Surprise! See you @ Spice Temple.

April 11, 2010 at 5:10 am 3 comments

I’m a lucky girl.  I’ve got two sisters in law and they’re both foodies.  They’re both super generous and thoughtful, and I owe them both my thanks for two tremendous dinners that Mr L and I have  enjoyed recently: at Spice Temple and Quay.  Today, I’m remembering last night’s surprise dinner @ Spice Temple. Next week, I’ll reminisce with you about Quay.

Surprise!

About a month ago Fi, my sister in law contacted Mr L, our friend Stuey and me to see if we would be interested in attending a surprise dinner she was planning for G, my brother.  G regularly surprises Fi with special treats and she wanted to do something special for him in return.

We were thrilled to be invited along.  Spice Temple is a restaurant Mr L and I had talked about wanting to visit for some time, and what better a way to do it than with great friends, with a built in surprise!  We all managed to keep it secret from G for the month – a feat of which we were somewhat proud since he’s a fairly good detective.  We agreed to meet in the bar @ Spice Temple @ 8 pm for our 8:30 booking.

Approaching the Spice Temple

The door at Spice Temple - enigmatic

Push to enter - Spice Temple

Mr L and I caught the ferry and were on Bligh Street at just before 8.  As we were walking along, Stuey arrived in a cab and we all approached the restaurant, looking around to ensure our cover wasn’t blown.

The first surprise was the front door at Spice Temple.  Mr L and I had seen it once before when we visited Rockpool Bar and Grill, one of celebrity chef, Neil Perry’s other restaurants (located above Spice Temple.)  Embedded within the door is a massive television.  Playing on the television is a vibrant animation.  Animated curtains blow in the animated wind.  The colours are rich and luxurious.  Deep, regal purples and ruby reds.  Every now and then the curtains open far enough to show you the Spice Temple sign, sitting atop an old oriental door from behind which an orange glow emanates.  Mysterious, dark and inviting.  We enter the Spice Temple.

Clever thinking, atmosphere in droves

We make our way down the spiral staircase into the dark space below.  We smell incense – enough to pique our interest, but not enough to be intrusive.  We’re not sure of the scent, but we each remark on its appeal.

Long planks of untreated timber and red felt hang from the very high ceiling like industrial vertical blinds.  We head to the counter and check in with one of the well groomed hostesses.  The one that serves us invites us to sit at the bar and order a drink, but we’re also given the option to attend our table.  We choose to sit and wait in the bar as agreed with Fi and we spend more time talking and observing than looking at the menu.  We’re anticipating Fi and G’s arrival.  We’re excited.

A vase filled with oriental flowers sits on the bar with a selection of Neil Perry's cook books

A vase filled with oriental flowers sits on the bar with a selection of Neil Perry's cook books - note that it was quite dark, but it looks bright here due to my flash

We appear very busy studying the cocktail menu when Fi and G descend the stairs.  We’re not sure what to do, so kind of sit in a huddle, pretending to be quite studious.  They approach the table and G looks stunned.  Surprise!    We spend a few minutes explaining to G that we’ve all enjoyed keeping this surprise dinner from him.  We giggle that he and Stu spent a lot of time together earlier that day, and the subject of what Stu was doing that night hadn’t come up.  We’re all pretty thrilled to be together at Spice Temple.  Fi goes on to tell us that they had tried to drop in for dinner one night, but the restaurant was fully booked.  We just squeaked in with this 8:30 pm dinner reservation, and intended to fully enjoy our evening.

Strange concoctions and aromatic fluff

We study the drinks menu for real this time.  G, Stu and I choose cocktails.  They are each based on zodiac signs of the Chinese calendar.  Spice Temple suggests that if conflicted over choice, one should pick the cocktail which matches with their zodiac sign.  I choose to ignore this advice.  There is one which catches my attention.  The Dog.  Stu picks the Rooster and G picks the Tiger.  Fi goes for a mocktail – the Spicey Ginger Beer, and Mr L is in the mood for a crisp, clean Riesling, so chooses a glass of the Rockpool Riesling by Grosset, SA.

The cocktail menu at Spice Temple - it was the aromatic fluff that hooked me on the dog!

The cocktail menu at Spice Temple - it was the aromatic fluff that hooked me on the dog!

The thing that gets me about the Dog is its description: “fresh cucumber, pisco, salted lemon juice, aromatic fluff”.

I don’t know what pisco is.  And the words “aromatic fluff” conjure a vision of persian fairy floss.  I don’t bother asking for clarification on either.  I decide to go for it.

