Of all the places I wanted to go in Sydney, Spice Temple was my MUST. I was really scared we wouldn't get a reservation in but luckily, they had a table available for lunch. I read about Rockpool a long while ago so when I found out that Neil Perry was behind both, it made me really curious to try Spice Temple (especially after all the good reviews online).
The entrance for Spice Temple is subtle but very unusual. There's an electronic screen on the door with an animation of curtains billowing in the wind. We gawked at this for a while before pushing open the door and heading down into the basement dining area.
The restaurant itself is quite expansive. The overall lighting is dark but individual tables are quite well lit. I didn't have trouble reading the menu...
Speaking of menus, they are gorgeous, hard-covered creations with Asian models on the cover. Spice Temple's cocktail menu features a drink from each Chinese horoscope. We picked three: ox, monkey and rooster.
For food, we decided against the banquet (which was my original plan) and mixed up our own feast. Entrees included 2 cool plates (onion and celery and a cucumber dish) and a warm tea-smoked duck. We chose three mains to share: three shot chicken, Hunan style crispy pork and wagyu brisket, plus a Chinese broccoli to introduce a bit of vegetable.
Our drinks came first. I thought my ox cocktail was very interesting. It's described as 'buttermilk yogurt' and it tastes like a slightly savory drinking yogurt. I imagine this isn't for everyone but I really liked it. The other two cocktails didn't get a great reception - my lunch buddies complained they were a bit too alcoholic. I tried them myself and thought they were fine...
The cold plates came next. Both the onion and celery and the cucumber were very garlicky. I don't like celery myself but the onion and cucumber were nice to munch on. To me, this is typical Chinese 'beer food' that you pick at slowly with a beer in hand on a hot Summer day.
The tea-smoked duck was much like the one we had at Azabu and also delicious. The mustard dressing nicely complimented the duck meat. This dish was gone all too quickly.
Our mains took a while to arrive. The wagyu beef brisket came in an over-sized bowl which really highlighted how small the serving was. It was a tasty dish but we feel that wagyu cooked in any way besides thick-slab-on-hotplate doesn't really take advantage of the meat.
Three shot chicken is cooked at your table. A gas stove is lit with a clay pot on top and the waiter pours in a shot each of beer, chili oil and soy sauce before stirring it all together with the chicken. I'm not sure if this is influenced by 'three cup chicken' that I find in Taiwanese restaurants (I think that one is 1 cup sesame oil, 1 cup soy sauce and 1 cup rice wine). Beer added a nice flavor but overall, this dish tasted good without being outstanding.
Our favorite main dish was the Hunan-style crispy pork. If you've had Chinese BBQ pork before (the type with the crispy crackle layer), imagine cubes of that being deep-fried. Each piece was lovely and crisp. I think I've had similar dishes in Shanghai but nothing like it in Australia.
For some reason, the broccoli left a really good impression on me. I thought it was a great example of how Spice Temple could be a step above conventional Chinese restaurants. The brocoli dish was very simple but each piece of broccoli was perfectly cooked: tender and flavorsome. It was a delight to eat.
The wait between the dishes was a bit long and the serving sizes were on the small side but Spice Temple was an overall good experience. Food was consistently good and it's nice to have Asian-inspired food that extends beyond the normal. Contrary to what we expected, nothing was unbearably hot or spicy. Great service, innovative offerings and a stylish, modern interior makes Spice Temple stand out more than the actual food.