Birthdays were never a huge deal to me growing up. Yeah I loved getting presents (who doesn’t) but it was never some grand celebration I counted down the days for. Things changed when I met Lex because in her family birthdays are always celebrated with great fanfare, presents intricately wrapped and themed, your favourite food cooked and overall just a super special day for the lucky birthday girl/guy. I quickly adopted this style and before long I found I was wrapping presents to perfection and cooking up a 3, 4, 5 or even 7 course extravaganza. The more we got into being foodies it seemed the more the food became the focal point, and as was evident for the our last few birthdays we began to make them epic dining out experiences. Marque and Tetsuya’s were ticked off our lists last year for Lex and myself respectively, but this year we knew the choice would be hard.
Selecting a restaurant for us has almost become an ordeal in itself because there are SO many awesome places out there that we have been to before and want to get back to, but also even more amazing places we have never been to that we must try. As you may well have guessed there is always a list, pros and cons are weighed up and finally we lock something in.
Based on the strengths of Spice Temple being in Lex and my combined Top Ten for quite some time and that nobody in our group had been before it seemed a perfect fit. Once the invites went out and our group was confirmed we knew we had to book the private dining room, something that everyone needs to experience at a restaurant one day.
To kick off the evening we organised a few pre-dinner cocktails upstairs at Rockpool Bar & Grill (another restaurant we’re yet to tick off The List). After a short wait outside for others to arrive we made our way in, sat down and were handed the small cocktail list, and the epic wine list to peruse. After a couple of drinks in which the Painkiller came out as the clear winner, and a after few more of our group arrived we made our way downstairs for the night to really begin.
Banquet Menu #2 – $95.00 per person / $50.00 for matching wines per person
- Cabbage and radish pickle
- Cucumber with smashed garlic
- Tingling prawns
- Strange flavour white cut chicken
- Stir fried spanner crab, whole garlic, chilli and coriander
- Steamed blue eye fillet with black bean and salted olives
- Hakka style braised lamb with fermented bean curd and Chinese five spice
- Kung Pao chicken – Sichuan peppercorns, heaven facing chillies and cashews
- Stir fried wild bamboo pith, snow peas and quail eggs with ginger and garlic
- Mango pudding with condensed milk chantilly
The private dining room was pretty cool (if you ignore the terrible music that seemed to be amplified in there), and can seat up to 12 persons comfortably but we felt it suited the 8 of us perfectly. The room was dominated by a huge square table with the largest Lazy Susan I have seen located right in the centre, a small waiters’ table off to the side and a beaded curtain on the entrance to give that extra bit of privacy. We had chosen the second banquet menu and were given copies of the menu for reference during the night. And as we couldn’t have matching wines due to Spice Temple’s all or none policy we were left with the reduced wine list (for private dining) giving us a ‘mere’ 100 wines to select from for the evening.
After a small wait the first group of dishes made their way to our table. Tingling prawns and the strange flavour white cut chicken arrived first and were placed upon the Lazy Susan. Before I had time to even get off a few camera shots the cucumber with smashed garlic and cabbage and radish pickle appeared and the banquet was underway.
Cabbage and radish pickle.
If it is pickled I tend to love it, on the flip side if it even looks pickled Lex hates it, oh well, you can’t please everyone. This was the first course I scooped into my bowl and while I waited for everyone to pass the rest around I got stuck right in. Punchy, crispy and overall just really good, no overpowering acidity and a nice sweet and sour finish made these quite hard to stop eating.
Cucumber with smashed garlic.
I am amazed how something as simple as bruised and battered cucumbers, smashed garlic dressed with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil and ginger can be so addictive. I just love everything about it, taste, texture and simplicity. With her love of cucumbers and the sheer awesomeness of this dish Lex wishes she could have a never ending supply.