Clockwise from top left: Riesling, Tiger, Spicey Ginger Beer, Rabbit and Dog

Clockwise from top left: Riesling, Tiger, Spicey Ginger Beer, Rabbit and Dog

Our drinks arrive.  We delight over the way they each look.  The riesling gets a humongous tick. It is indeed crisp and clean.  It fits the brief.

The Tiger is “pistachio fat-washed whiskey with orgeat, chartreuse and bitters”.  It sits in a low glass which is rimmed by white crystals.  We’re unsure what it’s rimmed with.  It’s confusing.  We decide it’s probably sugar.  G loves it.  It doesn’t last long.

Fi’s Spicey Ginger Beer is indeed spicey.  Super spicey.  I love the way it looks with its hairy tuft of mint.  It smells amazing.  Fi can’t drink all of it though – she saves herself for dinner.

Spicey Ginger Beer

Spicey Ginger Beer with minty hair

Stu’s Rabbit has a beautiful aroma.  It smells of passionfruit and limoncello.  It’s sweet and delicious.  I could drink more of those.

My Dog is like a shot of tequila.  It’s extremely salty and pretty sour.  The fluff floats around on top like a burnt orange coloured whitewash.  I conclude my Dog is like a sour Warhead.  It makes my cheeks suck in and I cringe when I drink it.  Probably not the desired effect – it’s not to my taste, but I’m glad I tried it.

Clever thinking, tiny details

When our drinks are delivered, we’re also given a bar tab card.  We’re directed to hand it to our hostess when we choose to move to our table.  The drinks will be added to our bill at the end of the night.  Clever thinking.  It offers a seamless transition from bar to restaurant.

The bar card shows the face of a dark, oriental beauty.  Later, we find out that she is a “Spice Girl” – one of five girls that accompany the Spice Temple brand.  They appear on menus, are framed on walls and are used on the Spice Temple business cards.  Quirky and memorable.  The concept appeals to my inner marketer.

One of the five Spice Temple, Spice Girls

One of the five Spice Temple, Spice Girls

Transition: from bar to Temple

We’re famished.  We move through to the main event.  Our hostess seats us and a waiter arrives.  After determining it’s our first time, he explains how the menu works.  There are sixty dishes.  His favourite (we asked) are the steamed eggplant entree; the Guangxi style roast pork belly and the Hot Sweet and Sour Numbing Pork (both mains.)  There is a banquet menu which is designed to provide an introduction to some of the best loved dishes on the menu.  We are impressed to hear that the banquet can be chosen by any table, regardless of the number of diners.  That’s thoughtful.

We are left to decide, and agree we’ll have the banquet.  We know it might be indulgent, but choose to add the recommended pork belly, as well as Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings.

The menu - another Spice Girl adorns the cover

The menu - another Spice Girl adorns the cover

The waiter takes our order.  We also decide upon a bottle of the riesling that Mr L’s been drinking – we all enjoyed an earlier sip from his glass and agree it would complement the banquet well.

Dark, atmospheric, ambient

We’re seated down the end of the restaurant closest to the loos in a booth.  We remark that we like our location.  It feels private, but I sense that most of the tables would feel the same.  Each table has its own overhead light.  Between tables there is no light.  Despite the noise from the music overhead and the chatter of other diners, it feels like a private dining experience.

Where there is no overhead light, the restaurant is very dim.  In the centre of the room we’re in there is a table on which red chinese lanterns sit around a large vase filled with green tree leaves.

Centrepiece in the middle of the very dark room

Centrepiece in the middle of the very dark room

An enthusiastic recommendation: the toilets

G returns from a visit to the loo strongly recommending that we each visit as soon as necessary!  The toilets are comprised of separate rooms.  Two rooms for men and two rooms for ladies.  Each loo is different.  Oriental wallpaper features on the wall that sits opposite to the toilet.  Fi and I agree the paper plays tricks on our eyes.  It’s like the oriental version of Florence Broadhurst wallpaper.  It also reminds me a bit of a scene from The Shining, but I’m not scared.

Back at the table, we discuss that we like the way they have thought of little details.  The music is piped into the loo.  There is incense burning.  There are good quality paper towelettes.  There is space to move around.  I spend a lot of time in there taking photos!

Mustard coloured, oriental wallpaper - plays tricks on one's eyes

Mustard coloured, oriental wallpaper - plays tricks on one's eyes

The banquet

Ready and waiting.  My bowl, chopsticks and Riedel water glass

Ready and waiting. My bowl, chopsticks and Riedel water glass

The banquet starts to arrive.  The menu comprises:

Cabbage and radish pickle
Cucumber with smashed garlic

Steamed eggplant with three flavours
Garlic, coriander and sweet pork
Steamed shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion oil

Fried squid with whole five spice and dark chilli paste
Steamed Blue Eye fillet with salted chilli black bean
Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork
Chilli, sugar, black vinegar, and Sichuan peppercorn
Stir fried David Blackmore’s wagyu brisket with baby eggplant and chilli

Broccolini with house made oyster sauce

Watermelon granita with ginger syrup

The dumplings we ordered will come with the first course.  The pork belly will come with the mains.

