205 Russell St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9650 4336
My meal here has an interesting food blogger’s backstory…
It was a Saturday night, Fatbee and I dressed up nicely and strolled into the city for (what was meant to be) a nice meal that I got invited to. We’re on a money-saving slant, so this was supposed to be a special ‘date-night’ kinda thing for us. Haha… yeah I know it’s a bit cheap-o of me!!
Anyway, we turned up at said restaurant’s doorstep only to discover that they never got our invite booking despite the PR company confirming that they’d let the venue know. Being fully booked, we got turned away. That’s how we ended up wandering the streets in the CBD looking for an alternative place to have dinner.
Air Bandung $3.8
I’ll have to say that Fatbee took the whole thing in stride very well (he only sulked for 10 minutes… hah!). Truth be told, most of our weekend nights are spent at home eating a homecooked meal, but this time we were in the city out of happenstance. We had to make do with the fact that Saturday night in Melbourne these days often means that everywhere’s packed to the brim with people… even in Winter!
As we walked aimlessly down Russell St, we stopped at a traffic light and, with mist coming from his breath, Fatbee quietly suggested “how about SugarBun?”. Peeking through the wood-framed windows, we saw that the clean-and-cosy place had free tables, so we stepped in.
NASI LEMAK BROASTED CHICKEN 10
SugarBun’s Santan Rice accompanied by spicy anchovies, fried peanuts, boiled egg, cucumber & tomato, with premium fresh chicken seasoned with our homegrown Sarawakian spices – pressure fried.
It took a bit of a paradigm shift… changing our dinner expectations from a (free!) Western three-course meal with wine into a one-dish-meal at an Asian cheap-eats joint. But we found ourselves slipping into that skin effortlessly.
The food at SugarBun hails from the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, but I believe it’s mainly cuisine from the Malaysian sectors of the island, in particular Sarawak. Fatbee decided to have the nasi lemak with SugarBun’s special pressure-fried chicken.
He enjoyed it. The coconut rice isn’t as rich and coconutty as other nasi lemaks in Melbourne, which is a good thing for us since we prefer our dishes to be lighter. The broasted chicken came crispy, tender and juicy, and the only downside with this dish for him was how the sambal leant towards the mild and sweet side.
DRY BAK KUT TEH 15
Smoky, sizzling pork belly, ribs, special meatballs, lotus root & okra in dark sauce. Served with Mixed Grain Rice, Nanyang Appe-hancer & herbal broth. Must try!
I of course went with the signature dish that SugarBun is famous for – the Dry Bak Kut Teh. I’m a big fan of Bak Kut Teh, a herbal pork ribs soup dish that’s enjoyed with rice and tiny cups of Chinese tea. Heck, I’ve even published a recipe for Singapore-style Bak Kut Teh!
But dry bak kut teh is an entirely unfamiliar concept to me, and one that I was mighty keen on sampling. What arrived was a sizzling claypot chock full of meat and goodies all beautifully charred and caramelised with Chinese herbs and dark sauce.
The set came with a little bowl of herbal bak kut teh broth, which provided much needed moisture to the dish. The condiments included chilli soy sauce and a Nanyang Appe-hancer sauce that tasted a bit like chopped pickled jalapeños. The sauces weren’t that necessary as the dish itself was already very tasty, but the herbaceous punch in the Appe-hancer sauce did give a nice counterpoint to the caramelised meats.
And on the left, you’re seeing one of my favourite parts of this dish – the petite-but-yummy meatballs!! I initially got confused as it looked a lot like macadamia nuts… but after eating one of them, I was very very happy. All that said, I’d have preferred if the soup was served piping hot rather than lukewarm.
Just look at the delightfully charred and succulent pork ribs (and belly) sitting on my spoon. While I’ve never had this dish before, I think this was a very good introduction to dry bak kut teh. Even the veggies in the dish were all my favourites – enoki mushrooms, okra and lotus root.
Homemade Pear Drink $3.8
Here’s the bowl of mixed grain rice that came with my Dry Bak Kut Teh set, and I had my meal with a cleansing homemade pear drink with snow fungus and red dates.
It’s great that even though we did not have a good start to the night (with an invite that went awry), we ended up discovering a new type of cuisine and enjoyed each and every bite of it. And the other (random but cute) thing about this place is how one of the waitstaff that served us was dressed formally… he even wore a bow tie.