Friday, November 26, 2010
Ground Floor - Crown Casino
8 Whiteman Street
Southbank VIC 3006
So the Neil Perry empire continues to grow, moving amoeba like in to the old Bistro Guillame is Spice Temple, the sister of Neil's Sydney Spice Temple restaurant. This is my first experience of "Iron Chef" Neil Perry's cuisine, curiously none of his other restaurants have appealed yet somehow Spice Temple has lured me in barely weeks after opening.
Spice Temple is a good vehicle for Perry to show off his passion for Asian food in an approachable format. Designed for a quick lunch as much as a banquet it is a low risk and relatively low expense way to sample his food to see if it is for you.
Walking in to Spice Temple, the interior is somewhat moody with lots of black everywhere, pink tinted windows and raw wood. I would not be surprised if the fit out was from the same people that did Maha as it has a very similar feel.
I had the good fortune of getting a table easily for Friday lunch and browsing the menu there are plenty of choices. The waiting staff were a bit enthusiastic recommending 2-3 light courses and 1-2 main courses, we felt that for two this was too much and that 1 entree and 2 mains were more appropriate.
Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings
Sticking with this our first course arrived, a perfect pan asian dumpling of lamb & fennel. The dumplings were cooked gyoza style with a crispy base and light chewy skin on top filled with juicy lamb and paired with a great spicy sauce. At $18 for 8 it is a great starter.
Guangxi style roast pork shoulder
with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds
Next course arrived and it was a cracker, the dish was served warm salad style with lots of juicy pork that had ultra crispy crackle. The combination of the ingredients was perfect, each component served a purpose. Great balance and a generous serve for $30.
Stir fried grass fed beef fillet with wok blistered peppers
and black bean
Lunch wrapped up with another stunning dish, it could be written off as fancy beef & black bean sauce. Yes there is steak, yes there are black beans but it is like saying a Bugatti Veyron is nothing more than a faster Hyundai Excel, both have four wheels but like the local chinese takeaway version of the dish that is about where any similarity ends.
The dish was served up with six generous portions of steak that is so tender no knife is required. The peppers are sweet, soft and juicy and the mild black bean sauce brings it all together. This is one of the finest dishes I have had in a long time, at $42 it is getting up there but is really worth it.
To drink there are is a long list of wine, beer & cocktails, they are on the expensive side of the pricing bell curve but just far enough away to not look like gouging.
So wrapping up my Spice Temple experience, I am impressed. It is not cheap, but cheap by Perry standards. The food here reminds me of how Bistro Vue/Cafe Vue compares to Vue Du Monde, the food is delivered with the highest quality/standard to the price it is delivered. Just because it is not the Rockpool degustation does not mean that the food is treated to a lower standard. One month in to opening the service and execution is spot on, there is great ambiance and the spectacular food makes this a winner.
Spice Temple - 15.5/20
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
21 Bond Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Maha is the mediterranean inspired middle east restaurant in the George Calombaris empire. When it opened in 2008 it was the "it" place getting plenty of airtime in local newspapers, feature reviews in Gourmet Traveller and had plenty of buzz.
Fast forward 2 years and it is now past the initial buzz and to be honest in the few times I have been there it has been a bit ho-hum. It has been good, but nothing particularly inspirational and a bit overpriced IMHO.
Maha was almost written off in my mind as a place to go to, I am glad I gave it another go. The occasion was lunch with friends and it worked out that Maha was almost the most central for us to converge on.
Berid mezze - small cold dishes
Being lunch we opted for the 3 course soufra at $40 per person. First plate of mezze came out and it was a great start. Pickled cauliflower, eggplant, olives and confit mushrooms were all winners, but the mushrooms really stood out as tender and juicy. The minted yoghurt soup served in shot glasses was also an interesting way to start the meal.
sahen kbeer - large plates
Main courses came out and we were greeted with spiced chicken legs, perfectly cooked Kingfish served with turkish “baldo” pilaf and a Lebanese bread salad. The highlight here was the Kingfish which was lightly spiced and had a delicious meaty texture. The chicken, buried under parsley, spring onion & pomegranate seeds were served on the bone and again cooked perfectly and spiced to accentuate not kill the flavours. The sides were also a hit, the pilaf was light with a hint of sweetness, the salad was salad I guess but had clean flavours and a great accompaniment.
The most surprising aspect of the food was it was relatively cliche free - no kofta's, no tagine's, no cous cous, no hummus. I would see it as a sign of maturity and confidence to serve food inspired by the middle east but not defined by it.
Wine by the glass range was broad priced from $8-$18 which is quite reasonable and matched the food well.
helwayet - sweets
Finally we had dessert courses. I had low expectations, but the plate came out and I was again pleasantly surprised. The visually appealing aero bar with soft meringue & crème fraiche was great but the star was the Turkish delight filled donuts. These were light, covered with honey and nuts with a centre of gooey Turkish delight, not a healthy dessert, but a real stunner.
Service was good and the dining room is still very polished but think that now that the buzz is over the restaurant is working harder than ever to show that it still worth some attention. It is a good time to go and see that the buzz was justified.
Maha - 15/20
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