|The alluring 'curtain' that invites you into Spice Temple|
(in the cavern beneath
Rockpool Bar & Grill)
Mon - Fri 12pm - 3pm
Mon - Sat
Regular readers of the Buggles and Squeak reviews will notice a relative lack of Asian restaurants in our repertoire. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) It is generally not one of Squeak's favoured cuisines; and 2) Neither of us can use chopsticks!!! This is true, and we are completely aware of how odd this is when we always have to shame-facedly request cutlery. There are some places however where we just have to suck it up, potential embarrassment and all, and Spice Temple is one such place.
Each year Squeak and I treat outselves to a pre-Christmas lunch; a time to just relax before the madness of Christmas kicks in. Last year was Rockpool Bar & Grill, and this year we decided to again visit Neil Perry's Spice Temple, as we were craving a couple of the dishes we had on our last visit nearly a year ago.
One of the things you notice about Spice Temple, after the spectacular entrance door) is its space. It is a subterranean, moody and atmospheric space. The decor is simple, and elegant. We are shown to a table that thankfully had a low, overhanging light as the photos could have been a nightmare considering the room is quite dim. Squeak orders a 'Rabbit' (granny smith apple & jasmine soda with aromatic rose gin) from the interesting cocktail menu which is largely named after the 12 zodiac signs of the Chinese Calender. I chose to stick to the sparkling water which is charged on a per person basis at a flat rate - something I prefer.
To start we ordered Spice fried chicken wings with heaven facing chillies, the Hot and Numbing dry wagyu beef and the Fried salt and pepper silken tofu with a spicy coriander salad. The first two dishes were decided upon well before we entered the room - in fact they were sealed nearly a year ago when we ate them for the first time, however we decided to try the tofu also, as we have fond, lingering memories of the delicious salt and pepper silken tofu we tried at an older Neil Perry establishment many years ago - XO.
The Spice fried chicken wings with heaven facing chillies are singularly the best fried chicken wings you will EVER taste in your entire life. They are some of the best food we have ever tasted in our entire lives, full stop. They are spicy, but not overwhelmingly so, the chicken is incredibly moist and the flavours of those spices are spectacular. You are encouraged to eat them with your fingers - which is just as well, as I was not planning to leave any residue on those babies. Warm, moist towels are also brought to the table to wipe any spicy stickiness from your fingers. Squeak was disappointed that we had ordered the half serve of these as she thinks she could have tackled the full serve - no problems.
The fried salt and pepper silken tofu with a spicy coriander salad arrived next and it looked delicious. We were advised to just sample the coriander salad (which looked a little more like a chilli sauce) with the tofu to begin, just to gauge how much heat we could take. The salt and pepper fried coating was thin and crisp and was the perfect foil to the luscious silken tofu within. The spicy coriander salad provided a warm heat and sweetness to the dish also. I enjoyed it very much.
Next came the Hot and numbing dried wagyu beef. This is not a large dish, but is sized perfectly due to its intensity (although I suspect Squeak could have eaten the whole bowl herself). The beef has a jerky like bent - although it is not as dry as that. Don't be put off by the title of the dish, as it is hot - but not in that burn your throat, mouth, tongue kind of way. It is a steady and consistent heat that, over time - if you eat enough of it, probably would become too much. In smallish doses though it is truly delicious.
Our main meal of Stir fried grass fed beef fillet with wok blistered peppers and blackbean soon made its way to our table. Now... do not be fooled by the black bean element here. This is no ordinary beef in black bean sauce - this beef was so tender, so delicious in its own right and so perfectly cooked. The wok blistered peppers were sweet and the black beans themselves were crunchy and very tasty. The sauce that coated it all was beautiful. My salivary glands are working overtime now - just thinking about it.
We accompanied this with some steamed rice and chinese broccoli with housemade oyster sauce which provided some nice crunch and added freshness to the meal.
Squeak enjoyed her Peanut and caremelised chocolate parfait so much last time, that there was no way she could be tempted by the two granitas on offer, and I chose the Mango pudding with condensed milk chantilly. The parfait was presented differently to the last time she ordered it, and we think to its detriment. Last time it looked much prettier whereas this time it looked like it had just been unwrapped from the freezer and plonked on a plate. Having said that, it is a very generous portion and the taste is something special. Squeak does believe that she invented the chocolate and peanut flavour combination and has, for many years, enjoyed any of their pairings. This parfait was cold, chewy, chocolatey, salty and sweet all at the same time. It is really good.
My Mango Pudding was not a dynamo to look at, but the pure mango flavour of the creamy pudding that lay beneath the rich condensed milk chantilly was really delicious. The sesame snap that protruded from the pudding was a welcome change in texture. It was a nice dessert, but not one I would necessarily order again.
The service at Spice Temple was mixed. It was, at all times, very professional and efficient. However we found that our main wait person was a touch abrupt and had an element of that city attitude that can be off putting to many diners. One of the wait staff who presented many of our dishes to us, however, was the perfect combination. He was knowledgeable and professional, but he was also very warm and friendly.
Spice Temple classifies itself as Modern Chinese cuisine, and it is not the kind of Chinese food you will find up at your local. It has familiar, and not so familiar, flavour combinations, it is fresh, the produce is impeccable and the cooking of it all is spot on. If only we could get this for takeaway every Saturday night, Buggles and Squeak would be very happy campers - and might even fast track our chopstick education!