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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Spice I Am Restaurant, Darlinghurst


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.


Dinner table

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.


Bour Tod
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


Fresh chillies

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.


View Larger Map
Spice I Am - the Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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)

21 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 12/01/2009 01:09:00 am


21 Comments:

  • At 12/01/2009 4:38 am, Blogger joey@FoodiePop said…

    Love Spice I Am. Everything looks so colourful and delicious.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 7:25 am, Anonymous Trissa said…

    I was tossing up between buying The Food Safari Book or not - would you know if any of the pictures your featured would be in the book? If they are, I just might buy it - you made everything look good!

     
  • At 12/01/2009 8:50 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Yummy, I still haven't been here! I tried to go yesterday but it, like most places was closed on a Monday :(

     
  • At 12/01/2009 9:33 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    It would be fun having a cooking demo during dinner! I like the sound of cashews in the salad, and the sticky rice sounds wonderful.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 10:18 am, Anonymous Linda@eatshowandtell said…

    omg YUM!! I've been dying to try Spice I am. I'll definitely have to try it out.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 10:22 am, Blogger Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    I can't wait to try Spice I Am! I've been so close so many times! Hehe. Mm everything looks so good including the celebrity chef hehehe!

     
  • At 12/01/2009 10:36 am, Blogger Belle@Ooh, Look said…

    It's great that Spice I Am have opened a more upmarket venue, and you are right, looks are (almost) everything, and the king prawn tower looks amazing.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 11:29 am, OpenID cheekyvixen said…

    The food looks delicious!

    Interesting that they use Thai prawns, to be honest I generally avoid Thai prawns like the plague - not sure if this is true or just rumour but I heard that the conditions these prawns live in are less than pristine... Plus, i prefer to feel like I'm supporting Australian fishermen rather than those from overseas.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 11:34 am, Blogger mademoiselle délicieuse said…

    I like to look at my food too =p People think I'm mad when I admire the evenness of julienned vegetables...haha! And LOL at the ladies' room - but it indeed is very pretty.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 11:44 am, Blogger Margaret Tran said…

    WOW - this place looks amazing!! And the two cooks look like such lovely chaps =] That goong yum ta krai looks heavenly.

    And you're right - it's definitely hard to get sticky rice that isn't too sticky or too dry and thus, crumbly, but that green rice/coconut concoction looks perfect. Arhhh.. keyboard droolage not looking good. You must have an awesome lens to take photos like that!

     
  • At 12/01/2009 11:44 am, Anonymous Angela said…

    All the prawn dishes looks fantastic ! It's like a prawn feast with a special touch by Spice I am .... mouth watering ..

     
  • At 12/01/2009 1:01 pm, OpenID missdissent said…

    What were your thoughts on the Thai prawns themselves? I went to a similar promotional lunch for them at Hugo's in Kings Cross recently.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 3:26 pm, Anonymous Simon said…

    The ice cream & sticky rice must have been welcome relief from all that prior chili heat.

    Food looks swankier at this branch compared to what I remember from the only time I had frequented their store in Surry Hills.

     
  • At 12/01/2009 4:33 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Helen! I have followed your blog for a while now and been too shy to say hi. Thanks so much for the wonderful photographs and comments, having been really sick lately they have been wonderful 'company'. So thankyou. Kate

     
  • At 12/01/2009 9:58 pm, Blogger Ellie said…

    Next must go place! All the dishes look so delicate and the sticky rice with coconut ice cream!!!!! Love your random photo of the bathroom. I always remember the one you took in steel bar :)

     
  • At 12/01/2009 11:54 pm, Blogger lex said…

    love the superfine kaffir lime mis en place - awesome knife skills!

     
  • At 12/02/2009 3:47 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Joey - The food was great. Was my first time at the Spice I Am Restaurant so quite impressed.

    Hi Trissa - The Food Safari book covers over 30 different cuisines from the TV series so I'm sure there'll be something to whet your appetite :)

    Hi Stephcookie - It's a shame how a lot of restaurants are closed on Mondays, but hey, I guess even kitchen staff like to have a night off!

    Hi Arwen - The cooking demo added a lovely dimension to the dinner and the cashews were a great idea. The sticky rice - oh, I do love good rice! I've yet to make a good sweet version.

    Hi Linda - Have you tried the Wentworth Ave version already? I think the flavours at both have a noticeable complexity.

    Hi Betty - Ahh yes we thought the celebrity chef looked pretty good too. lol. Hope you get to Spice I Am soon!

    Hi Belle - Bookings are always appreciated, especially with groups and I agree, presentation is such an important part of any meal.

    Hi cheekyvixen - I do try to buy Australian prawns wherever I can as well. It seems as though Thai prawns are being promoted as a budget alternative, but I agree that supporting Australian produce is something we should all strive for.

    Hi Mademoiselle Delicieuse - I like to eat with my eyes, and taking photos always helps me appreciate the finer details. I promise you I only happened to walk into the bathroom with my handbag (and camera) but yes, a pretty bathroomm always leaves a good impression!

    Hi Margaret - I've yet to master the art of perfect sweet rice so I'm always appreciative of others that do. And thank you, I use a 50mm 1.4 lens but still have some ways to go in terms of mastering its full potential :)

    Hi Angela - It was just as well that noone was allergic to prawns :)

    Hi MissDissent - I thought the Thai prawns had a surprising amount of flavour. They didn't taste watery or bland. Interesting that you attended a similar style of event at Hugo's.

    Hi Simon - Ahh yes nothing like ice cream to complete a meal. The Spice I Am Restaurant is aimed at a more upmarket clientele, although I do love the buzz (and prices) at the Wentworth Avenue original.

    Hi Kate - Hello! Thank you for making your first comment :) Am glad you've been enjoying the blog whilst you've been under the weather - hope you recuperate soon :) And don't be shy anymore - I'd love to hear from you.

    Hi Ellie - lol. I've sometimes thought about creating a blog on women's toilets! I do like the flavours at Spice I Am - there's always an intensity of flavours accompanied by a lovely sense of balance. Hope you get there soon :)

    Hi Lex - I'm always in awe of the kaffir lime leaves at Spice I Am. I reckon that's also why their dishes taste so great - so much attention to detail.

     
  • At 12/02/2009 11:41 am, OpenID missdissent said…

    Mmmm ate the green sticky rice last night, it was a revelation.

     
  • At 12/02/2009 3:29 pm, Blogger Forager said…

    Mm - was wondering whether it was worthwhile heading to the Darlinghurst branch as initial reviews were scathing. But it sounds (and looks) delicious so I might have to head down and try it for myself. And I can see why the chef's visiting friend is a movie star celeb!

     
  • At 12/03/2009 12:38 am, Anonymous billy@ATFT said…

    I was so surprise to see Surjet recognised you and me soon I walked in hahah! I think the night is just a taste of what they can do what prawns but I really want to see what they can do with other ingredients and what they can offer. It was a great night.

     
  • At 12/03/2009 1:25 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi MissDissent - Wow, that was fast. Glad the green sticky rice lived up to its reputation!

    Hi Forager - I think the success of the original does mean "a sequel" tends to face intense scrutiny. We didn't have a standard meal, of course, but I was impressed with the flavours and execution of the dishes we were served.

    Hi Billy - lol, yes I didn't expect to be recognised by Surjet either :) The night was fun indeed, and I agree, I'd be curious to see what the food is like from the everyday menu.

     

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