Anyone familiar with Neil Perry, the pony-tailed chef at the helm of Rockpool Dining Group, will know of his affection for Asian cuisine. It is a passion that has been successfully translated into his Spice Temple ventures first in Sydney and then Melbourne. With more than 50 dishes on the epic menu, Perry — together with executive chef Andy Evans — has pushed the fusion aspect of Chinese food without losing traditional flavours. The focus shifts away from Cantonese-style food and instead explores regional Chinese provinces including Sichuan, Yunnan and Jianxi.
The extra spicy dishes are highlighted in red either as a warning to those intolerant of fiery mouthfuls of food or a beacon to those who love burning sensations. The dishes, to be shared, are monumentally large, even for two people. Divided between salads and cold cuts, hot entrees, noodles, dumplings, seafood (live from the tank and pre-prepared), poultry, pork, lamb, beef and veggies, Spice Temple's variety is impressive.
"Tingling" and "hot and numbing" pop up frequently on the menu, an indication of the tongue-burning content within. Fish drowning in heaven facing chillies and Sichuan peppercorns sounds (and looks) like a dish made only for the brave. Shredded duck in a mountain of dried chestnuts, black fungi, fried tofu and chilli paste is a formidable fusion, old school yet unusual. For the next hit, the braised pork short rib is served in a beautiful black vinegar tea and shredded apart by a waiter table-side — the pork is deconstructed in front of your eyes into a wonderful dish.
The highlight is a beef fillet in fire water, a fancy way of saying wagyu beef strips in a chilli broth with peppercorn, which is volcanic in taste and appearance. To cool the fire, and a recommended necessity, the cucumbers with smashed garlic and ginger are a great juxtaposition to the spice. For dessert, the mango pudding with condensed milk chantilly will soothe those scorched taste buds. If you're keen, there are two comprehensive banquet options or, if you're visiting during the day, an extensive yum cha lunch menu.
Images: David Griffen