going to plan, it will open in July 2020 with a bar and 90 to 100 seats centred around an open kitchen.
“It will be more like a gathering space – the way I would eat when I was still living with my family. Basically, the menu will have a lot of little snacks. And then [there] will be big mains and we’ll have a lot of sides,” says Nguyen.
“My whole vision is people can come in, they can order a lot and try a lot and have a table full of food … You know, mixing and matching and sharing – that’s the kind of style I want. It’s more of a home-style way of eating compared to Sunda.”
At Sunda, Nguyen riffs on recognisable, broadly Southeast Asian dishes with unexpected ingredients and techniques he picked up working with some of Sydney’s top chefs before his move to Melbourne at the end of 2017.
The 29-year-old mastered roast duck and other meats while working as sous chef at Dan Hong’s Cantonese-influenced Mr Wong, credits some of his plating style to training under Brent Savage of upmarket Sydney eatery Bentley, and was introduced to native Australian ingredients at René Redzepi’s Noma Sydney pop-up. (His off-menu Vegemite curry became a cult hit at Sunda.)
The new restaurant’s menu is inspired by the period of trade between Indonesians and northern Australian First Peoples that occurred before European settlement, leading to some culinary cross-pollination, Nguyen says. There’ll be woodfire smoking, grilling and roasting seafood and meat, as well as lots of preserving and fermenting.
Think bakkwa – a salty-sweet Chinese-style jerky – made with emu or kangaroo meat instead of pork.
Nguyen is working on the fit-out with the same designers behind Sunda – Melbourne-based architecture studios Kerstin Thompson Architects and Figureground. He's knocked down the wall between two former retail shops to create the space, which will feature plenty of concrete and timber.