Review: Sugarcane spices up Coogee
A Sydney Asian-inspired classic continues to inspire and delight, writes Elizabeth Meryment
There was news last month that seminal Sydney restaurant Longrain was closing. It was hardly surprising. The restaurant that was a juggernaut of the early 2000s had been around for 19 years. Few restaurants last as long, especially not when a hot rival (in this case Chin Chin) moves in next door. The venue was scheduled to close on June 30, maybe to move somewhere else.
Longrain might be gone, but the Thai food — or as some put it, Thai-influenced food — of its kitchen remains a staple of the Sydney diet.
Most people are now familiar with the betel leaf, beef rendang and, of course, salt and pepper squid, a dish that has migrated out of Thai restaurants into every pub and club from Melbourne to Cairns. People love this food because it’s delicious: sweet, salty, sour, spicy and everything at once. Nothing not to like.
Chef Milan Strbac’s Sugarcane is another Thai-style stayer of the Sydney scene. It spent eight years pumping out larb salads and crispy chicken with plum sauce at its original Surry Hills location, before moving in 2016 to its current beachside spot in Coogee.
On a hot day you can sit outside and be bathed in Coogee breezes while you eat, or on these wintry nights nestle inside in a room decorated with hanging plants.
Sugarcane has drifted a little away from its Thai roots over the years and now offers a contemporary pan-South-East Asian menu with Japanese and Indonesian influences in the mix and a beautiful opening salvo of raw seafood options.
It sounds confused, but isn’t at all, with Strbac keeping the flavours consistent across an international play of dishes.
Start, of course, with some Sydney Thai-style classics — betel leaf with kingfish and coconut (totally moreish), perilla leaf with pork hock and samba bajak (again: moreish/could easily smash 10), or Atlantic salmon ceviche with mint and peanut. The opening suite of dishes is perfectly designed to take with a beer or cocktail; light, salty, full of mouthfeel and flavour. Nice.
Mains and larger dishes range from classics such as pad Thai to more adventurous offerings: an eggplant gulai curry, grilled short rib with urap and samba ulek, cauliflower with chilli caramel and sesame. A hot and sour pork mince salad proves a delightfully tangy version of a classic san choy bau, while the short rib curry is richly aromatic. Throughout the flavours are bold and consistent; the eating deeply satisfying.
Far from declining as the years roll on, Sugarcane has gone from strength to strength. Even in winter the room is brimming with customers and action. There’s life in this cuisine yet.
1/56 Carr St, Coogee
8313 9790; sugarcanerestaurant.com.au