Spice Temple Sydney – 08 Feb 2016

It’s Chinese New Year. I hate Chinese food. I’m glad to be home. I needed to find a nice restaurant to book….

Spice Temple. Sure, why not. I can’t even take anything that’s even remotely spicy, but where else would I book on such an occasion?

I couldn’t help but be concerned that I wouldn’t like/couldn’t handle the food there, but it was the most fitting restaurant choice for the occasion. Plus I’d always wondered what was behind those lovely digital silk curtains every time I’d walked out of Rockpool Bar and Grill. Behind the heavy door were some stairs down and down and down… into a lovely space with the standard Rockpool Group reception, bar area, then the main dining room. It was super dark, but there was lighting at each table so you could see the food.

We opted for the Chinese New Year Banquet, categorised by each of the fortunes of the new year. The only one I didn’t manage to take good shots of were the Wealth dishes – cabbage and radish, and Sichuan style pickled cucumbers and shitake. Both pickles were slightly spicy (the cabbage and radish had an extra mound of some super hot stuff that I avoided) and so addictive! Who cares about a slight burning when things taste this good right from the start!

Prosperity – Raw tuna ‘yu sheng’ with spicy orange oil
That tuna. Such fresh slices that were absolutely delicious! I didn’t get too much of the orange flavour, and since the chilli here was in the form of oil, I felt the burn towards my throat rather than on my tongue, but considering how many spicy dishes there were, I was just eating everything while hurting and loving it!

That tuna… so good!

Happiness – Yunnan style chicken salad with salted chili and mint

My parents really loved this dish! I actually kind of wish that there was less chicken, since there were many more dishes to come. It was so good and not half as spicy as it looked. I loved the wood ear mushrooms too as they were crunchy, just the way I like it. Who would have thought that Chinese food could taste so good? Well, there was certainly more to come….

Money – Prawn wontons with aged black vinegar

Why does everything here taste so good? These skins were amazing, they had great chew, which is how I like my dumpling/wonton skins. There was a super happy prawn inside that was unmistakably Chinese style – large and crisp, unlike ordinary restaurants where you often get tiny mush. And that vinegar! What is this lovely vinegar that tastes so good???

Fortune – Pork, egg and garlic chive spring rolls

Ah, pork spring rolls. Meat spring rolls are generally terribly done, to the point where I avoid them like the plague. I only take vegetarian spring rolls because they have a higher chance of not being inedible. These have totally changed my view on meat spring rolls though! How do they make the pork so moist and tender? How does it carry such good flavour? I was totally in love with these spring rolls even though the waitress mentioned that she liked them the least. No way, not with my prior spring roll experiences!

Longevity – XO pippies with fried noodles

These pippies were amazing. Some of the largest, most plump ones I’ve ever seen. And they tasted great! That XO sauce wasn’t too spicy at all. So delicious, though I didn’t eat too many of the noodles. Carbs are the killer of an overeater like me, so I only had a bit.

Harmony – Stir fried spanner crab with mung bean noodles and garlic chives

This one was least impressive dish for me, but that didn’t make it any less tasty. There was a very generous heap of spanner crab meat, and those mung bean noodles packed so much flavour! It was that traditional salty/soy sauce style, which is just plain addictive!

The rice came out at this stage, and though I don’t eat rice, I did try some and it was quite delicious!

Peace – Red braised short rib with Sichuan black beans and shallot

Wow. If everything else on the menu was addictive, then this was addictive x 10! The aromas that came from this beef short rib were amazing! The fragrance of spices carried so well. And that beef was cooked so nicely, everything just fell straight off the bone. It also wasn’t too spicy, though there were also very few black beans. Whatever. Those fried onions were piled on, giving the dish some amazing texture and yet another burst of flavour.

Even though I was horrendously full by this stage, I kept picking at it!

Rejuvination – Stir fried baby bok choy with wild bamboo pith

Okay, this place has made me love everything that I’d traditionally hated, except for bok choy. Turns out I still don’t like bok choy. But the bamboo pith was amazing – with its porous yet crunchy texture, was totally delicious as it absorbed all the flavour! All the pith got eaten and half the bok choy got left behind. That and the pickles (and complementary rice) were the only things left after this massive banquet.

Love – Pineapple sorbet with soft liquorice and raspberry

Ah, dessert. Second stomachs for dessert only work when you don’t fill it up with non-dessert, which I almost failed to do! That’s how delicious everything was. This pineapple sorbet was so refreshing – the liquorice was needed and gave it such an uplifting flavour; it worked really well with the pineapple. I’m not sure about the texture as gum candy though, as in the cold temperatures it was a tad too chewy. But it was so good nonetheless!

What an amazing dinner. I had walked in a sceptic, and walked out a fan. Of course only Neil Perry could make such magic with his passion for Asian food. My parents said it was better than their Mr Wong experience, and I loved it a lot more than any other restaurants where there have been hints of Chinese style cooking (such as the ox tail and sea cucumber from Tetsuya’s). The spice levels were also perfect for me – a bit too much at the start but nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, I had started hoping that the rest of the dishes would be just as spicy!

The only service hiccup we had was right at the beginning, where I suspect that someone was either running late or called in sick, as the waitstaff didn’t have menus to give us right at the beginning, and there was a definite lag with the introductions/questions/drinks when we were seated, but then it picked right up and went very smoothly with some great interaction with the staff.

Anyone who knows me knows I despise Chinese food, but now I know what it tastes like for real – not random Cantonese style stuff that’s usually available, but real flavours made with the best ingredients. I loved it so much that I even asked about the bar area and whether or not it was possible to turn up without a reservation – and the answer is yes! I am totally going back….