I don’t want to describe Rock Sugar as a hidden gem, as with its neon bright signs and funky decor, South Yarra locals would probably be screaming “What are you talking about”. However, it’s Malvern Road location certainly makes it a lot easier for you to overlook, with the bustling Chapel Street so nearby- which is a real shame as this place is top notch.
The atmosphere is trendy bar, and when you first arrive, you’d be forgiven for thinking this place is all about cool cocktails, with a few bar snacks thrown in. We got to try some of their favourite cocktails, including “Blame it on the Aperol” a creative cocktail with a ginger twist, their trademark “Fairy Floss Martini” (both pictured) which not only looks super impressive, but dissolves into a great tasting drink too, the trendy “Salted Caramel Mocha Martini” (with marshmallows toasted in front of you) which could possibly only be more Melbourne if they served it with a side of Matcha, and the bubble tea inspired “Bluebird” which, while being the least fancy looking, definitely edged its way into being my favourite.
Now, the fact that this place was pretty fully on a Wednesday night, should have made me realise that the food was something special, but at this point I was just happily enjoying my cocktails and thinking what a great drinking spot I’d found – and then the food arrived. We began with a tuna tartare (brave choice for a cocktail bar I’m thinking), and it was sensational – loads of flavour and on a lovely little crisp bread, which just added to the texture.
Honestly, every single thing we ate was delicious, and different. The tuna was followed by the Sriracha butter corn on the cob and steamed pork buns. While both weren’t the most graceful things to eat, who cares when they taste this good!! The corn had lots of subtle flavours going on, and I particularly loved the pork and pineapple combination in the bun.
We then sampled the Saltgrass Lamb Spring Rolls and the fried chicken ribs. The spring rolls were huge, with tender lamb and a perfect crisp on the pastry, and a delicious dip – seriously good, and the chilli caramel on the chicken ribs, I could take home and drink by the bottle!
For mains we shared the Red Curry and the Pork Belly. Rock Sugar make all their curry pastes in house daily, and this really showed in the flavours than came through in the curry. As with most of their dishes it had a lovely spicy kick, but the flavour wasn’t created with chilli, it was lovingly blended through the whole curry. The duck was perfectly cooked and just fell off the bone. The pork was a generous serve and melted in your mouth. The only minor criticism is I would have liked a little more crisp on the top of the pork, but it was accompanied by a wonderful sauce – a pepper caramel, and nam prik which more than made up for it.
Rock Sugar has so much going for it: it’s bright, funky interior; the amazing cocktails and the excellently cooked food, but for me it was those sauces and little accompaniments – the clever way the chef blends in those traditional Thai spices and flavours to every dish, while still making each one unique, which really helps this place blow their competition out of the water. Do not do them the injustice of believing, as I first did, that they are just the place with the really instagrammable fairy floss cocktail, pop in and sample some of their wonderful food* I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
*Obviously, you’ll have to try a cocktail or two with your food, it would be rude not to!