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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Spice I Am, Surry Hills, Sydney

It's always reassuring when things stay the same.

Consistency of quality was mentioned at Restaurant09 as one of the key drivers behind restaurant selection by customers. With a two-year gap between visits to Spice I Am, I'm always surprised to see the food is always just as good as I remembered.

Bael fruit drink $4.00
and Thai iced coffee $4.00

In fact the only thing that's changed is the signage. Gone is the hanging blue and yellow sign between the two backpacker hostels. Now there's a fancy banner in silver afixed to the building, a colour that blends so much as to be almost invisible. A couple of times I've been convinced Spice I Am must have closed, until I get closer and realise it's still there, trading busily despite the lack of fanfare. Perhaps it's a ploy to get people to visit Spice I Am Restaurant!

Seating is still reasonably strict. There are no bookings taken, and when I arrive earlier than my dining companions, I'm told I must wait until everyone has arrived before I can take a seat (it's just on midday and they're less than a third full).

Finally everyone arrives and we can take our seats on the wide and squat wooden stools. The staff bustle about in their black t-shirts with the Spice I Am logo written in orange on the back. The menus look expanded in variety, particularly at lunchtime, but the prices don't seem to have gone up from two years ago.

Thai fried rice $10.90 lunch special
Chicken fried rice with egg and Chinese broccoli

Drinks are served promptly, a bael fruit drink for the G-man and a Thai iced coffee for me. The bael fruit drink tastes like a berry cordial, its ruby-like appearance visually striking. Thai iced coffee is strong and sweet, a huge mound of ice helping to dilute its bitterness.

LJ is a man of mild tastes, a possible quandary in a Thai restaurant. He's happy with the Thai fried rice, a compressed mound of rice mixed through with shreds of fried egg and Chinese broccoli. Hidden within a strips of cooked chicken. Three fat slices of cucumber and a lemon wedge provide refreshment.

Seafood pad cha (Phuket style) $12.90
Stir fried with curry paste, peppercorn (seasonal), basil and thai eggplant

The G-man is in rhapsodies over the seafood pad cha, a dish he says is not commonly found outside of his native Thailand. There's a distinct bitterness to the dish, added to by the tiny thai eggplant that look like peas but pop like bitter salmon roe pearls. It's also extremely spicy, a heat I can tolerate for a few spoonfuls but unlikely to be able to sustain for the entire dish. The G-man only laughs. More for him.

A mixture of seafood is fresh and flavoursome, the strips of scored calamari particularly tender.

Pork pad prik king $10.90
Stir fried curry paste with green beans
sliced kaffir lime leaves and pork rind

Somehow I always end up ordering the pad prik king. It's sweet and spicy and I quietly revel in the delicacy of the kaffir lime leaves sliced so thinly they're wispy tendrils. It amazes me that the dish looks exactly the same in 2007 and 2005.

I think I know why I always succumb to this dish. It's the memory of the crispy pork rind, cubes of deep-fried pork crackling that crunch in the mouth, a contrast to the sweet and sticky curry paste and the squeak of fresh green beans.

Consistently good.

View Larger Map
Spice I Am on Urbanspoon

Spice I Am
90 Wentworth Avenue (corner Campbell St and Elizabeth St)
Surry Hills, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 928 00 928

Opening hours:
Open Tuesday to Sunday
Lunch 11.30am - 3.30pm
Dinner: 6.00pm - 10.00pm

BYO no corkage
Closed on Mondays

A second more upmarket version of Spice I Am can be found at:
Spice I Am Restaurant
296-300 Victoria Street
Darlinghurst, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 2445

Lunch: Thursday to Sunday 11.30am - 3pm
Dinner: Daily 6pm - 10.30pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Spice I Am (Aug07), (Nov05)

15 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/12/2009 03:20:00 am


  • At 8/12/2009 7:29 am, Anonymous Trisha said…

    Oh I didn't know there's 2 Spice I Am's in Sydney! Now I don't know which one to try out! And yes I agree... consistency is important when revisiting restaurants. Nothing more disappointing that ordering a dish that you remember to be quite good only to find a plate of changed tastes and flavours. And the pork pad prik king.. mmmmmm

  • At 8/12/2009 8:30 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    I've always believed consistency is one of the most important features of a restaurant, nothing irks me more than having a fantastic meal, raving about it, then bringing your friends to the same place and having the worst meal ever. Hehe I can see why that dish is your favourite, so much fatty pork goodness!

