Neil Perry has long been an innovator when it comes to Asian-Australian flavours. His knowledge and love of Chinese cuisine were never more evident than at Spice Temple, opened by the influential restaurateur in 2012 and now under the stewardship of Hunter Street Hospitality Group, alongside Perry’s other legacy establishments Rockpool Bar & Grill and Saké.
More than a decade on, you can still find some of the best regional Chinese food in Melbourne at this intimate underground restaurant. The fit-out features rich toffee-hued lighting, comfortable seats and dark wood tables that hold crockery in varying shades of black. Contrasting hanging beads act as partitions throughout the large space.
Designed to share, the food is stylish, vibrant and balanced – it’s this harmony that’s vital in Asian cooking. The menu draws inspiration from the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Xingjiang – no Cantonese here. Dried spices and fiery chillies (dried, fresh, salted, pickled, brined and fermented) add warmth and excitement to a variety of dishes, tempered by sour, sweet and subtle flavours. The menu also plays with texture and contrast, from the silkiest tofu to crunchy fried onion and crispy pork belly. The passion here is infectious, and this is one temple that deserves devotion.
The wine list is structured tightly, only 100 wines at any one time, and the cocktails – there’s one named after each Chinese horoscope sign – are constructed to calm and clear the palate in preparation for the next flavour.
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