Miang Goong Gaa Tong Krob
Thai king prawn salad with lime, garlic, galangal, shallot, ginger
with roasted peanut and chilli served in a crispy shell
I like to look at my food.
As I'd admired the deep-fried fluted cup on my entree plate, I'd remembered wondering if these delicate cups were bought in to the Spice I Am Restaurant. It's not until a cooking demonstration halfway through our meal that I realise they're handmade using a special metal mould that looks like an upside down umbrella, the contraption lightly dipped into a bowl of batter and then deep-fried until a shell is formed.
Phol Tantasathien with
Surjet Sangkaem, owner and head chef, Spice I Am
It's my first time dining at Spice I Am Restaurant and we couldn't have asked for a better introduction.
Spice I am Restaurant is the classier (and a little pricier) younger sibling of the Spice I Am on Wentworth Avenue. Patrons at the original site perch on stools in a tiny shopfront that spills onto the street, a no-bookings policy strictly enforced.
At the Darlinghurst branch, the formal dining room comes with chocolate brown furniture, and a view into the kitchen. A dramatic arrangement of ceramic pots forms the backdrop for the bar. Several low-set round stools have a tactile twig-like surface, making those patrons sitting on them look like hungry chicks in a nest waiting to be fed.
During the recent Food Safari book launch, I'd had the pleasure of canapes from the Spice I Am Restaurant, delicate morsels which, whilst delicious, seemed a little on the sweet and mild side. Tonight there are no such mutings of heat or flavour, a special invitation dinner extended to media and food bloggers.
An entree of Miang Goong Gaa Tong Krob gets our tastebuds going. The miniature cups provide a delicate crunch against the tangy salad of prawn, lime, galangal and peanut. Two intricately carved spearheads of pineapple are an ideal palate cleanser.
King prawn with yellow curry sauce
Tonight's dinner has a focus on prawns, using Thai prawns that are snap-frozen. The plain cooked King prawn, served with a streak of yellow curry sauce, has a surprising sweetness.
Phuket-style fritter of Thai king prawn on crispy betel leaf
with chilli sauce, crushed peanuts and coriander
It's the Bour Tod deep-fried betel leaf that wins me over for the evening. In this popular streetfood dish, a betel leaf is coated in a thin layer of batter and deep-fried briefly, then a battered prawn placed gently on top and the two fried together, adhering slightly.
The fried betel leaf splinters into fresh and peppery smithereens, another joyous combination of flavours and textures - the juicy prawn, the chilli dressing, the dry-fried peanuts and the freshness of coriander.
Shaking cocktails at the bar
Our table is treated to a brief cooking demonstration by Spice I Am owner and head chef Surjet Sangkaem, and visiting Thai friend, Phol Tantasathien, a celebrity chef and movie star, with appearances in the popular local soap opera Samee (Husband).
Preparing the dressing for the king prawn salad
Surjet and Phol demonstrate both the prawn salad in the deep-fried cup entree, and the deep-fried betel leaf. Monitoring the temperature of the oil is important, as it cannot be too hot or too cool.
Crispy shell with Thai king prawn salad
Preparing the batter for the betel leaves
Deep-frying the betel leaves
Fried betel leaves with prawn
Mis en place with finely sliced kaffir lime leaves
Goong Yum Ta Krai
Thai king prawn salad with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, coriander,
mint and crushed cashew nut garnished with fresh chilli
The Goong Yum Ta Krai king prawn salad tower is almost too beautiful to destroy. We eventually do, of course, and this is another fresh salad combination that appeals to my tastebuds. The finely sliced lemongrass adds fragrance and texture, and the crushed cashews add a rich, buttery flavour.
Goong Pad Prik King
Stir fried Thai king prawn with green beans and red curry paste
I only need one bite of the Goong Pad Prik King to realise it's my favourite dish from Spice I Am Wentworth Avenue, except there I usually order it with pork, not prawn. In this dish the prawns are battered for extra crunch, an armour that happily soaks up the sweet and spicy red curry paste zingy with microscopic slivers of kaffir lime leaf.
Pla Nueng Manaow
Steamed fillet of Hiramasa kingfish with fresh lime, garlic and
chilli dressing served on a bed of steamed Chinese cabbage
Pla Nueng Manaow steamed Hiramasa kingfish is soft, tender and delicately cooked, liberally sprinkled with a fine dice of garlic, chilli and lime rinds. Whilst the fish is cooked, the dressing and flavours reminds me of a ceviche, albeit a fiery one.
Gaeng Keow Waan Goong
Green curry of Thai king prawn with apple eggplant, pea eggplant,
kaffir lime leaf, red chilli and Thai basil
By this point, everyone's tongues are starting to tingle as the backburn of chilli slowly builds. Gaeng Keow Waan Goong is a Thai king prawn green curry cooked in the traditional way with bitter apple eggplants and pea eggplants. The curry isn't as creamy as most Westernised versions, the sauce quite thin but smouldering with chilli. The undertone of bitterness takes some getting used to.
Tom Yum Goong
Thai king prawn in a hot and sour soup with galangal, kaffir lime leaf,
chilli, Thai basil, cherry tomato, eschallot and oyster mushroom
Ahh... soup... this will cool our tongues, we think. The Tom Yum Goong hot and sour soup, however, is probably one of the hotter dishes, the chilli-laced soup reaching into every crevice of the mouth, looking for new unharmed territory. Chilli aside, the soup is packed with a generous portion of oyster mushrooms, curls of eschallot, King prawns and bobbing cherry tomatoes.
The chilli sends us all into a buzz, possibly a result of adrenalin and the endorphin rush kicking in! A plate of sliced cucumbers is a simple but effective way to cool our tongues.
Khao Naew Ice Cream
Green sticky rice served with coconut ice cream
Khao Naew green sticky rice is a revelation. Sticky rice can sometimes be afflicted by stodginess or sogginess, but here, each rice grain is still separate, the coconut-cooked rice simultaneously rich, chewy and fluffy. Coconut ice cream is smooth and satiny but it's the crunch of peanuts and the generous sprinkle of salt that brings this dish together. I could have easily eaten two of these serves. Maybe three.
The women's bathroom
And yes, even the women's bathroom gets a photo. The space is narrow but the fresh flowers, gilt-edged mirrors and individual handtowels are a lovely touch.
Surjet Sangkaem and Phol Tantasathien
Grab Your Fork attended the Spice I Am Thai Seafood Dinner as a guest of Spice I Am and PEPR Publicity.
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Spice I Am Restaurant
296-300 Victoria St, Darlinghurst
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 2445
Lunch: Thursday-Sunday 11.30am-3.00pm
Dinner: 7 days 6.00pm-10.30pm
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Spice I Am Restaurant - Food Safari book launch (Nov09)
Spice I Am Wentworth Ave, Surry Hills (Aug09), (Aug 07) and (Nov05)
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12/01/2009 01:09:00 a.m.