Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spice Temple

Well, I figured it was about time I finished this post about the Spice Temple, but as life would have it I've been busy. You know how it is, people to see, coffee to drink, breakfasts to be had.
To me, a temple is a place for reverence. To name a restaurant the Spice Temple is to, perhaps quite deliberately, set expectations high. The space itself is indeed stunning with rose coloured glass filtering the setting sun during high summer as it looks out to the Yarra makes it quite a seductive dining room.

The space however, is incredibly dark with movable table lights which overhangs the tables allowing the light to focus in on the dishes on demand. Great design feature.

Chinese food in general does not inspire me to look beyond what is being offered. It often does not provide motivation, creativity or a feeling of well being. Perhaps it is the ongoing bastardisation of the cuisine in every way shape and form with the quality of ingredients, and produce, sometimes being masked by the strong and overpowering flavours, which I strongly note are generally steeped in calories. Harsh comments? Yes, but I call it as I see it. Perhaps its the chinese restaurants I goto, but really, it's the same dish over and over again.

I was hoping the Spice Temple would differ from your typical chinese restaurant, and in all fairness, it is. Is it traditional? I really don't know - I don't have a benchmark from which I can compare.

We were told the dishes would come out seamlessly without interlude between entree/mains. It is interesting to note that it differs marginally from other chinese restaurants where ALL the dishes come out virtually at the same time (except the entrees of course).

We started with "tingling" prawns which was a cold prawn salad with green chillis etc. The presence of szechuan peppers clearly in play. Excellent balance of flavours and something I would easily eat over and over.

Next was the steamed eggplant with 3 flavours of 3 times blanched garlic, coriander and mince meat. Man, I love eggplant and I loved this dish. Nothing more to be said.

Shanghai style Spanner Crab and Tofu. It was well balanced, with ultra soft tofu and substantial crab meat.  
Lamb dumplings - pan fried and steamed . There were mixed opinions on the dumplings given they are so classical in Chinese cuisine, that it was difficult to not compare with other types of dumplings. The skin was quite thick and the lamb meat quite pungent. Only let down is that it was quite oily - but what dumplings aren't?

Lobster with ginger and shallots. Not much to say other than not phenomenal but not bad. The hot and numbing crispy duck however - was brilliant. The skin was sharp and spicy, again with szechuan peppercorns causing the tingling sensation. In terms of "heat", it was well within my tolerance, and everyone elses' on the table. We eat a damn lot of chillis - of the birds eye variety - so this was not that hot.

Steamed flathead was not very memorable - as a couple of weeks down the track and I don't quite remember what it really tasted like - other than the fact that there were pickled vegetables in the dish. The chinese greens was dressed with a housemade oyster sauce. It definitely tasted stronger than bottled varieties - but it was not stunning.
The final savoury dish was the guangxi style roast pork. The flavours were interesting with acidic undertones from what I would assume to be a vinegar. However, to be quite critical (and it is being quite critical, as the dish was perfectly fine), you can get some damn good roast pork from a lot of BBQ houses that have duck, pork, charsiu etc hanging from the windows.

I want to start the review of desserts by saying that desserts at the Spice Temple were freaken fantastic. Perhaps it is my sugar depravation (self inflicted of course), but for "pre made" cold desserts. They were excellent. Completely different to Rockpool where it can be quite disappointing.

We had an orange cake with orange blossom fairy floss. Aromatic, and damn damn good. The ginger custard was so well balanced that even I enjoyed it. Ginger can be quite overpowering adding "heat" to a sweet dish which frankly in my opinion, ruins it. This was not the case. It was aromatic, but stridently ginger.

The granita was incredibly different. Aromatic, potentially too aromatic. But the taste and flavours grows on you.  The mango pudding, was in a word, brilliant. Nothing more should be said. If you order one thing, order the mango pudding. It was honestly, that good.

The Spice Temple, is definitely a restaurant well worth visiting. It offers something slightly different to what is currently (or to my limited knowledge) available in Melbourne. The flavours are bold with a clear vision of what it is trying to achieve. The space is fantastic, in spite of the darkness. The service was attentive, perhaps a little too attentive but honestly, I'm not that much of a bastard to bitch about someone trying to do their job well. (or did that count?).

Special mention needs to goto their cocktails menu - how could I seriously resist when you can just say I'll have a HORSE...I'll have a RABBIT. Not quite sure whether or not I should've ordered the Rabbit, is it inauspicious to order a boozy drink with the same zodiac name as the year? Just in case you don't know, we're in the Year of the Rabbit.

Spice Temple, Crown, Melbourne

Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

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