Spice Temple, Melbourne

11/13/2010 01:28:00 AM

On my trip to Sydney earlier this year, one of the culinary highlights was a visit to Neil Perry's Spice Temple.  We loved the ambience, the fantastic service, and the delicious food. I was super-excited when I heard that Neil Perry was opening a Spice Temple in Melbourne!

I was really keen to go, but was a bit nervous about going so soon after it had opened.  If you've been following my blog for longer, you may remember I had a similar experience with Neil Perry's Rockpool restaurant.  I went to Sydney's Rockpool in '05, absolutely loved it, and was so happy when they announced they were opening a Rockpool Bar and Grill in Melbourne.  Once they'd opened, I went to Rockpool Melbourne for a friend's birthday, and had an absolutely horrendous experience there.  Not just underwhelming or average, but actually bad.  Apparently they were having staffing issues when they first opened, and through subsequent visits I've seen that this poor service is, thankfully, no longer a problem.  But I'm sure you can understand my trepidation about the newly-opened Spice Temple.

But, in the knowledge that Spice Temple is not as expensive as Rockpool, and with the memory of their deeply fabulous hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork, we thought we'd give it a go.  And I'm so glad we did!

Spice Temple
Crown Complex
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank 3006
Ph: (03) 8679-1888

My dad was keen to try as well, so we joined forces and the four of us went last Sunday for dinner.  We arrived a little early, and even though our table was ready, we decided to go downstairs to the bar for a few drinks first.  (We were told we could go to our table whenever we wanted).  I really, really wanted to try some of their cocktails.  It's very dark in the restaurant, so it may be a little tricky going down the stairs, especially for anyone with mobility issues.

Bar downstairs

We were handed menus, and told about their wine list and different cocktails - Spice Temple famously does a cocktail for each animal of the Chinese Zodiac.  My own animal cocktail, the Rat, had lavender in it, and I'm not a fan, so I skipped it.  Instead, I shared a "Pig" cocktail with my dad.  This delicious combo of lychees, gin and sparkling wine (could that *be* more of a Sarah drink?) only comes by the carafe, so - damn - we just had to drink more.  They're designed for 2, but can be stretched to 4 people.

PIG - fresh lychees with gin and sparkling wine (carafe only) - $28

I can sometimes find the flavour of gin too strong, but I loved this cocktail! It was sweet and refreshing, but had a unique savoury taste to it that I couldn't quite identify.  I thought it actually might be oregano, but when I asked the waitress, she said the savoury taste came through from the sparkling wine.  Aah! And come to think of it, dried oregano bits rehydrated in alcohol would probably taste pretty rank, haha.

Sandra went for a rum-based Horse cocktail. In contrast to the Pig, it wasn't sweet, and quite a bit stronger.
HORSE - fresh pomegranate with molasses, fresh citrus and 4 year old rum - $17

I just have to say, I thought the waitress at the bar was pure awesome!  She was friendly, and totally knew her stuff - apart from answering all our questions about the cocktails, she was able to inform us about the range of drinks on offer, without making us feel like we were being upsold.

Anyhoo, we then moved back upstairs to our table, and got down to the business of ordering.  The decor is quite similar to the Sydney restaurant: extremely dark lighting (my Dad joked it felt just like Giuseppe Arnaldo & Sons!), funky lamps, and Chinese-inspired wooden decorations.  Thankfully, the "naked sexy Asian ladies" motif doesn't seem to have been brought down to Melbourne from Sydney!

The menu is quite similar to the Sydney one, with the addition of a few "24-hour notice" dishes.  I'd had a look at the menu online the week before our dinner, but none of them took my fancy, so we stuck with the standard menu.

We did two starters, two mains and a small vegetable side, which was a good amount for four people.  (Our waitress here was also very helpful in guiding us through the menu and recommending an appropriate amount of food for us).

We were seated at a small square table, so each of the dishes were brought one at a time.  Even though it was really dark, there happened to be a light right in the centre of our table, so we could see our food!  Phew.

Aromatic duck salad with tea eggs and coriander - $18
The duck salad had a very salty dressing, covering generous amounts of hardboiled eggs and tender duck meat.  My mum loves eggs so this was a good dish for us!

