Spice Temple

March 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm (Chinese, Southbank, Victoria)

With the easy availability of cheap Chinese food nowadays, you’d expect the food to exceptional if you’re forking out fine-dining prices.  That, or the service needs to be on par with Flower Drum, so expectations for dinner at Spice Temple were high.

The extensive menu samples the cuisine of 6 regions of China- Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Xinjiang- with the hottest dishes marked in red.  Noting Neil Perry’s love for chilli of any sort and in any form, we expected this to be the real deal.  The decision to select a few of the non-spicy dishes definitely turned out to be a good one by the end of the meal.

We were quite keen to try the tea-smoked duck pancakes but unfortunately, this now requires you to call in the day before to place an order, so we went for the next best thing, which was the tea-smoked duck breast with pickled cabbage and Chinese mustard.  The thinly sliced duck breast was very tender.  Including the cabbage and mustard meant that the flavor of the tea-smoke wasn’t particularly distinctive but the fattiness of the meat really needed that flavor contrast.

Next up was Guangxi style roast pork belly with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds.  Thinly sliced pork, crispy crackling, crunchy nuts and a sweet, tangy dressing made for a delicious, light, salad (well, it felt light anyway :P).

Third dish was three shot chicken.  The chicken was first braised with garlic, ginger, mushroom and carrot, then heated in a claypot, with shots of beer, soy sauce and chilli oil added right before serving.   It was a full-on mix of sweet, salty and spicy flavors; the best part was the plump, sauce-saturated mushroom.

And finally, bring on the spice!  Kungpao chicken with Sichuan peppercorns, heaven-facing chillies (how cool is that name) and cashews had our tongues numb after the first taste and, for one brave soul, required iced buttermilk to put out the fire after he decided to eat one of the chillies.

As always, I was gunning for dessert, despite having already consumed large quantities of food.  While the rest of the menu was quite traditional, the desserts were more of a fusion of European and Asian ideas.  Mango pudding with chantilly cream was very tempting but it made more sense to try something I wouldn’t make at home.  Quite a few recipes incorporating savoury sauces (soy sauce, fish sauce and the like) into desserts have been floating around recently, so I went for the ginger, chocolate and soy cheesecake.  The ginger and soy flavours weren’t particularly distinctive but it was a nice, light dessert to finish off with.

My fellow diners made the more sensible decision to finish their meals with some tea (very good for helping to digest fats and oils according to Chinese teachings).  Spice Temple’s tea menu is comprehensive and you can pay up to $9 a serve for Dragon Well Lungchin tea.

The cocktail menu is also worth mentioning, with one drink for each of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac (see my earlier post on the Spice Temple Bar).

All in all, good food and good company made for an enjoyable experience at Spice Temple.  The food is pricey but you are paying for good produce in addition to good traditional flavors.  Both spice-lovers and spice-avoiders are also well catered for by the wide range of dishes.  The staff are attentive and more than happy to help guide you through the menu.  And despite being slightly theatrical (and a bit annoying for owners of point-and-shoot cameras), the dark, moody atmosphere and oriental décor is pretty nifty on a night out with friends.  With a recently added yumcha menu, I’m definitely eager for a lunch visit to experience their foray into Cantonese cuisine.
 
Spice Temple on Urbanspoon
 

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