One of Melbourne's best Thai chefs comes to the kitchen at this sweet South Yarra spot.
Chef Kam McManamey has a fist full of chilli and, as we've previously seen at the kitchens he's manned at Botherambo and BangPop, he's not afraid to use it. McManamey's focus at new South Yarra restaurant Rock Sugar is on the street food of Isaan and Chiang Mai. Having eaten his way through through northern Thailand, his menu reflects the mouthwatering flavours of the region — and they're quite distinct from the Thai we might be used to.
So don't bother looking for pad Thai. Instead, embrace 12-hour lamb spring rolls with massaman coconut cream ($14) or a jungle curry with pork belly, snake bean, corn and banana chilli ($29). But be warned: the jungle curry is really hot.
This is excellent food to share and, as you work your way down the menu, the only problem you'll face is the FOMO as you have to leave one dish behind in order to try another. But to help you out, we recommend you tease your tastebuds with a starter of light and crispy rice cakes with turmeric nam prik (a standard Thai chilli sauce). The single bites add another little mouthful of flavour; morsels like smoked ocean trout come served on betel leaf with kaffir lime, scud chilli, coconut and roe ($5 each). Be careful not to inhale as you eat, though — the scud chilli has quite a kick, and using your fairy floss martini as an extinguisher is just a waste.
Beef short ribs are best shared with one other — they come with tamarind nam jim, pickles and chilli salt ($17) and just fall off the bone and melt in your mouth. For a larger group, the whole baby snapper served on a fermented yellow bean sauce ($29) is a good pick. It looks as though it's been caught mid-swim, but seems fairly okay about having its caramelised flesh scraped from the bone and pulled through the slightly tangy and delicious sauce.
On paper, the turmeric, kaffir lime, coconut crème caramel with blood orange, spiced rice paper and cool mint ($12) sounds like a lot of elements on one small plate, but manages to be rich without being overpowering. It's smooth and velvety, and the perfect way to end the meal.
The drinks list contains the usual range of beers, an excellent selection of wine and a collection of exotic 'rocktails', which are as pretty as they are full of flavour. The pandan chilli ginger swizzle ($16), for example, is bound to get the party started.
In an age where we need hashtags to guide us, the addition of #rockingthai at the top of the Rock Sugar menu is fitting for both its contents and the interior. The dining room is all exposed brick and the green tiles of the central bar almost glow with a light of their own while the neon pink rock on sign on the wall blesses us as you eat.
Rock Sugar has only just opened, and, while owner Nikon Souphan may well still be getting used to having people dine in what used to be his bedroom (the Malvern Road site was once his family home), he doesn't show it. Just remember, you can't eat it all. But there's always next time — Rock Sugar is a place to go back to.