Sydney 2010: Spice Temple

3/07/2010 01:28:00 AM

LED-door leading downstairs to Spice Temple.

A few short hours after late-lunch at Chat Thai, we made our way to Bligh St, where we had a booking at Spice Temple.

Spice Temple
10 Bligh St
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8078 1888

Whenever we go on holiday with the lovely An, we make sure to have at least one fine-dining experience. E.g. Rockpool in Sydney in 2005, Canberra's Artespresso last year. For this trip, we decided on Spice Temple - I wanted something a bit different from the usual modern Australian/European restaurants that we tend to visit.

However, I have to admit I wasn't sure about Spice Temple when I first heard about it. Despite Neil Perry's culinary awesomeness, the reviews that I did read were focused overwhelmingly on the decor, and not on the food. And when I say "decor", I mean the photos of the sultry, almost-naked Asian ladies that adorn the business card and a couple of the walls. From the way the reviews described it, it seemed sleazy.

It also reminded me of the 1969 Rogers and Hammerstein musical The Flower Drum Song. The film was groundbreaking in that it had a completely Asian cast, but it still had some unpleasant Orientalist overtones. Take, for instance, the lyrics to the song Grant Avenue, which describes the vibrant street in San Francisco's Chinatown.

You can eat, if you are in the mood,
Shark-fin soup, bean cake fish.
The girl who serves you all your food
Is another tasty dish!

Just excuse me while I barf.

Anyway, despite the reviews, the decor wasn't nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. Sexy Asian lady pictures were limited to 2 walls, and were quite innocuous.

The feel of the restaurant was more like one of those funky Chinese-style bars in Melbourne, like Golden Monkey or Manchuria. (Shout out to Adam at the Golden Monkey!)

And despite the restaurant being quite dark, the red floors and wooden seats kept it looking and feeling warm.

Water is charged at $7.50 per person - either still or sparkling mineral water, and they just keep topping it up all night long. I thought this was a great idea, especially because I drink a lot of water, and we were expecting spicy food!

We started off with some cocktails. They have a different cocktail for each animal of the zodiac, as well as some specials. The Rat (that's me!) cocktail didn't seem too appealing, and all the champagne-based cocktails only came by the jug. I chose the Rooster cocktail, which had bitter orange, aperol, limoncello and passionfruit. It tasted just as good as it sounded!

Front: Dragon cocktail - lemongrass & rose petal soda and tanqueray and fresh citrus - $16
Back: Cock cocktail - bitter orange with aperol, limoncello and passionfruit - $16

Our waiter was fantastic - best service we've had in a long time. He knew about the dishes on the menu in detail, was able to recommend an appropriate number of dishes for our table and was generally friendly and very professional - plates were cleared promptly and we never had to ask for our water glasses to be re-filled.

Not feeling super-hungry, we ordered 1 entrée and 3 mains to share. We had to wait quite a while for the food to come out, but this wasn't a problem. Well, we were on holiday and we were enjoying the evening a lot.

The first dish brought out was a cold shredded lamb salad - which we hadn't ordered! Our waiter had asked the kitchen to give us a complimentary one because we'd had to wait so long for our food.

Shredded lamb shoulder with salted chilli - $16

We were instructed to stir the salad well to disperse the salted chilli through the meat. The lamb was very tender, and I loved the salty, hot and tangy dressing.

The entrée that we actually did order was the lamb and fennel dumplings. They were tasty little pockets, not greasy at all, with a crispy bottom. The meat inside tasted very different from my usual pan-fried pork dumplings; these ones were more like dense, firm little lamb sausages.

Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings - 8 for $18

We ordered one mild vegetarian dish: stir-fried abalone mushrooms with garlic stem and chives.

Stir fried king abalone mushroom with garlic stem and chives - $19

Looking at the dish, I thought it looked like sliced chicken breast. It was in fact, sliced abalone mushroom. I'd never had it before, but they must be huge mushrooms! They were quite mild, without a particularly strong mushroom flavour, and were firm and slightly chewy.

We also ordered a pork dish, which included deep-fried kurobuta with numbing Sichuan pepper.

Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork (Chilli, sugar, black vinegar and Sichuan peppercorn) - $28

This one was crunchy and juicy, with a delicately spicy heat. An absolute winner, and my favourite dish of the night! It was one of the red items on the menu, indicating that it was one of the hotter dishes, but I didn't find it that hot. (In fairness, our waiter did tell us that the heat varies, even amongst the red dishes).

Now, even though the pork was my favourite, An and Sandra thought the next dish was the best of the night. The 3-shot chicken was a very theatrical and dramatic dish. Firstly, half the table was cleared and a gas burner was placed down. Then, a claypot was placed down, and as it heated up, our waiter poured in 3 shots...

...there was light soy sauce, Tsingtao beer, and chilli oil.

Our waiter stirred the shots through, and let it bubble up. Then the claypot was placed down on the table (still bubbling like crazy, and soo close to my arm - eek!), and the gas burner was taken away. Ta-dah!

Three shot chicken (beer, chilli and soy) - $32

We loved this, not just for the theatricality, but for its taste. There were chunks of tender chicken, mellow (pre-boiled) garlic cloves, carrot slices and super-cute mini shiitake mushrooms. The 3 shots added different layers of flavour - heat from the chilli, saltiness from the soy, and a slightly bitter and malty tang from the beer. Amazing!

Overall, it was a bit too much food for us (especially considering the large 4pm lunch we'd had). I'd love to go back with a bigger appetite!

But there's always room for dessert...

And with dessert you need tea or coffee...
Guanyin Tea - $5.50

Spice Temple has quite an extensive tea menu. I chose Guanyin tea (goddess of Mercy - woohoo!), more for its name than anything else. I find tea is always great after a heavy meal to aid digestion.

An had a latte. Check out the funky cup! They had brown sugar cubes as well, a nice touch.
Latte - $4

We shared one dessert between us, a peanut butter parfait.

Peanut Butter Parfait - $17

There was a cripy meringue-type base, the creamy peanut butter parfait in the middle, and a salty, fudgy salty caramel on top. A small splodge of chocolate sauce and some crunchy sesame-and-sugar encrusted peanuts finished it off. Wow.

A few little crispy almond cookies came out with the coffee and tea. They had a lightly salty taste and a savoury spicy taste that I couldn't quite identify.

The whole meal was a lot cheaper than I expected - $187 all up for the 3 of us, including cocktails, an entree, 3 mains, and a dessert. I loved the food, the ambience and the fantastic service. I'll definitely be visiting again next time I'm in Sydney!

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

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  1. Spice Temple has got to be one of my favourite restaurants. And I was sick that night!! So damn delicious!

  2. This one looked the best "Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork". :) The photo makes me drool.

  3. I don't understand! When I left Aus for my travels in December, I had never, ever seen a peanut butter dessert on a restaurant menu. And now they're popping up everywhere (in the blog world) with their utter deliciousness, and I'm halfway across the world. Oh, the tragedy! :P

    (Not that this Canberran would be likely to get to a fine-dining Sydney restaurant anytime soon anyway, but a girl can dream...)

  4. thanks for the review! i was looking for a place to celebrate the boy's b'day and i think this might just be it :)

  5. I am really enjoying your blog! I went to Muttis last night which we all loved.

    My parents and I are going to Sydney in April and I am tempted to book us in here at Spice Temple. Can you tell me about what the noise levels were like? My Dad has bad hearing and I want to take him somewhere I don't have to worry about him complaining about the noise.

    Many thanks xxx

  6. Sandra - We will have to go back when you are feeling better!

    SK - Yeah, it was amaaazing!

    Hannah - There are quite a few good restaurants and cafes in Canberra! (Mmm... Silo!!)

    Panda - Let me know how you go!

    Reizendinsect - I have to say, it was a little noisy. Not crazy loud: it does have carpet and not-too-high ceilings. However, on a Saturday night it was very busy and a little loud, so I think if your Dad has bad hearing he may struggle to hear you if it is a busy night.

    xox Sarah



My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.