Spice I Am? It almost sounds like a challenge, or at least a state of mind. If there's anything to assist you reaching that state, it's red-hot Thai food. Where are you going to find it? At Spice I Am in Darlinghurst. And it's not just the food that's hot. This place is all style: exposed brick walls, another wall of expertly arranged clay pots, and a black and gold leaf bar.
Drawing from north-eastern Thai cuisine, head chef Sujet Saenkham has concocted dishes away from the stir-fry stereotype. Instead there's deep fried whole snapper (pla lard prik $29) covered in a citrusy homemade curry sauce, or a shredded banana flower salad ($29) with king prawns, shredded chicken breast, roasted coconut and shallots, with chilli, of course. The latter has an overwhelming coconut taste, which is a shame, but the former is very successful.
The real winners are early in the meal. The starts are rockin': the Phuket-derived deep-fried betal leaves with a fritter of green prawn on top (bour thod, $14) are texturally splendid, and unusual to boot.
The sai krok issan ($12), which are Issan pork sausages with garlic, coriander and pepper, are meaty, rich and succulent. There's obviously an extensive range of soups, stir fries and curry dishes on the menu too.
Spice I Am also has branches in Surry Hills and Balmain and the crew also run House Thai, located in the former beer garden of the drab Triple Ace Bar. The spice seems to be right for a lot of hungry people, and it's a winning formula. True, the prices at the Darlo venue are higher than usual Thai fare but, hey, you're paying for the location, the swish decor and the comfort of not queuing on the street for 15 minutes to get in. In our opinion, it's worth paying extra for.