Sunda – the ambitious Punch Lane restaurant that launched under star chef Khanh Nguyen back in 2018 – reopens this Friday, November 10, after a short three-week closure.

Nguyen, who helped establish Sunda as a Melbourne “it restaurant”, made waves when he announced his shock departure back in July.

While he’s since landed a new gig as executive chef at Sydney’s King Clarence, now Sunda has found someone to lead its new-look kitchen.

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Earlier this week, the Windsor hospitality group (also behind Aru, Parcs and Kudo) announced the return of Nabil Ansari as head chef. Ansari was part of the original Sunda team, working as the restaurant’s sous-chef for over four years, before departing in early 2023 for a brief stint at Firebird in Windsor.

The menu originally took its cues from Asia’s Sunda region – a catch-all term for countries on the Sunda continental shelf, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore – and Ansari is staying true to that ethos. He tells Broadsheet he’ll be “keeping the essence of Sunda, the flavours from the original restaurant, but with different techniques”.

He says he’s particularly excited about incorporating new elements like sambal hijau (also known as sambal ijo, a green chilli paste from Indonesia). “I really wanted to create more sambals and pastes the traditional way, with a mortar and pestle, and this is one of the hand-pounded components.” Ansari, who is originally from the state of Maharashtra in western India, says the paste “brings back nostalgic memories of eating sambal at home made by my mum”.

He also name-checks a new dry prawn jungle curry served with idli (rice cakes made with a fermented batter of rice, lentils and fenugreek seeds). And he’s bringing back the pie tee pastry thimbles (a Nyonya tart that was a staple of Nguyen’s menu), but with new fillings. Other nods to past Sunda dishes include a turmeric-and-coconut jasmine rice with confit anchovy, inspired by the older nasi ulam (a herbed rice, served with native ingredients like aniseed myrtle under Nguyen).

The dining room has undergone a few cosmetic changes. The long communal tables on the restaurant’s ground floor are gone, replaced by smaller ones for individual groups, and there’s a new bar on the restaurant’s upper level where you’re encouraged to drop in for cocktails, wine and snacks.

Ansari says he’s looking forward to “getting good energy back into Sunda”.

“Coming back to Sunda is like coming home,” he says. “The group is like a family to me, and this time I get to bring some of my family culture to the restaurant and the team.”

Sunda reopens for dinner service on Friday November 10.