After years of standing tall as a Surry Hills favourite, Sugarcane has uprooted and opened as a beachside retreat in Coogee. Chef Milan Strbac realised the sea change earlier this year, bringing the sunny suburb his energetic, Asian menu but kicking things up a bit, complementing Milan’s Thai-heavy style with other South East Asian cuisines, including a strong focus on more seafood – an obvious nod to Sugarcane’s new home. As for the former site in Surry Hills: it’s no longer Sugarcane as we all know and love, instead it has been used as an inventive blend of casual rotisserie-focused Juicy Lucy – which Strbac co-owns with Griff Pamment – with some elements of what made Sugarcane such a hit, operating as the second official venue for JL; it’s just as exciting and represents the third big step Milan and his team have taken this year.
For Sugarcane Coogee, Strbac has enlisted two equally capable chefs to help out in the open-kitchen. Having both Tristian Balian (ex-Mr Wong) and Yosh Fuchigami (ex-Catalina) help behind the scenes has allowed more variety to be introduced to the menu, still keeping within the framework of Strbac’s accessible but, most notably, adding some raw dishes, which will be your go-to section of the menu if you want to start things off the right way, particularly now that Sugarcane has opened for weekend lunches, and it’s located right off the south-end of the beach.
The first thing you’ll want to do when you walk through those doors into the breezy interior is admire the work of Giant Design, they have whipped up a warm and welcoming scene based on a modern Asian-style beach house. There’s a lot of pretty hanging greenery brightening up the very sleek timber finishes and smart use of bamboo, given character by some faded posters which hide behind mesh, adding colour to a gorgeous amber glow that bounces off the walls. To contrast, the outdoor deck area is unadorned but feels like the appropriate area from which to take full advantage of that striking ocean view. This is a very good looking restaurant, one which feels perfectly in sync with both the menu and location.
Dig into those raw dishes with the likes of Hiramasa Kingfish ($22), a vibrant and beautifully presented dish that comes with crunchy roasted rice, a small but noticeable smack of chilli, lime, and coriander. The natural flavour soaks up some some of that Thai zest, sprucing up the flavour but letting that beautiful, fresh kingfish to really nail that refreshing, slightly sweet flavour.
The Salmon Belly ($22) with green apple, lime, and kombu is packed full of flavour, a bit lightened by the fresh apple, but a hard-hitting package for your palate nonetheless. It’s my personal favourite of the raw dishes, and a swift first-choice on any subsequent visit.
It’s a hard choice with limited stomach space and such tempting ingredients as listed on the menu. You can try a few more raw dishes (the prawn on rice cake with caramelised cane sugar is highly recommended) or move up to share-style dishes like the incredible Fried Eggs ($12), these large eggs are crunchy underneath that thick layer of flavoursome, slightly tangy sambal balado, balanced with a sweet hit once that perfectly oozy yolk starts gushing out.
Those craving a noodle dish can go for the obvious choice with Chicken Pad Thai ($22) or Char Kway Teow ($25), the latter of which is a muscly serving brimming with lap ceung, prawns, and bean sprouts.
Whatever you order, make sure you have a serving or two of the perfect, crispy Roti ($15) which is served with Malaysian curry cause and a bit of pickled cucumber. The roti is very crispy and fluffy, amongst the best I’ve personally found in a more upscale Asian restaurant, a necessary addition to any busy table.
For mains go straight for the Wagyu Rendang ($31), it’s a big, rich serving with the soft, melt-in-your-mouth beef that goes light on the coconut cream to let that full flavoured wagyu power the dish. As far as generous, hearty meals go, it’d be hard to find anything in the area that can quite match up to this.
Also listed as one of the large dishes is a massive mound of Balinese Fried Rice ($18), but if you’re short on space I suggest moving on other to the “vegetarian” section of the menu, where you’ll find the creamy Braised Eggplant ($16) which comes simmering in a dark curry of black beans, topped with crispy shallots. The eggplants are huge and oh-so-soft, a must if you want to continue having things just melt as soon as you take a bite. Just as worthwhile is the Malaysian Curry ($18) which comes with a melody of okra, baby corn, and cherry tomatoes; it’s complex, but balanced to soak out all those flavours that work so well together.
To wrap up get a Spiced Banana Cake ($15) that’s served swimming in gooey Thai butterscotch sauce and standing next to a soft, light peanut butter ice cream. It’s a stunning dessert that balances sweet and spice as well as the warm-meets-cold temperature, the ice cream sliding after the rich banana cake with a strong, comforting flavour of peanut.
For something moving away from rich comfort dessert and aimed more at cleansing the palate, get the Strawberry Parfait ($15), it’s a simple dish focusing more on texture with puffy pistachio crumble adding a great deal of crunch while Vietnamese mint jelly cleans it all up.
Asian-styled cocktails and wine (a list that includes two rice wines from Japan) feature for drinks, and those making a longer session of it should definitely look into the likes of the surprisingly strong Lychee Martini, the Mango Highball, and the Tiger Woods, the latter of which is an interesting build of Thai milk coffee with scotch whisky, sago, and pedro ximinez sherry.
Sugarcane Coogee deserves it’s prime position by Coogee Beach, bringing a smart modern Asian restaurant to an area that’s long needed something a bit different. With Merivale’s Coogee Pavilion on the opposite end of the beach, and this sitting on the southside, those golden sands are sandwiched in between two of the best slices you’ll find in Sydney’s south-east.
Address: 56 Carr St, Coogee
Contact: (02) 8313 9790
Hours: Tues-Fri 5:30pm-late; Thurs-Sun lunch from 12pm