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 2009 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 Sydney at this intimate, underground restaurant. The dining room features dark timber tables, padded red leather bench seating and dim, though dramatic lighting. There’s incense in the air and moody portraits of Asian women along one wall (presumably to add a sense of exotic sensuality, but which ensues an eeriness).
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. Perry 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.
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