Sunda's lockdown dishes took on a cult status as chef Khanh Nguyen's kitchen team funnelled their energy into some intensely fiddly and creative projects. The likes of prawn toast, fragrant with makrut lime leaf, and a red curry marie rose sauce, and nasi lemak sans nasi (rice) instead served with burrata, were popular enough that EXP lives on as a summer pop-up at the Windsor Hotel, with Sunda sous chef Nabil Ansari running the kitchen.
In a slightly unexpected twist, all the dishes have incorporated an Italian element to reflect the European al fresco nature of Melbourne dining this summer.
Those prawn toasts are served with a radicchio, basil and papaya salad. A blooming onion is battered with rice and chickpea flour and the spices of an onion bhaji, but served with cacio e pepe sauce and pickled cauliflower to lighten the dish. The nasi lemak with burrata appears, as do hand-cut Malaysian-style noodles, tossed in garlic, chilli and ginger oil and topped with a black bean crumb – like an aglio e olio of the south-east.
The drinks at EXP hop around as much as the food – from spritz to tequila highballs.
Will Summer EXP stick around? Or will Ansari eventually get his own restaurant to serve his contemporary Indian dishes made popular in lockdown? Stay tuned, according to Sunda backer Adipoetra Halim, who says all things will be considered. But the team's talents will be needed when they open Nguyen's second restaurant, Aru, in late April.
Aru, which will open at 168 Collins Street, will go beyond the south-east Asian influences Sunda draws on, adding inspiration from Japan, India and China. The cooking style will also be "more primordial, featuring fire and fermentation", according to Halim.
Summer EXP by Sunda is open Thursday to Sunday 5-10pm; Sun noon-5pm at 1 Bourke Street, Melbourne. thehotelwindsor.com.au/dining/summer-exp-by-sunda.