Two years after it was conceived and exactly a year past due, hatted Sunda restaurant's Little Collins Street sibling Aru will finally make its appearance on June 16.
Chef and co-owner Khanh Nguyen is philosophical about the delay – it's given him time to hone the concept and polish his skills.
Like Sunda, Aru will fuse south-east Asian and native Australian flavours. But this time, Nguyen will explore more ideas from his Vietnamese and Chinese heritage. And in the larger Little Collins Street site, there's space for a custom-made wood grill and wood oven, a room in which to dry-age duck and charcuterie, seating for 120 and a separate bar.
Architect Kerstin Thompson has flipped the plan, placing the redgum-fuelled hearth just inside the front door rather than hidden down the back.
It will get a workout for one of Aru's signature dishes, suckling pig with native Australian sambals, a play on the Balinese feast dish babi guling. Not officially on the menu, the daily special will be available to the first 10 takers.
And Nguyen's lockdown obsession, paté en croute, appears on the charcuterie menu in the form of a fancy pastry-covered paté with the flavours of banh mi.
Ferments using ingredients that might otherwise be wasted will also figure prominently – prepare to meet roasted potato creme caramel and kaya ice-cream sandwiches made with crunchy koji waffles.
The narrow but deep dining room ranges over three levels, with the recycled brick floors getting progressively darker as you venture further back. A 16-metre brown marble counter lined with timber stools runs half the length of the space – front-row views of the kitchen and bar action. At the back, the private dining room seats 12 around a spotted gum table.
Bookings have opened ahead of its June 16 launch.
Open Tue-Sat noon-late from June 16 at 268 Little Collins Street, Melbourne, 03 9939 8113, aru.net.au