The picnic revolution has well and truly begun and restaurants are gearing up for the herculean task of reopening. But until then, Melbourne spring is doing its thing and yo-yoing between winter and summer weather.
If you want to neatly straddle this transition, you could do a lot worse than secure the sambals, rich rendangs and urap salads that have lit up social media this past month both from established and independent chefs.
Who: Chef Nicole (no surname, because she was not registered during the riot-led government shutdown in 1998-1999) is one to watch. The Jakarta-born 21-year-old has two years at Grossi Florentino under her belt and has built a sharp independent (fully accredited) side hustle. Once she was stood down from Marnong Estate, she decided to investigate her Bataknese heritage. Nicole touched base with her grandmothers, who "have their own food businesses", to get the traditional recipes for her menu.
Mangan Yuk! R E N D A N G P A D A N G Stewed beef cooked for at least 4 hours in coconut milk with mixed of Indonesian spices and toasted coconut paste. The natural oil come out from the toasted coconut is the reason why Rendang taste nutty and so rich of flavor. Grab yours now! $20/ 750ml takeaway container
Go-to dish(es): Her Padang beef rendang from West Sumatra is cooked for 8-12 hours until the rich mix of 15 aromatic spices, including galangal, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and coconut cream, has reduced to a powerful, sticky almost black while the meat itself has turned the hue of slow-smoked brisket.
Ayum woku belanga is a spicy bright chicken curry from north Sulawesi with all the pretty perfume of lemongrass and pandan and mukrut leaves but enough chilli to keep you on your toes.
Need triple carb comfort? Meet nasi bogana, huge in Tegal (Central Java), it's a mountain of aromatic rice ringed with mi goreng, spicy potatoes cooked with chicken giblets and liver, and candied tempeh.
Who: A joint offering from three international students with no support, Jaen Jumah (translation: "it's nice to be at home") gives a flash of hope. It turns out that "kids these days" are as resilient as any generation who has built a life from nothing. Ida is hoping his dishes will remind people to go back to a decimated Bali soon; the incredibly slick graphics and marketing are run by Raki and ex-Lune and Le Petit Gateau pastry chef Devina is developing the sweet menu.
Go-to dish: While the lawar babi – a spicy, meaty salad featuring snake beans, pork mince and shards of crackling – has a lot of carnal appeal, go vegan. The lawar nangka using fleshy young jackfruit, chilli and coconut is the dish you need for spring.
They also do a vegan nasi campur, of spiced tofu, silverbeet and oyster mushroom cooked in banana leaf, satay jackfruit skewers and sweet, caramelised tempeh with rich coconut rice.
The lowdown: To order, go to instagram.com/jaenjumah.melb for a link to their order form. Delivery is within 10km of the CBD, minimum order $30. Dishes are $12-$25.
Tasia and Gracia Seger outside Makan in the CBD. Photo: Simon Schluter
Makan in Melbourne
Who: Tasia and Gracia Seger are the Indonesian-born sisters who took out the My Kitchen Rules title in 2016. The duo opened their CBD dream restaurant in 2018 and since lockdown, have kept operating at full tilt, making travel-friendly ready-to-eat Balinese hits and Javanese celebratory nasi tumpeng (a golden, conical mountain of rice girt by vegetables and meat dishes).
Go-to dish: Makan's weekly-changing feast for two is a ridiculous bargain at $45 (with leftovers). Feasts are sold fully cooked so you may want to rejuvenate some portions.
For our Balinese nasi campur feast we re-crisp meaty fried chicken ribs and babi guling (slow-roasted and shredded roast pork with bubbled crackling on the side) in the oven while starting with the boiled eggs floating in a rich batutu chicken broth that's fragrant with lemongrass, galangal and mukrut leaf.
Add in grilled-marked fish sate lilit (Balinese fish satay) pressed around sticks like Paddle Pops and coconut rice and it's a rich situation, pulled back from the brink by the crunchy brightness of urap sayur (green bean and coconut salad) and a fiery red chilli and pickled onion sambal.
The lowdown: The feast is $45 and changes weekly (the satay feast, pictured top; fried half chicken and urap sayur, pictured right). Order via makaninmelbourne.com.au to pick up from 360 Collins Street, Melbourne (entry via little Collins Street). Delivery to suburbs is listed on the website.
Khanh Nguyen's nasi lemak with burrata. Photo: Supplied
Chef Khanh Nguyen's nasi lemak from Sunda
Controversial entry: nasi lemak is Malaysian but commonly found across the Malacca Strait in Sumatra and also the Riau Islands. And given that Nguyen, in what has become his trademark style of reinventing dishes in ways no-one expected (in this case, replacing the rice altogether with a local That's Amore burrata), all cards are off the table.
"They definitely weren't excited," says Nguyen of his entire team's reaction to the idea. But with lemak, translating to 'fat', he persevered, starting with a fresh cream-filled mozzarella purse, and adding a sambal of coconut, macadamia nuts and confit ginger, a deeply-stained tomatoey shrimp sambal, low on funk, high on length, with the traditional belacan, peanuts, cucumbers and sunny-centred egg.
While you would usually mix, try each element separately.
$30, weekly special via Sunda EXP, sundaexp.com.au