THREE AND A HALF STARS
Out of Sundaland
806 High Street, Thornbury, 9480 1282
Licensed AE MC V eftpos
Wednesday-Saturday 5.30pm-late; monthly Saturday lunch
Small: $5-$17; Large: $18-$35
At first glance, there’s not much about this casual white-guy-Thai restaurant to make you think of an Italian trattoria, a smart city restaurant like Coda or the sizzling openness of a Japanese yakitori joint. But Out of Sundaland is influenced by all of these and does a really nice job of synthesising them into a fun and tasty modern Melbourne eatery.
Owners Kasi Metcalfe and Nathan Richardson developed the concept on the road while on sabbatical from five-star hotels. They loved the easy-going quality of Italian restaurants, where career waiters run the show and prices encourage frequent visits. They also enjoyed the theatre and welcome of Japanese grill restaurants. And their chef Rohan Brophy is an alumnus of hatted city restaurants Coda and Ezard, where traditional Asian flavours meet modern techniques.
Plait those strands together and you get Out of Sundaland, named after the largely buried south-east Asian landmass that once made intercontinental transit possible, but also echoing European hospitality, Japanese energy and Melbourne innovation.
The tight menu reflects the one-man-band nature of the open kitchen. Duck ribs (a spin on the ubiquitous chicken wings) are doused in chilli and tamarind. They’re crying out to be eaten alongside one of the craft beers on tap. Every restaurant seems to have a cauliflower dish these days: the version here is a big wodge of dark-roasted cauli with thick and Sichuan-spicy kung pao sauce. It goes down nicely with the north’s vegetarians, as does the eggplant with green curry. Eggplant wedges are tempura-fried so you get crunchy shell and soft flesh; they’re propped over a light, fresh curry sauce, elements of which are echoed in the herby tangle strewn over the top. It’s simple but the flavours are punchy. Right, that’s the vegetarians sorted. Let’s move on …
Main dishes include spatchcock (a little chook, and you can have it fried or grilled) with scorched grapes and grilled celeriac, and a lovely pork hock that’s deboned, slow-braised in a spiced broth and fried to get the skin nice and crunchy. The filleting and rolling of the hock, plus the drizzle of hot-salty-sweet caramel dressing is a nod to a Melbourne classic, Ezard’s chilli pork hock, recently levered from their menu. If you’ve been hankering for it, try the lo-fi version here. The plating is relaxed but the flavours are there.
Out of Sundaland has been here a year and locals are still lucking onto it. They’ll be looked after when they roll in: there’s the buzz of the open kitchen at the front, a cosy fireplace in the rear and a warm welcome all around. There’s even a tram timetable by the door so you can time your exit around your last cocktail (try the sour spritz with shiso shrub and ginger liqueur).
Whichever way you slice it, this is a chirpy little restaurant. The premises are small but the vision is keen and the hospitality smarts are evident. The winner is diners, with good food at fair prices.
Long Chim, Crown Melbourne, Yarra Promenade, Southbank, 9292 5777. Daily lunch and dinner
David Thompson’s southernmost restaurant is a fab spot for a warming curry. Try the mashed prawn curry and the noodle soup with five-spice braised pork.
Coda Melbourne, 141 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 9650 3155. Daily lunch and dinner
Out of Sundaland’s chef apprenticed at this cool basement diner. The flavours lean towards Vietnam but there’s inspiration from all over Asia. Try the yellow duck curry.
Hawker Hall, 98 Chapel Street, Windsor, 8560 0090. Daily lunch and dinner
Come for beer and street food in a slick and spacious dining room that was once a stable. The devil chicken curry is as spicy as it sounds.
Supernormal Canteen, 157 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 9525 4488. Daily dinner
The southern outpost of the city’s Supernormal has just opened where Luxembourg was and Golden Fields before that. Trainspotters will notice that this means the lobster roll has come back to its launching place. Guess what? They take bookings!