Red Spice Road (MFWF Express Lunch)

March 20, 2012

27 McKillop Street, Melbourne
Yesterday I had my final MFWF Express Lunch with my friend B at the South-East Asian eatery Red Spice Road. Having endured incessant compliments and flattery of the restaurant from another friend of mine, it was somewhat of a coincidence that B chose it as our lunch venue, and I was eager to find what all the fuss was about.Sitting at the top end of the McKillop Street, Red Spice Road impressed me as soon as I walked in the door. A very large restaurant, it’s broken up into two dining areas, both of which feature long shared tables and plenty of natural light.

A giant red lantern crowns the middle of the back area, and there are some interestingly modern paintings on the back wall.

We were directed to the end of one of the large semi-circular table arrangements at the back. It really is a very cool setup, and it’d be easy to accommodate large groups.

There’s a third area with some low seating and quite a substantial bar, if you’re in the mood for a pre-dinner G&T.

Unlike the other Express Lunch menus, you get no choice at Red Spice Road: everyone shares the banquet they’ve designed for the event. B and I settled ourselves in with a glass each of the King Valley Sav Blanc (“I really shouldn’t be drinking, I’ve got a moot tonight. I mean, I would like to, but I won’t. Although I suppose one glass of white wouldn’t hurt…?”)
First up were a pair of betel leaves piled with chicken, mint, chilli, lemongrass and coriander. More of a Thai-inspired flavour combination, and I really enjoyed my two mouthfuls: fresh and zingy! And so pretty to photograph!

The three main-sized dishes were all served at once, along with a bowl of steamed rice. I really enjoy this style of eating. Obviously, there is something to be said for individual plates and courses etc etc, but I do think the idea of having lots of yummy things in your sight all at once makes the dining experience more relaxed and convivial.

This next dish is the only one both B and I found disappointing. I most certainly could have gone without it, and would have preferred another vegetarian salad instead. It was the minced wagyu, cucumber, tomato, coriander, chilli, and roasted rice powder salad. The taste was nice, and the freshness of the cucumber/tomato/coriander was much appreciated, but there was something about the texture of the minced, cold wagyu that really turned me off (and normally I’m fine with this sort of thing). Perhaps because wagyu is quite a fatty breed of beef, having large chunks of cold fat didn’t sit very well on my tongue.

Next up was the chilli tumeric chicken, which was delicious, dipped in a light batter and fried to perfection; slightly spicy and slightly..lemony? I’m struggling to describe the taste of tumeric. It’s almost like a sour mustard, I think. Earthy but bitter.

I also really appreciated, on all dishes, the care taken to ensure some element of freshness was on the plate – here it was a lovely relish/salsa of cucumber, mint, coriander and chilli.

Finally (I’m saving the best till last), was the pork belly with apple slaw, chilli caramel and black vinegar. Fark this was an excellent dish. My tactic was this: throw back the apple slaw (or save it till last as a palate cleanser) and then indulge in the sticky, sweet, spicy, fatty pork belly. The little jug of vinegar they serve it with gives a welcome sour tang that helps cut across the fattiness of the pork. It was so good. SO GOOD. Beats Chin Chin’s version hands down.

Ok. Ok ok ok. My question is this: who is free and willing to go out to dinner so that I can eat this dish again? Honestly, it’s the question I’ve been asking all my friends in the past 24 hours. I am willing to put myself forward as a good dinner companion, but warn you that all conversation will stop when this dish arrives! If you take nothing else away from this post, please take away a desire to go to Red Spice Road and eat their pork belly. Go. Go now.

I was really quite full by this point, but dessert just looked so lovely I couldn’t help it! I’m normally not a fan of Asian desserts (pandan, red bean and matcha are all flavours that, I’m afraid, I do not appreciate). But this was divine.

It was a passionfruit cream (more of a custard, really) with peanut praline, puffed rice and coconut ice-cream. The peanut praline was hard to pick up on in terms of flavour, but the sweet combination of passionfruit and the cold, sharp coconut ice-cream was just brilliant. Thoroughly enjoyed by all.

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