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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spice Temple, Sydney

Riesling, says Peter Barry, introduced thousands of Australian teenagers to wine. The sweetness of riesling makes them very drinkable for youth, and Peter appears to puff his chest proudly when he theorises that for many of us, rieslings are the first wine we will ever drink, sneaking a sip from our parents' glass.

Today I'm at Spice Temple, attending the national media lunch hosted by Jim Barry Wines, from the Clare Valley in South Australia. Peter Barry now heads the company built by his late father Jim in 1959.

Originally Jim Barry started off growing sherry grapes in the Clare Vineyard, but soon switched to riesling. The media lunch includes a ten-course degustation from Spice Temple matched with rieslings from Jim Barry Wines.

Cucumber with smashed garlic and ginger

The dishes, we are told, have been toned down slightly in spice so as to match the sweetness of the rieslings. At the start, we'd sipped on the 2010 Lodge Hill Dry Riesling before moving onto 2010 Watervale Reisling and the newly relaunched 2010 Lavender Hill Sweet Riesling with our first set of dishes.

Tingling prawns

Lighter fruitier wines tend to suit Asian cuisines and we find the rieslings slip down well. Pickled cucumber spears doused in ginger and garlic whet the appetite as we move onto an impressive dish of tingling prawns, liberally sprinkled with tongue-numbing Szeuchuan pepper. The prawns are sensationally fresh too, tender and fragrant.

Tea smoked duck breast with pickled cabbage and Chinese mustard

Tea smoked duck breast is enough to get me all hot and bothered with its rich smoky flavour, thick ribbon of luscious fat and velvety smoothness on the tongue. Each dish is presented to share between four people, but I could have easily eaten this entire plate on my own.

Fried squid with whole five spice and dark chilli paste

Our next set of share dishes includes tender pieces of fried squid dusted in five spice powder. A squeeze of fresh lime adds some zing. We also begin an interesting journey through the vintages of Florita Reisling, starting with 2010 and concluding at the year 2004.

Crisp pork belly and smoked tofu with spicy ginger and garlic dressing

Crisp pork belly comes with tantalising slivers of crackling, and I find the thin slices of smoked tofu rather addictive too.

The younger rieslings are bright and fresh on the palate, and full of citrus. We do notice their sweetness is muted once we start eating.

Hot and fragrant prawns

Our next two dishes comes with tastings of the 2008, 2007 and 2005 Florita Rieslings. As rieslings age, they take on toast and honey characteristics. I'm an instant fan of the 2005 vintage which is noticeably mellower and smoother, but still boasts a crisp finish.

Hot and fragrant prawns are a simple stirfry with chilli, but it's the garlic shoots I'm more enamoured by, slim tender stalks that are delicately sweet.

Steamed flathead Jiangxi style

Steamed flathead fillets are cooked to fork-flaking perfection, topped with a spicy pickle of chopped mustard greens and doused with a sesame soy dressing.

Spanner crab congee

The spanner crab congee is decadent with crab and prawns, but I find its texture more akin to a chowder than a congee. Congee is usually a textural rice porridge that is thick with cooked and swollen rice grains, whereas I find only a few grains in the bottom of the bowl.

The congee is paired with the 2010 Lavender Hill Sweet Riesling which tastes almost toffee-like in sweetness, especially against the subtlety of the congee.

Steamed rice

Shredded duck, dried chestnuts and black fungi with Pixian chilli paste and fried tofu

Our final series of savoury dishes was matched with the 2004 Florita Riesling, 2002 Watervale Riesling and 1999 Lodge Hill Dry Riesling (hic!).

Shredded duck had a mild background nuance of chilli, but wasn't as fatty as I expected, and I was rather disappointed with the hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork which seemed devoid of heat. The pork was thick was batter and sticky with maltose - presumably this was toned down to match the rieslings but I really wanted to try this dish at its numbing best!

Hot, sweet, sour and numbing pork

Steamed king abalone mushroom, garlic stem, chives and ginger

Steamed king abalone mushrooms were huge in size, and almost meaty in consistency. We detected alcohol in the sauce which we presume was Shaoxing wine.

Watermelon granita

Our tastebuds weren't terribly numb but the dessert of watermelon granita was still a welcome palate cleanser. This was a beautifully simple dessert, the soft crystals of watermelon ice studded with small chunks of fresh frozen watermelon.

Spice Temple dining room

The Spice Girls

And yes, I found the Spice Girls! I'd always remembered Simon Thomsen's review on Spice Temple, which included a mention of the Asian female portraits that line one dining room wall. They are, Simon says "no doubt meant to add exotic sensuality but seem a little too much like a male fantasy of mail-order brides."

We were seated in the adjacent dining room so I didn't have their bedroom eyes imploring me to "come hither" during lunch. I find them an odd inclusion in a fine dining restaurant, even if the Spice Temple basement location does create the feel of a gentleman's club when you first enter. The only spice I'm looking for is best served on my plate.

Grab Your Fork attended the Jim Barry Wines national media lunch as a guest of Jim Barry Wines. 

