While visiting Sydney for the weekend, my friends made a dinner reservation at Neil Perry’s Spice Temple. The entrance was a little inconspicuous and we only found it as we noticed the street number displayed on the building. The front door was covered in an LCD sceen playing a loop of curtains unravelling. We pushed the door open and had to go down some stairs until we were deep underground. The restaurant is dark and ominous inside shrouded in red and black. I was happy to see a decent list of non-alcoholic cocktails on the drinks menu. Our waiter advised that the apple and jasmine was one of the more popular drinks and I was happy to try it out.
Some items on the food menu had been marked in red, meaning they were the more spicier dishes. As it was our first time dining at Spice Temple, our waiter took us through the menu and advised that for a group of 4 people, we should consider ordering 6 dishes – 3 entrees/starters and 3 mains. He did warn us that some mains were quite large but these weren’t easy to identify on the menu. We started off with a signature dish, the steamed eggplant with three flavours – sweet pork, coriander and garlic ($29). The eggplant was hiding underneath that pork. Our waitress then mixed everything together. J was a little worried that all of that garlic would overpower everything else. Luckily, that was not the case and we found the dish was actually really well balanced. So much great flavour from the sweet pork. Though there were only a few strips of eggplant, it was wonderfully cooked and provided anotehr textural element to the dish. Everything really worked well together.
The spice fried chicken wings with heaven facing chillies ($34) came out next. As this was on the entree menu, we were not expecting many wings and so, we were all surprised at the quantity provided. There were approximately 18 wings and drumsticks! With the amount of chilli on the plate, I was a tad worried at how spicy the wings were going to be. I had nothing to worry about as the wings weren’t that spicy and I could even eat the seeds. The wings weren’t overly crispy and I loved the seasoning – a wonderful mix of herbs and spices with a nice lemon zest to it. Juicy and very moreish. And that portion size!
The tea smoked half duck with mandarin pancakes ($49 for 10 pieces) came in large thickly cut slices. I would have preferred pinker flesh rather than the well done duck, but the fatty duck skin helped provide some moistness. The pancakes served in a separate bamboo steamer were super thin. I must admit it was a bit challenging separating each pancake from the next as they stuck together very easily. The thick slices of duck, fresh ingredients and soft pancake skin made these duck pancakes very satisfying.
Onto the mains. We decided on two mains as we wanted to try a couple of desserts afterwards. The first main was the whole steamed snapper with black bean and salted chilli ($47). In contrast to the chicken wings earlier, we were a little disappointed at how small the snapper was. It was more of a whole baby snapper. Our waiter had informed us earlier that the fish would have translucent bones in it, stating the obvious, but it was appreciated. The snapper had been covered in chillies with a gravy boat of chilli sauce drizzled over the top after I took the below shot. The beautifully steamed fish was spicy but tolerable and I was happy that the burn didn’t deepen with every bite. A nice dish but it’s such a common staple in my family household. I much prefer my dad’s steamed fish with soy and ginger that he makes at home.
The others wanted to try one of the hot dishes marked in red, so they choose the hot and numbing pork ($47). Our waiter told us the Szechuan pepper used has an anaesthetic affect, hence the numbing, while also being hot. I was happy to try a couple of pieces. The pork was coated in a crunchy batter in a sweet and sour sauce. I could taste the chilli immediately and waited for the numbness…but it never came. A couple of pieces later, the chilli burn deepened, but still no numbing. I stopped after 4 pieces of pork as I had reached my chilli limit. The others were a little disappointed that there was no numbing, but overall I thought it was crispy, with great flavours and definitely spicy hot.
I knew I wanted to try the Three Milk Cake ($16) for dessert. It was about 9.30pm and the restaurant had a new crowd of late diners, so it was hard to get someone’s attention. I finally waved down one of the staff clearing plates and asked for the dessert menu. After the others had a chance to pick and choose, we had to flag down someone else to take our order. Fortunately it didn’t take long for the desserts to arrive. We decided to share two desserts between the four of us as we were pretty full. The Three Milk Cake was my favourite by far. It looked gorgeous! The cake was a soft fluffy sponge, almost like a chiffon cake. The quenelle of white on top was a soft gooey meringue cream – almost like melted sticky marshmallow. The sauce was made of evaporated milk, condensed milk and pouring cream. It wasn’t as sweet as the meringue, but still sweet from the condensed milk, and provided some extra creaminess that the cake could soak up. It was pure perfection. An amazing dessert! I really didn’t want to share it! But I was allowed to polish off the last few bites.
The second dessert was the Valrhona white chocolate ($16). The white chocolate went well with all the citrus elements like the dehydrated orange and helped balance it out. However, I much preferred the Three Milk Cake over this one.
Service was attentive at the beginning of our meal with our drink orders taken care of, the menu explained to us, and our food coming out within a reasonable time. Towards the end of the night when we wanted to order dessert, it got a lot more difficult to get service as we no longer had anyone checking up on us and after half an hour of waiting, we finally had to wave someone over. Overall, we really enjoyed our dining experience – the food and atmosphere. Although it was more expensive than what we would usually pay for dinner, Spice Temple is a two-hatted restaurant, and we actually received larger portions than expected. We were happy with that. We were pretty full by the end and thought the waiter’s initial advice of 3 entrees and 3 mains was a bit over the top, as we were stuffed after 3 entrees and 2 mains.
After we asked for the bill, some chocolate truffles were provided to end our night.
Spice Temple can be found at 10 Bligh Street in Sydney CBD. Bookings recommended.
Value for money 7.5/10
FPJ score 23/30
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