And for something a little different, we ordered the lamb and cumin pancakes.  These were two circles of thin dough, enclosing a spicy minced lamb mixture, and deep fried to crispy deliciousness.
Lamb and cumin pancakes - $14
It came with a little pot of chilli sauce, that looked like sambal, but was lacking in any serious heat.
Chilli sauce

The first of the mains to arrive was the Kung Pao chicken.  Oooh... pretty, right?  The big piles of dried chillis and Sichuan peppercorns look so impressive.  It was listed on the menu in red, indicating that it is a hotter dish, but we didn't find it hot at all.  Even when - gasp! - we tried to be adventurous and ate a few whole dried chillies.  There just didn't seem to be any of that typical chilli heat in them; I think they were mainly there for looks. 
Kung Pao chicken - Sichuan pepper corns, heaven facing chillies and cashews - $35
The chicken itself was delicious, but there just wasn't enough of it!  Buried in and amongst all those chillis were a very small amount of chicken and cashews. Only about a quarter of that plate was actually chicken. As we ate our way through the dish, we found ourselves searching through the chillis to make sure we didn't miss any of the good bits.  My dad described it as "too much Kung Pao, not enough chicken".

Well, if the Kung pao was quite light, the next dish was very substantial.  The hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork is my favourite dish (so far) from Spice Temple, and I'm glad that my parents liked it too! 
Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork - Chilli, sugar, black vinegar and Sichuan peppercorn - $35
Small pieces of boneless pork are deep fried and tossed in a sauce that is both sharp and sweet, and dusted in numbing Sichuan peppercorns.  Fabulous!

We also ordered a small vegetable side of stir-fried spinach.

Stir fried spinach Sichuan style - $12
This was a red dish, but again it wasn't very hot at all.  It was very plain, not something I'd order by itself, but a nice refreshing counterpoint to the heavier meat dishes.  One problem though - there was a hair in it!  (Definitely not one of ours, I checked).  And because it was so dark, I didn't realise the hair was there until - gross - it was in my mouth and I was chewing on it. Ewwww.  Having said that, when I pointed it out to our waitress, she apologised, removed the dish and replaced it with a fresh one, and even removed it from the bill!  No harm, no foul.

We were pretty full by this point, but there's always room for dessert.  We shared a peanut and salted caramel parfait.  It was a bit different from the peanut butter parfait we had at Spice Temple Sydney, and I must say, I like the new version even more!  It is a generous disc, with a crunchy sesame-flavoured base and a smooth peanut parfait filling, topped with a soft salted caramel and chopped peanuts.  A slick of milk chocolate completes the dessert.

Peanut and salted caramel parfait with milk chocolate - $18
It was incredible!  I loved the combination of flavours and textures - fabulous.  It is a very rich and decadent dessert, and can easily be shared amongst two or three.  Salted caramel peanut desserts are all the rage at the moment - I wonder if one day they'll go the way of fondue, tiramisu and chocolate mousse?

And finally, a few little complimentary almond biscuits to finish up.
Almond Biscuits

The whole meal cost $180 all up, which I thought was really well priced.  It worked out to be $45 each, or $33.75 if you don't count the cocktails!  (As I mentioned, they didn't charge us for the spinach, but if they had it would have only been an extra $3 per person).  In Melbourne, you could easily spend $45 a head on a dinner and drinks at standard restaurants, with food that's not nearly as nice as Spice Temple.

It was reasonably quiet throughout the night, and not as buzzy as the Sydney one.  However, we did go early on a Sunday evening, and I'm sure the crowds will build up over time.  I look forward to coming back again and trying some of their other dishes!

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

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  1. Salted peanut desserts still haven't hit Canberra, so I'm crossing my fingers that they DO become as ubiquitous as pannacotta and make their way here. I want salt salty sweet legume creamy crispiness in my life! :D

  2. Anonymous3:21 PM

    i'm heading there tonight!!! can't wait

  3. Anonymous6:08 PM

    omGOD, it was georgeous!!! too bad i just bankrupted myself LOL.

  4. It looks really good, but I don't know if I could bring myself to pay $35 for a main like that when there are other places that do it so well for half the price. I guess it's the experience though. That dessert looks mighty good though!

  5. I'm still bummed that I missed out on the "Pig".. damn my curiosity for the "Monkey".. that was hard to drink!!!

    Nice review :)

  6. I haven't even been to Spice Temple in Sydney SHAME ON ME! Can't wait to go though :)



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