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Monday, January 11, 2010

Sugarcane, Surry Hills

Prawns on rice cake with caramelised sugarcane $4 each

I admit that I'd been a little nervous.

A hip restaurant interior, a menu that traverses the gamut of South East Cuisine and a website that is all fancy Flash graphics and hip schmoozy soundtrack. These are the things that make me wary on approach to Sugarcane.

The Surry Hills restaurant is not without pedigree, headed by ex-Longrain chefs Milan Strbac and Kitsana Aunarerom. Is it wrong to feel nervous? Why do I have a compulsive disdain toward stylish Asian food but will quite happily accept fancy European?

Mirvettium, Moocow and I head to Sugarcane for a pre-movie dinner on an early week night. It's quiet in the early evening but by 8pm the place is full. Polished floorboards do little to absorb the din of conversation and the clang of cutlery on plates. The colour scheme is decidedly mint green, with light from the backlit jelly bean shapes mounted to the wall. The bare surrounds and the blob-shaped "windows" make me think I'm in Fred Flinstone's house in Bedrock. The view into the open kitchen provides plenty of entertainment, particularly when the woks at the back sporadically erupt with spectacular flames.

Our starters, prawns on rice cake are visually impressive. A petite disc made from deep-fried rice holds a curl of peeled prawn and an impossibly high mountain of shredded kaffir lime, coriander leaves and chilli. We carefully manouever them from plate to mouth. The crunch of the rice cake is the first pleasure, followed by the sweetness of the fish sauce dressing and the lift of kaffir lime leaf and coriander. The prawn seems a little lost in amongst the flavours but the chilli has just enough heat to tingle the tongue and whet our appetites.

Crispy fried river trout $26
with mint, coriander and roasted rice with lime and chilli dressing

Crispy fried river trout is a whole fish flayed open and deep-fried. Beneath the golden and crisp exterior, the flesh is soft and moist, refreshed by a chilli dressing and a tumble of mint leaves, coriander, and shreds of chilli and carrot. A snowstorm of ground roasted rice adds a pleasing nuttiness to the dish.

Stir-fried green vegetables $15

A mix of kang kong water spinach, snow peas and asparagus form the serving ouf our stir-fried green vegetables. The greens are a good mix of tender water spinach against the crunch of snow peas and asparagus. A sprinkle of deep-fried red shallots adds decadence.

Stir-fried crispy pork hock $26
with baby corn, snake beans and chilli jam

And then the stir-fried crispy pork hock, fatty cubes of pork goodness that seem perfectly deserved when accompanied by a health-giving abundance of green beans, baby corn, red capsicum and the zing of more kaffir lime leaves.

It's another dish that is a touch too much on the sweet side, although there are plenty of flavours going on in the dish.

Sugarcane tube for presenting the bill

The menu, which draws on a broad spectrum of South East Asian cuisine, includes pad thai, Wagyu beef rendang, crispy skin chicken with blood plum sauce, Malaysian-style duck curry and a salad of marinated lamb with green mango.

A length of sugar cane, used to present the bill, is a cute way of reinforcing the restaurant name. Perhaps the name is a fitting one. We leave satiated, and a little sweeter for it.

View Larger Map
Sugarcane on Urbanspoon

Sugarcane - South East Asian Cuisine
40a Reservoir Street, Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9281 1788

Opening hours:
Lunch Monday to Friday 12pm-2.30pm
Dinner Monday to Saturday 6pm-10pm
Fully licensed

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Surry Hills - Alio
Surry Hills - bills (breakfast) and (dinner)
Surry Hills - Bird Cow Fish
Surry Hills - Bodega Tapas Bar (Sep09) and (Apr09)
Surry Hills - The Coachmen Russian Restaurant
Surry Hills - Longrain
Surry Hills - Maya Masala
Surry Hills - Oceanic Cafe
Surry Hills - Porterhouse (May 05) and (Nov 04)
Surry Hills - Smokehouse,The
Surry Hills - Spice I Am (Aug09), (Aug07) and (Nov05)
18 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/11/2010 03:37:00 am


  • At 1/11/2010 5:37 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Am I confused, or are the rice cakes in your prawn appetizer made of different kinds of rice?

    Also, sometimes I wish that fish anatomy was slightly different, so that instead of looking like they're frowning when they show up in their entirety on one's plate, they looked like they were happy about it :D

  • At 1/11/2010 8:00 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    South East Asian cuisine is rather general, isn't it? No wonder you were wary. I'm glad it was good.

    Love the colour in the dishes.

  • At 1/11/2010 10:13 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    looks like some tasty dishes. was wondering what this place was like. how does it compare to Spice I Am and Chat Thai for authenticity and variety of dishes?

  • At 1/11/2010 10:16 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    100% agree with you that a lot of their dishes are far too sweet. I figured they were trying to stamp the whole 'sugarcane' signature on their dishes but it seemed too unbalanced to me.

  • At 1/11/2010 11:10 am, Blogger Sarah D said…

    The salt and pepper squid here is quite fantastic - i highly recommend for next time!

  • At 1/11/2010 11:30 am, Anonymous John said…

    I've really only heard pretty good things from this little restaurant. I'm still yet to make it.
    I actually walked past it yesterday and noticed the whole place gutted, seemingly under refurb.

