Thursday, 16 December 2010


“Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.” – Voltaire

Today was another of hectic activity and a mad rush to get all sorts of matters finalised. I had quite a few meetings, saw several members of staff, dealt with and resolved a couple of students’ appeals and managed a vexing clinic timetabling issue. As well as that, I snuck away to the post office (quite full today for obvious reasons!) and we also had our pre-Christmas Kris Kringle get-together in the late afternoon. Many staff are finishing up today and beginning their Christmas/New Year break, some (including me) are also working next week right up to Christmas.

As it’s food Friday today, I’ll review a restaurant that we went to last Saturday evening. It was the Spice Temple at Southbank, in the Crown Casino Complex. This restaurant is fairly new in Melbourne and has become rapidly very “in” and has received some glowing reviews. It is a styled as a Chinese restaurant, and I quote from their menu:

“Spice Temple is a modern Chinese restaurant, driven by a philosophy that incorporates the traditional values of the best possible service with a deep respect for the highest quality produce as well as a commitment to being at the forefront of visionary restaurant design. The solid foundation of respect for the history and authenticity of our dishes was further developed on recent travels through China. Our menu pays homage to and draws inspiration from the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Xinjiang.”

Wow! Stirring stuff! Could have been written by a Hollywood screenwriter for the Saturday afternoon epic movie. However, although the dishes we had were “Asian-inspired” they were not particularly authentic, nor could they be described as improvements on the originals. Inspiration was definitely lacking…

Firstly on entering the place I felt oppressed. It was dark, brooding and the music blared 50s and 60s cocktail/lounge-lizard music. Just the thing for a Chinese restaurant (but I guess that was the “modern” part (certainly not for the garish carpet!). The staff (who were mostly young whippersnappers with an affected accent) were uppity and patronising. This did not bode well with me. However, I gave the place the benefit of the doubt and rebuked myself silently for being over critical. We were led to our table which was way too close to the others besides us – no chance of an intimate conversation here unless you planned to wife-swap with the couple next to you. The windows were obscured by vertical wooden slats and they had stripes painted on the glass, which further increased my claustrophobia (as well as effectively hiding the exceptionally good view of the river bank and the Yarra).

The drinks waiter came and he was pushy. He continued to be pushy throughout the evening. I do not drink much – a glass or two of wine with my meal is enough. Otherwise I like to have a plentiful supply of sparkling mineral water with ice. The ice was forgotten and I had to ask for it again and it arrived in water tumbler with a spoon to fish it out in order to place into my water. The smells in the atmosphere were overpowering and reeked of oil and chili. This was a premonition of the tastes that would overwhelm all of the food that night.

We received a spiel from the waitress regarding the way that we would order and eat our food. “You order and we place in the middle of the table for everyone to share…” Not “we suggest…” or “we recommend…” or “it is a good idea to…” I hate being dictated to (especially in a restaurant) and just to be contrary I said to her: “And I will have this and I will have that…” We ended up sharing as we do in other Chinese restaurants – this is the norm, I don’t see why they made such a big song and dance out of it.

These are the dishes we partook of:

Cucumbers with smashed garlic and ginger       $8
Aromatic duck salad with tea eggs and coriander     $18
Lamb and cumin pancakes    $14
Main courses
Guangxi style roast pork belly with coriander, peanuts, red onion and sesame seeds    $30
Stir fried grass fed beef fillet with wok blistered peppers and black bean     $42
On the side

Stir fried greens with garlic    $12
Boiled rice    $3 x 2

Orange jelly cake with orange blossom fairy floss     $6 x 2
To drink
2006 Shiraz, Olivers Taranga ‘HJ Reserve’ McLaren Vale     $113

Total for two people:    $255

The meals were very hot, not necessarily fragrantly spicy. Even the “mild” dishes I found unpleasantly spicy and hot, so I can only imagine what the “very hot” dishes would be like. And everything was floating in oil. Lots of oil. Dripping with oil… The servings were rather small, but because of the oiliness the dishes were heavy and caused us to bloat. The dessert was insignificant and more suited to a féte than a gourmet restaurant. However, to expect a spectacular dessert in a Chinese restaurant is unrealistic.

I could not get over the pretentiousness of the place. It should do well with the nouveau riche and the young, moneyed scions of distinguished families who have more wealth than experience.

The meal was expensive by most people’s standards, but apparently it is “quite reasonable” for a “Neil Perry Empire restaurant”… I do not mind paying top dollar for an exceptional meal in exceptional surrounds, served by exceptional staff. Unfortunately, the meal was not exceptional, the surrounds were dark and dingy and the staff condescending and up themselves. Three strikes and this restaurant is OUT for us. We went once and we shall not return. For a very good meal, friendly and careful service, authentic tastes and genuine Chinese cuisine one cannot go past the Red Emperor restaurant in Southgate - they even have a web site that works!

Overall a disappointing experience! Our rating 5/10.


  1. I can understand your disappointment, specially if you were told this was a very nice restaurant. It doesn't sound very appealing at all!

  2. Oh, that IS expensive!!!! Too bad you didnt enjoy the meal Nic.....
    I wouldnt go back either!!!!!