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Spice Temple on Urbanspoon

10 Bligh Street, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 8078 1888

Opening hours:
Open Monday to Saturday 6pm-10pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Rockpool Bar and Grill, Sydney
20 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/31/2011 03:12:00 am


  • At 3/31/2011 4:51 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I really liked the Spice Temple when we were there some two years ago now. Interesting dishes and great presentation. I don't mind the 'Spice Girls' either but there's something that screams Japanese horror films about them if you look at them for too long .... :-)

  • At 3/31/2011 7:33 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Spice Temple was hands-down the worst restaurant I have ever been to in Sydney. And I've been to some bad restaurants. I couldn't see the food, the waiters were inept, they told us they had a very special dish (it was kangkong for around $17) and the anglocised girls in the pictures made me want to slap the sexism+racism out of the pony-tailed man. Worst "interpretation" of chinese food, ever.

  • At 3/31/2011 8:04 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Havn't been to Spice Temple yet and am hopeless when it comes to wine! Keep telling myself I should attend a beginners wine class of sorts to get myself educated. Mmm I'm hooked by the tea smoked duck, crackling pork and love love love watermelon anything!

  • At 3/31/2011 8:30 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    I've been meaning to get to Spice Temple for ages... lol that he has a sweet and sour pork dish!

  • At 3/31/2011 10:01 am, Anonymous Emily@NeedsMoreSugar said…

    Your photos are always so appetising! :)

    I loved Spice Temple when we went last year.
    I was surprised how generous the serves were too.

  • At 3/31/2011 10:04 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Anonymous @ 7:33am : waiters do have an uncanny knack of picking the ignorant, the losers, and the tasteless and treating them as such. Do you find you have a bad time often?

  • At 3/31/2011 11:50 am, Anonymous shawn@StreetFood said…

    We love Spice Temple's mod oz interpretation of the classics. Even the sweet and sour pork (not really hot and numbing for us either though) is a sensation. We thought it was great value too, and we're foodie tightwads. Most dishes aren't much more than you would find in Chinatown, the little extra is well worth it for the decor and fun factor. Good enough to make me forgive ponytails on middle aged men. Almost.

  • At 3/31/2011 12:40 pm, Blogger Maria said…

    I tried the tea smoked duck once and thought it was nice at first but then it became just too much. Other dishes we tried were unfortunately a bit too spicy for my taste :-)

  • At 3/31/2011 12:49 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I love the word "tingling". I also love how I initially read the pork dish as "rumbling pork". Because now I want to know what "rumbling pork" is. What do you think it would be, Helen? :P

  • At 3/31/2011 1:25 pm, Anonymous sara @ belly rumbles said…

    The food sounds like a lovely match to the riesling wines. I must admit I never reach for a riesling due to the general sweetness, but loved hearng about how they do differ with age, interesting.

  • At 3/31/2011 1:26 pm, Anonymous KFC so good said…

    Too bad none of my fav dishes from spice temple make an appearance in the degustation... quite surprise that they would try to match Riesling with such style of food. Seems from the post that you looses out on wine match and the food themselves. Must say that the shredded duck and chestnut looks interesting.

  • At 3/31/2011 2:06 pm, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Yes thank you! the girls in the photos creeped me out too, especially when I saw them on the back of the menus. A bit disappointing to hear there wasn't tons of chilli, that was what I enjoyed the most when I went there ages ago - I'm such a chilli fiend!

  • At 3/31/2011 2:17 pm, Blogger Jen said…

    I agree, the gentleman's club atmosphere was a big turn-off for me when I went. The discreet entrance, the photos of asian girls, the business cards were all too much smuttiness for a restaurant for my liking.
    Don't worry, you didn't miss out on much with the numbing pork. I didn't find it numbing at all.

  • At 3/31/2011 9:39 pm, Blogger Anna (Morsels and Musings) said…

    wow! your photos turned out SO WELL.
    ok ok, you're right i need a SLR :)

    so great to jibber jabber all day.
    till the next train ride....

  • At 4/01/2011 12:06 am, Anonymous Mario said…

    Great photos. I must try Spice Temple one day.

  • At 4/01/2011 8:46 am, Blogger the dainty baker said…

    I found the food at Spice Temple, nice, however coming from an Asian/Chinese background.. there was the element of "mum does better" lurking in the back of my mind lol ... and I'm kinda in 2 minds about the portaits, at first glance I think.. erotic rather than exotic - put simply I thought it was kinda unnecessary but then lookin from an "artistic" point of view i can kinda see where they are coming from but for me it kinda misses the mark a little - meh each to their own i suppose.

  • At 4/01/2011 12:11 pm, Blogger Brenda said…

    I agree, they could do without the Spice Girl portraits....
    But the food looks amazing! : )

  • At 4/05/2011 6:47 pm, Blogger greenbeenfood said…

    the food looks excellent...maybe smuggle in a hot chilli paste to ramp it up but seriously the pics make me want to get to spice temple in a hurry!! + not phased by sultry women portraits - i am normally crowd watching anyway. dayle

  • At 4/06/2011 11:32 am, Blogger susan said…

    lol my first wine that I used to drink was the rosemount traminer riesling. It was my mum's favourite and she still likes the sweet wines, but I can't stand them anymore. I really want to go to this restaurant, all the food looks delicious.

  • At 4/07/2011 7:31 pm, Anonymous Agatha @ Curious bite said…

    I went to the spice temple with a friend. I wasn't too impressed. their stuff pancake was too salty and their 3 cup chicken was too spicy to work out another flavor. But I have to say their service and deco are awesome!

    Oh their chinese zodiac cocktails are pretty strong too :)


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