The last time we dined at Spice Temple, Melbourne, we left feeling a little disappointed. Sure, the food was good, but the atmosphere was lacking compared to the Sydney version we visited twice over the past year or so.
Still, we wanted to come back, determined to get a downstairs table. After Ritsy made our booking, I called closer to the date to confirm that we would be seated downstairs. After being on hold for half an hour (I got the “You have called at a busy time. You can hold the line or leave a message and we’ll call you back tomorrow” message at 5pm on a Sunday night – go figure), I gave up and left them a message, requesting a call back with confirmation of a downstairs table. They never rang 🙁
On the following Wednesday, they called to confirm the booking – Ritsy asked if we were sitting downstairs, and they said “At the moment you are seated upstairs. Is downstairs your preference? I’ll take a note of that”. It didn’t really inspire us with confidence, so we crossed our fingers and hoped to get what we asked for!
When we arrived at Crown Casino, we walked past the outside of Spice Temple. Again, people were sitting outside on the ledge next to the windows, smoking like chimneys. Thankfully, the lady at the front desk greeted us, and said she was taking us downstairs. Yay!
Downstairs is such a cool space – it’s dark (without being too dark), pretty well spaced out, and doesn’t become overly loud when it gets busy. Best of all, there’s no interference from the outside world – just the smooth sounds of the Spice Temple soundtrack 🙂
Feeling way more relaxed in the downstairs environment, we ordered Banquet Menu #1 ($69 per person), an obligatory Tsing Tao beer ($10), some sparkling mineral water ($8 per person, unlimited refills), and a few cocktails. It wasn’t long before the drinks, and then the food, started to arrive.
First up were the Dragon ($17 – Lemongrass & rose petal soda, tanqueray gin and fresh citrus) and the Rat ($17 – Lavender tea soda with hand-picked mint and sugar cane spirit). I quite liked them both – the Dragon had a nice lemongrass flavour, and the Rat was quite sweet and very refreshing.
The first food items to arrive were the “Cabbage and Radish pickle” and the “Cucumber with smashed garlic” (both made in house, and used to cool the mouth).
Alongside that was the “Tofu and preserved egg with soy chilli dressing”, which is a real favourite of ours. The egg cuts through the chilli very nicely, and the tofu tastes amazing with the soy chilli dressing.
Next up was the “Steamed eggplant with three flavours” (which, incidentally, are garlic, coriander and sweet pork). This dish arrives in a big bowl, with all ingredients lined up side by side – which the waiter then mixes for you. It’s slightly salty but has a really nice roasted eggplant flavour – another favourite of the night.
After we finished most of the above two main dishes, the “Fried squid with whole five spice and dark chilli paste” arrived. The squid was nice and tender, but the dark chilli paste didn’t taste like much as the squid was very strongly flavoured by cumin.
“Steamed Blue eye fillet with salted chilli black bean” arrived next, with a big bowl of steamed rice. This was probably the highlight of the night, and was a bit of a shame that there was only one small fillet to share between the three people on our table. The chilli and black bean was salty and spicy, and married up perfectly to the expertly cooked blue eye fillet.
Our last savory dishes for the night were the “Stir fried grass fed beef fillet with wok blistered peppers and black bean”, and the “Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork” (with Chilli, sugar, black vinegar, and Sichuan peppercorn). They came with a small side of “Chinese broccoli with house oyster sauce”.
Whilst the beef fillet and the chinese broccoli were not too exciting, the Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork had an insane amount of sichuan peppercorns that destroyed us all. It was way more numbing than we have ever had it before (3 times now – twice in Melbourne and once in Sydney) – to the point that all our eyes were watering and none of us could take any more. For some reason the chefs can never quite get the balance of chilli and sichuan peppercorns right in this dish.
Ritsy ordered a Snake ($17 – Field raspberries & orgeat with dry vermouth and sake) to cool her mouth, and I drank about 2 liters of sparkling mineral water.
Dessert was next, and we were glad it was quite small. We had the “Orange jelly cake with orange blossom fairy floss”, which was probably the best cupcake we’ve ever had. It had a nice square of orange jelly on the inside, and the persian fairy floss on top was a nice delicate touch.
This visit to Spice Temple was, as a whole, so much better than the last one – and I believe it’s mostly due to where you are seated. I honestly don’t think we’d bother going if we had to sit upstairs again. Sitting downstairs, you get a completely different experience – comparatively, it feels like sitting upstairs should come with a discount.