First up, we receive a bowl of cabbage and radish pickle, as well as a bowl of cucumber with smashed garlic.  They’re on the table for micro-seconds before we dive in.  These are accompaniments which can be used to cool, or flavour each dish throughout the banquet.

Cabbage and radish pickle

Cabbage and radish pickle

Stu remarks that the cabbage and radish pickle is a bit like kimchi, of which he is a big fan.  I agree.  We wonder if there is ginger in the mix.  It’s delicious.

The cucumber is cooling and we will need that shortly when the hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork arrives.  (Perhaps I’m a slow starter, but it’s only been while writing this post that I’ve considered the accuracy of the phrase “cool as a cucumber”!)

Cool as - cucumber with smashed garlic

Cool as - cucumber with smashed garlic

The Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings arrive next along with the steamed shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion oil dish.

Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings with chilli dipping sauce

Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings with chilli dipping sauce

The dumplings are interesting.  First steamed, then lightly pan fried, and tasty on the inside.  They are big enough for about two bites – which is lucky because there are eight of them and five of us, so we negotiate on the remaining three.

I love the steamed shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion oil.  It is cold – like a salad – and the spring onion makes it refreshing.  It’s a welcome contrast to the heat from the chilli dipping sauce that accompanies the dumplings.

Steamed shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion oil (foreground)

Steamed shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion oil (foreground)

The next dish to appear is the entree favoured by our waiter: steamed eggplant with three flavours – garlic, coriander and sweet pork.  It arrives in a large bowl, with the ingredients separated into three hefty rows – one of garlic; one of coriander and one of sweet pork.  It is then mixed together to form an amazing combination of flavours and textures.

Steamed eggplant with three flavours - Garlic, coriander and sweet pork

Steamed eggplant with three flavours - Garlic, coriander and sweet pork

We have a short break between entrees and mains and another bottle of riesling is delivered at some point.  There’s a lot of conversation about how interesting the food was.  The dishes challenge traditional conceptions about Australianised Chinese food.  While some of the menu items have similar ingredients to old favourites, their arrangements differ markedly.  None of the usual grease or chunky batter conjured by thinking of local Chinese / Cantonese restaurants features and the dishes are consistently excellent.  I suspect Spice Temple might even appeal to Nanna G, who has an aversion to Chinese food due owing to its generally fatty makeup.

After our short pause, the mains arrive.

First up, fried squid with whole five spice and dark chilli paste.  The squid, tender and juicy was coated in whole roasted spice seeds – fennel and others.  We’re advised to give the squid a good squeeze of lime, which helps to cut through the spice. Fi and I don’t enjoy the whole spices so much and find that removing some of the coating makes it more enjoyable.  The boys all enjoy it as is.

Fried squid with whole five spice and dark chilli paste

Fried squid with whole five spice and dark chilli paste

Next, the Guangxi style roast pork belly with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds arrives.  It. Is. Amazing.  Often in restaurants, pork belly is tasty, but the crackling disappoints.  To combat this phenomenon, I expect what Spice Temple does is roast big sheets of crackling to perfection during prep.   Then when it’s time to serve the pork belly, they cut freshly roasted belly into cubes.  The crackling sitting atop the belly is not that crisp, but to compensate, little squares of perfect crackling are cut up and added to the dish along with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds.

The onion and coriander cut through the richness of the belly, and the roasted peanuts add crunch and an extra dimension of flavour.  Sadly, the dish ends too soon, and I’m so eager to get into it that I don’t get a very good picture of it – my blurry effort is below.

Guangxi style roast pork belly with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds

Guangxi style roast pork belly with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds

The steamed Blue Eye fillet with salted chilli black bean arrives next containing a very fresh, tasty version of the beans you’d find in Beef and Black Bean at a local Chinese restaurant.  The fish is juicy and sits below a colourful green and red garnish.  It comes with a light sauce which soaks into the fluffy white rice in our bowls.

Steamed Blue Eye fillet with salted chilli black bean

Steamed Blue Eye fillet with salted chilli black bean

During our dining efforts, we’ve made our way through a lot of the pickle and cucumber, in future, I’d consider saving a greater arsenal of these side dishes for the approaching fire that is the hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork with chilli, sugar, black vinegar, and Sichuan peppercorn.  At Spice Temple, dishes that are really hot are printed in red text on the menu.  The “numbing” pork is printed in red!

Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork Chilli, sugar, black vinegar, and Sichuan peppercorn

Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork Chilli, sugar, black vinegar, and Sichuan peppercorn

We comment on the fact that the pork looks like a well presented, upmarket version of popcorn chicken.  This pork is  not covered in the Colonel’s secret 11 herbs and spices.  It is lightly battered, fried and doused with a fiery sauce so hot that I drank my water in one gulp and went in search of the cooling cucumber.  We were drinking a Two Paddocks Pinot Noir by this stage which is probably fortunate for if my glass was filled with the riesling, I’d be feeling pretty bad today as I no doubt would have looked to it for salvation from the inferno in my mouth!

Don’t be mislead by my many references to the heat – we all love the pork.  It is hot, but it is also flavoursome.  I’ll be visiting fiery pork-town again!

Surprise!  G enjoying his surprise Spice Temple experience

Surprise! G enjoying his surprise Spice Temple experience

The final two dishes on the menu for the second course are broccolini with house made oyster sauce, and Stir fried David Blackmore’s wagyu brisket with baby eggplant and chilli.  The broccolini is bright green, al dente and the wagyu brisket offers a terrific surprise.  One could have mistaken the eggplant for a number of other potential ingredients.  The wagyu isn’t a huge component of the dish, but every time we find a piece, it contributes a pleasant burst of flavour and another texture to the dish.  I think this might have been one of G’s favourite samplers.

Stir fried David Blackmore’s wagyu brisket with baby eggplant and chilli

Stir fried David Blackmore’s wagyu brisket with baby eggplant and chilli

At this point, we’re through the mains and all that is left (we think) is the watermelon granita.  Since we started at 8 and have been eating for some time, it’s now late and Fi and G are keen to relieve Nanna G from babysitting duty.  We request the bill and along with it arrives a plate of mouth watering shortbread biscuit thins.

Buttery shortbread

Buttery shortbread

In a groovy glass bowl, the watermelon granita arrives.  I like the way it’s also delivered as a share plate and indeed, the whole evening has been about sharing – great company, lots of fun, an out of the blue surprise dinner, and infinitely commendable food and wine.  Thanks to Fi for inviting us and to G for being surprised!

I know this has been a very long post (thanks for sticking with it!), but to do it justice, I must tell you that the watermelon granita was like no other granita I’ve had.  Mr L remarks that it is just like watermelon has been crushed up and frozen.  And I agree – it is like that, but then it is also like a regular, icy granita in some places.  It retains the full sweet watermelon flavour one would expect from a cool slice on a hot day.  And it’s light enough at the end of our epic banquet to slip into the few remaining cracks and conclude our meal.

Watermelon granita - like no other granita I've had

Watermelon granita - like no other granita I've had

About Spice Temple

Located at 10 Bligh Street, Sydney Spice Temple is Neil Perry’s modern Chinese restaurant that focuses on regional Chinese cooking and avoids Cantonese fare.  It is regularly fully booked, so do contact the restaurant in advance of your preferred date.

I’ve been impressed to find their blog today on which a couple of recipes reside – including the one for steamed shredded chicken with ginger and spring onion oil.

The low down

Spice Temple is open Monday – Friday for lunch from noon to 3 pm
And for dinner Monday – Saturday from 6 pm

Reservations: + 61 2 8078 1888
Web: www.spicetemple.com.au

Recommend a restaurant!

Had an amazing meal experience that you want to recommend?  I’d love to hear about  it.  Add your comments into the form below – hopefully I can visit too!

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Entry filed under: Chinese, Dinner, Expenso, sydney.

A Father’s day special: brunch at Garfish with my Dad. Plus a big happy Father’s Day to all my favourite fathers! Wildes Restaurant + 212 Margaret St, Brisbane

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Megsy  |  April 11, 2010 at 8:50 am

    I heard ARIA’s pretty good!!!

    He he!!

    As always love your blog my favourite fruits lady!!!

    Reply
    • 2. myfavouritefruits  |  April 11, 2010 at 9:00 am

      Thanks Megsy of other sister in law stardom. I concur, ARIA is pretty gosh darn awesome! Stay tuned for next week’s epic on Quay. It rocked! 🙂

      Reply
  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fruit Loop. Fruit Loop said: New post has finally arrived! Last night's amazing banquet @ Spice Temple, Sydney: http://wp.me/pss0I-44 – surprise dinner for my bro […]

    Reply

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