  • At 8/12/2009 9:25 am, Anonymous Yas said…

    Hmmm I love Spice I am! We recently had a confused dinner plan - Me waiting in Surry hills my friends waiting there in Kings Cross :(

    I love their soft shell crab + papaya salad!

  • At 8/12/2009 12:59 pm, Anonymous clekitty said…

    I definitely agree about consistency being important when revisiting restaurants. Nothing worse than getting a bunch of friends together to go somewhere that you've had really good food only to find that day that the food was sub standard. I loved your description of the last dish... porky goodness!

  • At 8/12/2009 4:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am a new fan of your blog! It really is one of the best and more informative and interesting foodblogs around! Well done. :)

    Will be referring to your blog for great eateries when we visit Sydney!


  • At 8/12/2009 11:46 pm, Blogger Implosion said…

    I'm with you Helen
    I love the original Spice I Am in Surry Hills. I love that there are funky little designer furniture stores everywhere you look in the neighbourhood.
    LOOOVE the yum neu and will continue to do so! :)

  • At 8/13/2009 12:05 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I haven't been Spice I am yet but I soo want to goo! Haven't had thai in agggeessss and the sound of pork rind cubes and crackling is win!

  • At 8/13/2009 12:45 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Trisha - The Surry Hills version is much cheaper but the seating is limited and you can't make reservations. If you check the website, you can make a comparison on menu and prices :)

    Hi Stephcookie - Consistency is important. I hadn't quite realised that I always order the pad prik king, but mmm it's so good I can't help myself.

    Hi Yas - Oh no, that sounds like a comedy of errors! I haven't had their soft shell crab salad yet - will have to investigate on my next visit!

    Hi clekitty - It is disappointing when your expectations of a meal fall short from what you're used to. The pad prik king is very good. Pork goodness indeed!

    Hi Darian - Thank you so much for your lovely comment. There are plenty of great eats in Sydney - hope you're starting a list of places to conquer!

    Hi Implosion - Surry Hills is such a cosmopolitan suburb. I do prefer the prices of the Surry Hills outlet but I'm also more appreciative of the relaxed atmosphere too.

    Hi FFichiban - Oh you must get to Spice I Am soon! I think you will like the pad prik king :)

  • At 8/13/2009 10:32 am, Blogger Forager said…

    I somehow always ending up working around the corner from Spice I Am - so I am familiar with and love the flavours. But I have to say the higher prices and shrinking portion sizes over the years has been disappointing. Having said that I am a fan of the duck red curry when it's available. Haven't heard the best about the upmarket Spice I am in Darlinghurst so I haven't been game to check it out yet..

  • At 8/13/2009 1:20 pm, Blogger Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    I haven't tried Spice I Am yet, probably because I'm so close to Newtown which is so populated with Thai restaurants, and so cheap :) But I agree, consistency is definitely the key!

  • At 8/14/2009 12:03 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Forager - A Spice I Am regular! I haven't tried the red duck curry - will have to look out for it. I think I'll always prefer to go to the cheaper version and eat twice as much for the same price :)

    Hi Betty - I find that Thai restaurants in Newtown are a little pricey these days? I usually prefer the city, like I-San City or Thainatown. I think everyone treasures consistency!

  • At 8/14/2009 6:10 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    love spice i am. one of the better thai eateries in sydney i think.

  • At 8/15/2009 6:58 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - I think we're spoilt for choice in Sydney. I do love the little Thai eateries bordered by Goulburn, Campbell and Pitt Streets though.

  • At 10/12/2009 10:17 pm, Blogger krangsquared said…

    The dish that I always end up ordering when I can't decide is the Nam Kao Tod, a crispy rice and pork salad. I've never seen it anywhere else, and fell in love with it first time we tried it. I even took a menu of Spice I Am with us when we went to Phuket and was asking around if they knew about that dish. No luck, mainly because - as I just found out - it's from Northern Thailand! Duh.

  • At 10/13/2009 2:06 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi krangsquared - Crispy rice and pork salad? Why haven't I ordered this already?! Maybe because it's listed under the salads :) Sounds amazing. Must keep an eye out for it the next time I'm there.


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