While this dish is quite simple in looks the levels of flavour are complex yet nicely balanced. The prawns were cooked perfectly and the salad of green onion and mint was fresh and fragrant, but it is the ground and roasted Sichuan peppercorns in the dressing that makes the dish. Ever so slightly numbing it is a very subtle introduction to Sichuan spiced cuisine.
Strange flavour white cut chicken.
The first time Lex and I had this dish we were pretty impressed with how tender the chicken was and how the strange flavour (named for the unusual combination of black vinegar and sesame paste) had permeated right in and made the whole dish. This time around I felt it lacked a little punch compared to our previous encounter. It was still cooked superbly but the flavour seemed so familiar it kind of lost the impact I wished it would have had.
Stir fried spanner crab, whole garlic, chilli and coriander.
Not something I would tend to order on a normal night at Spice Temple but nevertheless I was happy so see it included with the banquet. The last of our cold dishes, the spanner crab was probably my favourite with the buttery soft crab going so well with the tasty salad. It seemed the whole garlic cloves scared a few people off but they were quite mellow and went well with the rest of the dish.
Steamed blue eye fillet with black bean and salted olives.
I never know how to feel about dishes like this; a lovely delicate piece of beautifully steamed fish paired with such massive flavours like black beans and salted olives. It is the fact that they are so opposite to each other that makes it work. Soft and succulent the fish is able to balance the salty richness of the olive and black bean combination to make a lovely dish.
Hakka style braised lamb with fermented bean curd and Chinese five spice.
For all of the previous dishes the flavour combinations were harmonious and quite mellow but this was not the case with the lamb. The dish was quite salty and had a depth of flavour that caught me by surprise. The lamb had been braised so it just melted in the mouth and the spice combination was a good match but it lacked something I can’t put my finger on.
Kung Pao chicken – Sichuan peppercorns, heaven facing chillies and cashews.
If you love spicy food then this dish is usually a winner. Packed with tonnes of dried chillies and characterised by the mouth numbing Sichuan peppercorns you can almost get lost in the heat of this dish. It may be that I have cooked and eaten this dish so many times that it has lost that wow factor (though that’s not something I find normally happens when having a great restaurant cook a common dish) but this dish sadly just didn’t do it for me.
Stir fried wild bamboo pith, snow peas and quail eggs with ginger and garlic.
With another little side salad to try I was definitely keen to see if this would be able to hold its own against the spanner crab. Quail eggs were the best part of this salad, nice and rich, and they went pretty well with the crunchy peas and soft bamboo pith but it was an easily forgotten addition to the banquet.
Mango pudding with condensed milk chantilly.
Both Lex and I never really opt for any desserts when dining at Asian restaurants but as it was on the banquet we didn’t have much choice. To our surprise the mango pudding was amazing, the condensed milk chantilly bringing a rich creamy sweetness without being overly sweet and the sesame was so crunchy and intense it was the icing on the cake.
Now a birthday party is never really complete without a cake. It would have probably been a good idea on my part to organise the cake seeing as it was Lex’s birthday and all. But that did not seem to happen. Luckily our awesome waiter was on the ball and just after dessert arrived so did a little cupcake, candle and all. A nice little touch.
Overall I felt our first visit to Spice Temple absolutely blew this visit out of the water. Maybe the banquet was the wrong choice as there were so many mild flavours. We both like big strong punchy flavours and think we missed out on the best of Spice Temple. I also thought the portion sizes were small. Yes I was mostly satisfied at the end of the meal (mostly due to filling up on rice) but I question whether everyone else would have been. I would still go back but I wouldn’t go back for the banquet, I have massive respect for Neil Perry but don’t think this is a 2 hat restaurant.
Another birthday dinner done, and it was time to move on back upstairs for one final cocktail before heading home (geez we must be getting old). But not before we ate our last little morsel before leaving, Chinese new year peanut cookies brought around at the very end of the meal.
10 Bligh Street
Sydney NSW 2000
(02) 8078 1888
Spice Temple Website