10 Bligh St, next to Rockpool Grill & Bar
Modern Chinese restaurant
Reservations taken online and on 02 8078 1888 3 weeks in advance
A 2009 addition to the Neil Perry empire, Spice Temple gives a modern twist on old world China and its cuisine. The whole experience carries an air of mystique. The entrance is neatly tucked away like a secret nightclub - only if you look closely do you realise that the electronic billboard is a hidden door that opens up to reveal a dimly lit stairwell. The spiral stairway is shabby chic, like an old warehouse, with odds and ends placed haphazardly on landings.
Yellow Gold Oolong, $5
At the bottom we are led to our table, walking past evocative portraits of Chinese women and into the main dining area enclosed in wooden vertical venetian blinds. Each table has a low-hanging pendant lamp concocting the feel of candlelight and secrecy. The decor exudes Chinese glamour circa 1960 (I feel as though I could be Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love with red lipstick and a cheongsam) and New-York-esque trendiness.
Hunan meringue: citrus vodka, limoncello, grand marnier, mango mousse and vanilla lemon foam, $17. Consume quickly before the meringue settles.
Steering away from typical "Cantonese fare", the menu is a hit for me. I am reminded of my grandparents' cooking and eating at family friends' homes but there is a pronounced difference: the flavours are sharper, more distinct, and the ingredients are incredibly fresh. We decide to go the banquet menu ($69 per person) between the three of us and see how the night unfolds.
First up was cabbage and radish pickle cucumber with smashed garlic (unfortunately, the photos are too blurry to post) - clean, crisp flavours.
Tofu and preserved egg with soy chili dressing
This was beautiful. I love, love, love slippery tofu with chili. The preserved egg was surprisingly light and had a jelly texture.
Steamed eggplant with three flavours: garlic, coriander and sweet pork
The eggplant was actually served with the garlic, coriander and sweet pork on top, separated, and the waiter folded it all together for us at the table. This really was a nice touch - we got to see what was in the dish and appreciate that each dish was served fresh.
Fried squid with whole five spice and dark chili paste
Steamed Blue Eye fillet with salted chili black bean
Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork: chili, sugar, black vinegar and Sichuan peppercorn
We were wondering why it was called 'numbing pork' and we soon found out why - it numbs your tongue! However, this dish was so much more than just spicy pork. It had an initial crunch like caramel popcorn (it was even as sweet as caramel popcorn), it melted on the tongue and the flavour of the pork came through and finally, the spicyness gradually set in.
Stir fried David Blackmore's wagyu brisket with baby eggplant and chili
Stir fried amaranth with garlic
Watermelon granita with ginger syrup
This was so lovely. The granita tasted like really fresh and sweet watermelon, then at the bottom were fresh pieces of watermelon in a sweet ginger syrup.
The portions may look small but don't be deceived like we were! The dishes were aplenty and accumulated to about two hours of non-stop eating. For $69, this was really great value. Also the service was amazing. The waitstaff were very attentive and helpful with the dishes. After dining like this, it's hard to walk back up the stairs and rejoin the real world.