I have been meaning to return to the Spice Temple at Crown Casino for many moons just to experience the Yum Cha menu, which is constrained to the Melbourne location for lunch (at least at the time of this writing) but also reflect on the restaurant as a whole. After visiting a favourite haunt of mine, Spice Temple in Sydney last week, I though the forthcoming second part of this post would be best to reflect on the subtle differences between the two restaurants and try to ascertain why the Sydney location has been awarded two hats by the SMH and its Melbourne sister was awarded only one coveted hat by The Age. It is important stuff in the world of this epicurean, especially since I love spice, fire and generally speaking everything that Neil Perry and the Rockpool empire are creating these days.
When I lived in Sydney, I used to visit Spice Temple all of the time and used to use it as an effective vehicle for the long and relaxed boozy lunch. This is one of the very few restaurants in Sydney that is hard to find. Much like the Gin Palace and the near hidden door that you must find on Russell Place to gain entry, Spice Temple has an unmarked door at 10 Bligh Street that leads you down a sinister staircase under the old insurance building that interestingly enough cost Neil Perry $35M to transform it into Rockpool Bar and Grill - in my opinion, the most beautiful restaurant in Sydney. This is something that both restaurants have in common with its Melbourne siblings, they are right next to one another, or in the case of Sydney, on top of one another.
Upon alighting into the depths of Spice Temple you will find a modest bar and friendly humans that will greet you and if your party has arrived, you will be shown to your table in the dining room. If you are waiting for people or even require "one for the road" later, there are full bar facilities available. This experience for me was a bit sombre as I was celebrating, or more appropriately having a farewell lunch with a mate who decided that Sydney is no longer for him and his family and is relocating his brood to Hong Kong. It seemed a fitting to return to Spice Temple as when we were last here together he quite enjoyed it and also the flavours inherent in the dishes on offer.
The holy combination of wine and water was ordered and we quickly decided to resurrect an old favourite from the menu - Kung Pao chicken with Sichuan pepper corns, heaven facing chillies and cashews ($38) which always gives me a red face. You simply would go mad if you ate all of the chillies that accompany this dish and the chicken in turn tastes like the traditional Chinese dish. Hoping to let the burn subside in my mouth was ameliorated as I found respite in the seemingly continuous flow of 2009 Domaine Bois de Boursan GSM, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (Rhone Valley, France) a slow flame flickered ultimately but for a spice lover like for me and my mate, the burn was so worth it.
Hot and numbing crispy duck ($42) followed. The "numbing" theme is available in the wagyu beef and pork dishes however if you want prawns, they will only tingle if you trust the menu. Besides the requisite spice, this dish, and the others mentioned, will actually numb your tongue and your lips as Sichuan pepper has been added. The pepper is what is responsible for the numbing sensation which is caused by its 3% hydroxy alpha sanshool that sets the foundations for the spice. It is a strange feeling and it worth trying as it does make the dining experience unique. Did I forget to mention the duck? It was cooked to perfection and you certainly are able to taste it fully and pair it with the wine before the Sichuan pepper takes over for a short amount of time.
The sommelier was finding us amusing as I requested a bottle of 2003 E. Knoll ‘Loibner Smaragd’ Riesling (Wachau, Austria) to follow and thought that we would be intrigued if not challenged by the fire within the Sichuan style Wagyu beef hotpot with wild bamboo pit and tofu ($45) as the final main course so we took him up on the challenge. Although the beef was soft and a delight when combined with the other components of the hotpot, this dish did not have the intensity of the previous two. Perhaps our senses were bastardised by the abuse of spice and the wine, but I did not consider it spicy at all. Others may disagree with me.
The dark subterranean room is illuminated by strategically placed lights so that you feel that you are in a dark place but you really are not. Matched with the service which was flexible and always attentive to our inherent needs for water and wine along with the fact that we were not in a rush made not only the 3.5 hour lunch but this farewell experience for my mate a success.
10 Bligh Street, Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8078 1888
My Rating: 16/20
Value For Money: 4/5
e-mail: epicureanofsouthbank (at) gmail (dot) com
At the time of this post, 84% of the reviewers on Urbanspoon also like Spice Temple.