205 Russell St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Does anyone remember the restaurant called Sugarbun? It holds a special place inside my heart, not for gastronomical reasons, but because Chris had taken to calling me his sugarbun ever since we first walked past it. Anyway, I was a little upset when it closed unexpectedly last year before I even had a chance to try it out, and reappeared a few weeks later as Aunty Franklee.
But franklee, I needn’t have worried. Because although the cute name has gone, the restaurant itself has also undergone a complete overhaul, and their pared back menu of Malaysia home-styled cooking soon garnered the attention of foodies and expats alike.
I thought it was hilarious that the drinks menu was longer than the food menu – there are only 7 dishes on offer, but there was a respectable selection of Asian beverages. You’ll find everything from the soothing pear and white fungus drink (slowly stewed with goji berries and dates – it’s much better than it sounds!), to my favourite Coconut Juice ($4.1), served icy cold with tender slivers of young coconut.
Bak Kut Teh ($18.9), literally translated as meat tea, is a herbal meat stew that tastes like a trip straight down memory lane for many people. For me, I grew up eating stews of pork spare ribs with winter melon, so this didn’t quite evoke the same sense of childhood for me, but the comfort factor of this dish can’t be denied.
Slowly simmered with 23 herbs, this aromatic soup with its medicinal twang is full of healing properties. Braised in the soup is a mixture of nourishing goodies – pork spare ribs, meatballs, tofu, shiitake mushrooms – just to name a few. Served with an equally wholesome bowl of steamed wholegrain rice, the best way to eat this is to pour the soup over the rice, and slurp it all up with a spoon.
One more tip: supplement your BKT with one of their house-made Tea Eggs ($2.5ea). The lightly salted egg, with its creamy yolk, is an excellent addition to any meal.
Chicken isn’t something I usually order (unless it’s deep fried), but the photos of the Turmeric Chicken ($13.5) looked way better than it had any right to be. The bird has been stewed in a brine of herbs and spices, before being finished off on a charcoal grill. The result is a smoky piece of chicken, its crisp, golden skin hiding a moist and succulent centre. We were instructed to mix up the accompanying sides, so each mouthful was a combination of fluffy rice and crunchy veggies, bound together with a creamy peanut sauce. And for those of you who like it spicy, there’s a dollop of fiery house-made chilli paste hidden behind the rice.
If you look on Zomato, you’ll see that Aunty Franklee has a phenomenal rating of 4.1/5. And although I’ve had far better food at similarly rated restaurants, I can definitely understand the appeal here. The meals here taste like they’re made by that one relative whom everyone knows makes the best damned food in the whole extended family. It’s not only comforting, but it also has a degree of refinement that you rarely find with home-styled cooking. And I’ll be honest here – I almost went back again later that week for their famous char kuey teow and dry bak kut teh, except my common sense won out (but only just).
Rating: 14/20 – franklee my dear, i don’t give a damn.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.