One of the first things you notice about Spice Temple is how unassuming the location is. Located in its more famous cousin's building, where Rockpool Bar & Grill is clearly signed and clear for all to see in a lovely art deco building, Spice Temple is around the corner and down some stairs. What is really cool about the entrance is the massive TV screen in the door that simulates a curtain blowing in the wind to reveal the name. While waiting out the front for some friends to share lunch with, a few people wandered by the door before realising that it was in fact a door.
Spice Temple is the brainchild of renowned Chef Neil Perry, this multi award winning restaurant is number 47 in the Gourmet Travellers list of top 100 Australian Restaurants and has a coveted chefs hat from the Good Food Guide. Once you open the door and descend several flights of stairs into the bowels of the building, you are confronted with a very modern and subdued space that is initially dark and brooding, but gives a sense of privacy. Once seated, a number of spotlights in the ceiling were turned on to illuminate the centre of our table, but not take away from the ambience of the room.
As the name suggests, Spice Temple specialises in the slightly hotter side of Asian cuisine and looking at the menu a large number of the dishes were in red to signify that they were HOT. There were also a number of other warning signs that our taste-buds were in for a test, with items on the menu such as 'beef fillet in fire water' & 'tingling prawns' & 'hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork'.
Because our dining partners had eaten here before, we left the dish selection in their capable hands.
The first dish that came out was 'Lamb and cumin pancakes'. I didn't really know what to expect and was thinking that something similar to a dish I had at China Doll would come out. Boy was I wrong. What came out looked a lot like pita bread with nothing on it, my immediate thought was where is the rest? However, once I took a bite I could see the lamb was infused in the middle of the pancakes. It was delicious, you could clearly taste the lamb and cumin and it went really well with the chilli dip that was provided. The lamb was perfect, not too spicy but definitely had a little heat to it.
Next was the 'Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings'. I was so excited about the dumplings we were most of the way through them before I realised that I had not taken a photo. After some artful arrangement on the plate a quick snap was taken. They look a little like slugs on the plate, but tasted of anything but. The dumplings were well cooked with a good balance between filling and dumpling. The fennel was subtle and the lamb shone through.
Each of the dishes were getting progressively spicier as the meal wore on & up next was the hottest dish to date (hotter was to come) was stir fried wagyu the style of “Ma Po”. The wagyu was shredded and quite tough to eat, but the meat was bite size and full of wonderful heat, but not overpowering. It was a this time that I really started to need to tuck into the palate cleanser, which was designed to cool down the mouth. The Cabbage and radish was piled quite high and let me tell you it came in handy for the hotter dishes. Its hard to believe how quickly cabbage and radish can cool the mouth down and allow you to keep going back for more punchy heat!
I am not sure what it was with prawns over the weekend but my least favorite dish again this weekend was the 'Stir fried prawns with salted duck egg and four chillies'. I think this was definitely a case of too much heat and too many spices. With 4 very strong and hot chillies, I was only able to eat a little of this, even with the aid of the cabbage and radish. I didn't really like the mix of the chillies together, individually they might have been lovely, but together it was hell. I am sure a dedicated chilli aficionado would have love them
Luckily the prawns were quickly followed by the dish of the day, in my opinion. The 'Hunan style crisp pork belly with fresh and dried chillies and mushroom soy' was simply delightful. The pork belly bites were super crispy, with really well cooked crackling infused with chillies and mushroom soy. All of us at the table really enjoyed this one and I would recommend it to anyone who loves pork.
The last dish of the day was a bit of theatre, which was excellent. The 'Three shot chicken Beer, chilli and soy came out and was cooked on a pot next to us. The three shots were paraded around the table for us to view, before being added to the hot pot and cooked to perfection while we watched. The chicken was perfectly cooked and really tender, with the interesting combination of the three shots adding a dept of flavour that you don't often get from chicken. We were all quite full by this time, but managed to polish this off quite quickly.
I was the only one that opted for dessert & had a really hard time deciding between 'mango pudding with condensed milk chantilly' and the 'chocolate and peanut butter parfait'. Both were recommended to me and it was not until the last possible moment that I went with the mango pudding. Wow! I loved this dessert. It was deceptively simple and I got what I asked for - Mango pudding and chantilly cream - but I have never enjoyed a bowl of mango and cream so much. There was a lot there and I had to keep eating until it was gone, there was no way I was leaving any. It's fair to say that I could not eat anything for the rest of the day.
I was apprehensive in going to Spice Temple as I had heard mixed reviews about it and some friends had just mentioned the night before that they had not enjoyed it the last time they went. I'm also not a huge spice/chilli fan, however the spices were put together so expertly that it all worked and worked well. The service was excellent, as you would expect from a Neil Perry restaurant and the ambience of the restaurant was subdued and classy. It certainly puts an interesting slant on chinese restaurants and shows that Brisbane has a way to go when it comes to fine dining Asian.