As far as small town Thai joints go, Java Spice is truly world class (yes, it’s mainly a Thai restaurant, despite the name). It’s not just for the food, although that’s a huge part of it. And it’s not just for the feeling of having steeped into a lush Balinese oasis, complete with heated outdoor huts, elaborately carved teak furniture and palms swaying in the warm evening air.
It’s because owners Peter and Trish Morrison had the restaurant’s reclaimed teak frames built in Java, Indonesia, then shipped to Swan Hill in a dozen containers to be erected by local tradies. The astonishing vaulted ceilings and painstaking detail of the main buildings honour two traditional dwellings found throughout Southeast Asia, the limasan and the Balinese joglo. Grasses from the island of Lombok were sourced for the thatching on the hut rooftops.
The Morrisons sponsored a team of Balinese chefs (now permanent Australian residents), to work in Swan Hill and execute a menu of South East Asia’s most iconic dishes. Swathes of Indonesian and Malaysian fare abound, with a bigger focus on Thai flavours. Consider the greatest hits: larb gai with spiced chicken mince on crisp lettuce leaves, or the aromatic (and popular) red duck curry with pineapple and lychee. Indonesian delicacies include kare kambing jawa (traditional Javanese goat curry) and babi sulawesi (marinated pork stir-fired with vegetables).
The restaurant works directly with local farmers to source produce, especially coriander, basil and garlic when in season. A local abattoir supplies beef, lamb and the house specialty, goat. But there’s so much to get across, you may as well spring for one of the banquets. Do that, and settle into one of the garden huts with a cocktail or two from the drinks list.
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