  • At 1/11/2010 1:12 pm, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    I share your sentiments. Asian food is the type of cuisine that I just can't pay excessive dollars for and the idea of 'styling up' Asian food is a bit, dare I say it, wanky? Give me down'n' dirty street hawkers any day! :D. Cute sugarcane container though.

    Oh btw, Japanese cuisine is the exception!

  • At 1/12/2010 12:50 am, Blogger YW said…

    seems like they use coriander in almost everything...don't really like that, but they do look good on photos :)

  • At 1/12/2010 2:59 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - Well spotted. The middle rice cake had a different type of rice, although to be honest, we didn't even notice on the night as the lighting was quite dim.

    The fish does look like he's grimacing but then I'm not sure a grinning fish would be quite so tantalising either!

    Hi Joey - I do tend to prefer restaurants that specialise in a particular cuisine or dish. The dishes were plated beautifully and the colour was very striking.

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - I probably prefer Spice I Am and Chat Thai which have a better balance of salty, sweet, sour and heat for my palate.

    Hi Stephcookie - Interesting to see that I wasn't the only one who thought the dishes were overly sweet. And yes,I thought maybe that was the theory too!

    Hi Sarah - I did contemplate the salt and pepper squid. Thanks for the tip. Will have to remember it for next time!

    Hi John - Oh really? We ate here a couple of weeks ago, but didn't realise it was under refurb. Thanks for letting me know. Will have to keep an eye out.

    Hi Karen - lol. I like my food down and dirty too. I think half the fun of Asian cuisine is that the ingredients speak for themselves. And Japanese cuisine puts food styling and appreciation on a whole other level. The higher prices often relate to the quality of the raw ingredients too.

    Hi YW - I hadn't really noticed that right :) I love coriander so I'm not complaining!

  • At 1/12/2010 4:22 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I'm nothing if not observant ;)

    But I think you have a point about the grinning fish. I don't really see the Cheshire Cat and think "yum".

    Okay, that was a ridiculous statement. I don't see *any* cat and think "yum".

  • At 1/12/2010 7:08 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi Helen, Re Karen's comments and your reply; there's been a similar 'debate' about this topic some time ago here. My acid tongue certainly invoked the wrath of some of your 'protectors'! Again, I will say that it is far too simplistic to say that Asian cuisine (and what is that exactly?) cannot be haute cuisine. If people are happy to gobble up wagyu burgers and not bat half an eyelid, but cannot bear the idea of 'styling' Asian food, then to me that reeks of, dare I say it; hypocrisy? In short, every cuisine can be 'high' or 'low', in my very humble opinion. Gobsmack'd

  • At 1/12/2010 9:49 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    Interesting range of comments! I came away from Sugarcane feeling that the flavours weren't subtle enough and there was an over reliance on chilli to mask the muddledness of it all. I've no problem with asian haute cuisine but there's a difference between overpriced and ....

  • At 1/12/2010 11:54 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - I think a grinning fish might be even creepier, but lol, I know what you mean!

    Hi Gobsmack'd - I don't have an issue with Asian "haute cuisine" but I don't know that I've yet encountered any true examples. I wouldn't consider a wagyu burgers are being "styled" but more a clever use of a premium ingredient. In my comment I do talk about higher prices reflecting the use of quality raw ingredients - something I never mind paying for. But it's certainly an interesting issue, and one that plagues the Michelin Guide too - thanks for sparking the topic again.

    Hi Jackie - Ahh who doesn't love a varied range of comments! Thanks for your feedback on your meal. I didn't mind the chilli but agree that the flavour balance didn't seem quite right for me. And lol!

  • At 1/13/2010 5:20 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hullo again Helen, My initial reaction to this post was more towards Karen's comments. However, for an example of just how 'high' Asian cuisine can get, look at Chaxiubao's blog as well as that of Chubby Hubby's. They both have superb examples of just how incredibly refined Cantonese (and other regional Chinese) food can be, and that's only for starters! And Helen, thanks again for understanding how I have got very (overly) strong opinions when it comes to food! Gobsmack'd.

  • At 1/13/2010 6:30 pm, Anonymous laire @ the raw noodle said…

    Haha! Schmoozy is certainly the way to describe the website. I would have liked more light in the restaurant. We visited Sugarcane sometime last year - I felt rather indifferent about the food. It wasn't fantastic, but it wasn't terrible either.

    Great photos! :)

  • At 1/14/2010 1:24 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Gobsmack'd - I don't think there's a question that Chinese cuisine can be refined but as you point out, the examples you nominate are not in Australia. And opinions are good :) That's how people have thought-provoking discussions.

    Hi Laire - Schmoozy was about a descriptive a word as I could come up with, but glad you agree! lol. Thanks for your input on the food too :)

  • At 4/09/2011 10:06 am, Blogger lifeis2munch said…

    I passed by Sugarcane first, 2 weeks ago, then again yesterday. I was intrigued with the rendang curry beef wagyu as I have been craving beef rendang for a couple of days. I wonder though if it's gonna be worth my $28... Not that I'm hard to please, but for Indonesian food, I am a hard judge. Oh, what to do what to do?

    Btw, how did you find this place? You seem to have an uncanny radar of the unspotted places!

  • At 4/10/2011 2:12 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi lifeis2munch - It's not cheap but this is Surry Hills! A friend of mine suggested this spot, but I'm always on the lookout for new eats!


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