I can readily come up with any number excuses to eat out, but birthdays are one of the best reasons. Food for me has always been a cause to celebrate and get people together, whether it is just you and your beloved or you and a hundred of your closest friends! Since they changed the lunch time menu to straight yum cha earlier this year, I had wanted to go to Spice Temple to see if the experience matched the great meals I have had there for dinner. So when my birthday rolled around, it was an obvious choice.
Unlike the bustling suburban restaurants that groan at the seams on weekends with trolleys going every which way amongst a cacophony of noise, the a la carte yum cha experience is very much in keeping with the modern sexy style of Spice Temple, but a in a slightly less dark and clublike manner than one gets at dinner, thanks to the light coming through the pink tinted windows and wooden blinds.
The service was exemplary. I recall reading some comments about the challenges in attracting quality front of house staff from Neil Perry shortly after Spice Temple opened. These difficulties have clearly been overcome, because I couldn’t fault the staff. They expertly managed the tempo of our meal, ensuring our flow of dishes was in keeping with our appetites and replenishing wine and tea without fuss or force.
There are a number of specially chosen teas available. We chose Dragonwell Lungching – a green tea with a mellow slightly nutty flavour.
Then the parade of delightful dishes from the large and affordable menu began. We started with a couple from the Salads and Cold Cuts section of the menu. Tea Smoked Duck – delicate slices of duck that have been brined then tea smoked are served chilled with a Chinese mustard were mouthwateringly good.
Char Siu Pork comes thickly sliced and is cooked on the wood fired grill at the nearby Rockpool Bar & Grill
We move on to the extensive Steamed section of the menu and find it hard to restrict our selections. Dumplings are a must and we love the silken skins, translucent but firm on the delicate Steamed Scallop Dumplings.
The Crystal Leek dumplings don’t disappoint either – plump and with the well balanced flavours you expect from anything connected to the name Neil Perry.
Taking a break from the Steamed selection (only for a short while!) we try the Crispy Prawn Wontons with hot and numbing sauce. They were definitely crispy, but the sauce was not quite as hot and numbing as I would have liked.
The next two dishes I could have happily ordered twice over but didn’t need to as I fortunately got the third piece of each. One of the fun things when two people share yum cha is determining who gets the third piece of each dish. I think it helped that it was my birthday. The Steamed Rice Noodle roll with Beef and Coriander was a harmonious balance of flavour and texture.
As tasty as the succulent beef in the noodle rolls was, it couldn’t beat what was my favourite dish of the meal – and one of Mr Perry’s signature dishes – White Jade rolls with crab sauce. Give me more of that sweet gelatinous crab sauce!
From the very traditional to we moved to what is a very modern slant on the menu – a selection of Sliders. We tried the Crispy Guangxi Pork – served in a mini brioche bun with crunch and freshness coming from cucumber coriander and chilli and the Cumin Lamb whose softer bun I preferred. I fear that neither of these got the attention from my taste buds that they deserved. Eager not to miss out on anything we had a lot of dishes, and as these were toward the end of the meal, I was definitely reaching my limit.
I got talked into ending the meal with something sweet. The Mango Pudding with Condensed Milk sounded terribly sweet but was creamy, not overpowering and had a crunchy sesame praline on top.
Yum Cha at Spice Temple is not your normal yum cha. It is a sophisticated experience where the art of yum cha is presented at its finest in a menu of dishes that cleverly range from the traditional to the modern without losing integrity. Just what Melbourne wanted for lunch.