Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spice Temple, Sydney CBD

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.


  1. Thank you for sharing this, I would love to try that place out, it looks really fascinating!

  2. Aww. Neil Perry is amazing. Thanks for sharing your experience. Its now on my hit list.

  3. @ Maria
    No problem! It was a great night out

    @ Amy
    Neil Perry is amazing - any white man who can cook Chinese food like this is awe-worthy to me :)

  4. It takes a lot of courage to immerse yourself in the cooking traditions and practices of another culture. Another one to admire is David Thompson for his Thai cooking.

  5. @ Rita
    Thanks for the heads up :) Is Darley Street Thai still open? I can't find a lot of information about it online.

  6. I too was amazed at what good value Spice Temple was. I was expecting it to be more expensive given everything! :)

  7. Wow I am surprised it only cost $69. These are great looking meals. I think he has made a dimly lit restaurant just to challenge food bloggers :)

  8. @ Lorraine
    2 mains cost more than the banquet all up! I was well chuffed :)

    @ Mark
    It was so dim, you should've seen the raw photos, the objects were hardly recognisable!

  9. Ahh now you mention In the Mood for Love I can picture it all completely :) Thw watermelon granita with ginger syrup sounds lovely and I love the tongue-numbing you get from Szechuan peppers. So addictive!

  10. LOVE your descriptions of the numbing pork, I could just feel the whole experience on my tongue while reading! Hehehe... Have you seen the YouTube video where Hitler discovers the Spice Temple is unavailable? It's hilarious!

  11. @ Helen
    Yaay someone who knows the reference! :)

    @ Jen
    Oh my lord that was high-larious! Thank you!!

  12. hehe i tried the numbing pork and oh dear my poor tongue!

  13. Great choice of dishes! I adored the eggplant done three ways, so yummy!

  14. The numbing pork sounds great - although the abundance of chilli is my only concern

  15. Love the concept of the numbing pork. Quite good value considering that you only paid what you did. I can see why there is a three week waiting list for bookings :)

  16. i've been wondering if this place is any good. i saw neil perry on poh's kitchen and he seemed to be quite a nice guy whose passionate about his asian food. $69 seems quite reasonable for this level of restaurant.

  17. @ Suze
    Hehe I had to stop for a few minutes and drinks lots o' tea!

    @ Tina
    The chili is subtle if you only have a small portion :)

    @ Simon
    Very good value and well worth waiting 3 weeks for!

    @ Simon
    I like that episode of Poh's Kitchen. He did seem really nice and passionate and it shows in the food!

  18. I was sheltering from a sudden downpour today in the doorway of Spice Temple and had plenty of time to read the menu. I saw the $69 banquet and rushed back to work (after the rain stopped) to look it up. The food looks fab!
    Thanks for writing about it - now I just have to make a booking :)