Spice TempleFebruary 15, 2013
To celebrate Chinese New Year (any excuse for yum cha) my family and I went to Spice Temple for lunch. With one each in Melbourne and Sydney, Spice Temple is Neil Perry’s latest foray into asian food.
My mum tells me he used to have a place called Wokpool in Sydney, and I’m sorry but that is just one of the funniest goddamm things I’ve ever heard! Wokpool, are you kidding me? Casual research tells me it was quite a fancy place, so why the cheesy, Asian pun on his classic Rockpool?
Anyway, next to ROCKpool in Crown Casino, Spice Temple was our (rather uparket) choice for CNY. Upstairs the restaurant has lots of natural light; a recurring theme in the design are freshly cut wooden panes that hang from rotating hooks, acting as screens to separate dining areas. There are also two private dining rooms upstairs (see first photo), though I thought it a little unfortunate that they both open onto the reception area where people always walk by.
Downstairs is almost an entirely different restaurant. Almost too dark to see in front of you, the basement area is decidedly more grown-up, boasting a bar and dark leather lounges. There’s also a small dining area, where tables are unlit save for two or three spot lights by which you might be able to squint out the menu. Not great for reading or food photography but excellent for creating atmosphere.
Regarding drinks, Mum and I each drank a lovely crisp glass of Chardonnay from Ocean Eight in the Mornington Peninsula, and Dad had some sort of red. Alex enjoyed a refreshing and surprisingly spicy house-made gingerale.
As was rightly pointed out in last week’s Epicure, there’s no such thing as ‘Chinese food’ – you’re better off thinking of it as different regions. What’s really pleasing to see is a growing recognition in Melbourne for these different regions, and diversification from purely Cantonese fare.
Printed on their menu is a list of regions the dishes come from, and I thought Perry’s modern, sexed-up take on the cuisine was a welcome detour from the usual prawns with ginger and Lemon Chicken TM.
To begin, one of my favourite dishes from the meal was a small plate of ‘Tingling Prawns’, dressed in a tangy sauce with lots of spring onion and green chillies. Fresh, green, flavoursome and with a kick like a mule, these were excellent at getting the tastebuds flowing!
Dad insisted we order a plate of the spinach and sesame salad, but having written it off as a dull side, we were all surprised by how tasty this dish was. Served cold, it was a refreshing palate cleanser after all that spicy food.
To complete our trio of green starters, two steamers of crab, flathead and spinach dumplings arrived. With translucent skins and juicy filling, we jazzed these babies up with a little dollop of house-made chilli sauce.
I’d read about these braised lamb shoulder pot stickers and insisted we order a few serves. They were brilliant, loved the sweetness of the lamb and the crisp dumpling skin; noises of satisfaction all round!
Then the real chillies arrived! Spice fried chicken wings with heaven facing chillies. Again, I was skeptical; how good can some fried chicken be? Seriously, sinfully good.
Yes, the chicken was perfectly cooked, still juicy with a thin and crispy fried shell, but the best bit was that it had been infused with sichuan pepper and chillies, leaving you with the most wonderful tingling sensation on your lips, like something out of Willy Wonka’s factory. The hands-on nature of the dish makes them doubly fun to eat. Highly recommended.
Alex’s request for the meal (we run a very democratic dish-choosing system in this family, one person gets to pick a dish each, and then by way of discussion and, in my case, forceful persuasion, we decide on any extra dishes) was the tea smoked duck with mandarin pancakes and hoisin sauce.
What can I say, we’re suckers for a good Peking duck! This was a particularly good version, loved the aromatic pancakes and the woody, herbaceous scent to the duck.
Most of our dishes were picked from the ‘yum cha’ and ‘small plates’ sections of the menu. From the ‘large plates’ section we had only two, the first being a delicious dish of Cape Grim grass fed beef fillet in a light black bean sauce with peppers. Quite a delicate dish and light on spice, this dish let the sweet, tender beef be the star of the show.
As an accompaniment, a side of stir fried mushrooms. They appear as a hotpot on the menu, but the waitress suggested we have it done as a dry stir-fry. I’m a huge fan of mushrooms, and really enjoyed this dish; it had shiitake, oyster, enoki, and a few wild Chinese varieties, including cloud mushrooms! My only qualm is it was too salty and had us all reaching for our water glasses.
A quick note on the service, they were attentive and polite, but a tad short, which sometimes made me feel like we were being a burden. They also forgot our tea order, which wasn’t a catastrophe, but still poor form.
Alex and I shared a mango pudding for dessert. Mango custard, condensed milk chantilly and fresh mango was a perfect, fruity end to the meal.
To finish, pots of Jasmine tea all round!
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