Usually eating out at nice, adult-centered restaurants are rare occurrences for me these days, but recently I’ve been lucky enough to go out child (and husband) free a couple of times. As a true foodie, if I’m going to eat out I figure I might as well do it in style. I like to go to interesting places (often this means they’re a little more pricey than your local family restaurant, but not always) and if possible get some kind of banquet or chef selection. I find that way you get to try more dishes, and the selection is what the chef considers his or her best and in an sequence that has been carefully considered as well as often introducing you to flavours or combinations you wouldn’t have chosen yourself. And as I love a good recommendation or to hear about others’ dining experiences I thought I would share mine with you all. In my family if someone has dined out it requires a full and detailed, dish by dish description, so beware this might take a while.
So for the first of my restaurant reviews I will take you to the Red Spice Road where I dined with my sister and very good friend on Tuesday night. The website describes it as a unique South East Asian restaurant and it certainly lived up to this statement. The venue itself is quite large, bustling and noisy (kinda like South East Asia), but also sophisticated and modern. The tables are predominantly communal so it’s quite natural to strike up a conversation with other diners around you if you were so inclined, especially if they’re eating something that looks or smells delicious. The rear section – where we sat – has a large glassed roof making it bright and airy in daylight hours, but once the sun had set the lighting was quite dim and atmospheric (a little too dim for me, I like to be able to see what I’m eating and as we noticed patrons using their mobile phone lights to read the menu by, perhaps I was not alone in this opinion).
We selected the second banquet, choosing that over the other two because of the scallop entree and the dessert. The three starters were:
Betel Leaf Topped with Smoked Chicken, Lemongrass, Coriander & Kaffir Lime
Grilled Scallop with Sticky Duck Relish & Cucumber
Twice Cooked Lamb Ribs with Chilli Jam
While all three were delicious it was the twice cooked lamb ribs that were the stand out for me. The meat was perfectly cooked and falling off the bone, the crust was light and crunchy and the chilli jam was thick, sticky and spicy. The starters were quite small without being ridiculously minuscule and were an exciting way to start the meal.
After a nice break between the entree, the first two of the four main courses arrived with a small bowl of steamed jasmine rice. These two were:
Chicken, Asian Celery, Green Tomato, Coriander, Green Chilli & Lime Salad
Pork Belly with Apple Slaw, Chilli Caramel & Black Vinegar
The pork was amazing, succulent and with the same light crunch as on the lamb ribs. The slaw that accompanied it kept the dish from being too heavy and while the vinegar dressing was nice, it was a little too vinegary for my liking. The chicken salad was a lovely contrast being fresh, light and summery. I think a salad like this should be included in more Asian banquets to break up the meal with something lighter.
Another break and then the main attractions arrived. The couple sitting next to us were also indulging in banquet number 2 (after seeing our starters and asking what we were having) and when they spied the
Barramundi Green Curry with Eggplant & Snake Beans
Slow Cooked Beef Cheeks with Mushrooms & Hot ‘n Sour Salad
he said “That’s what I’m talking about” which pretty well sums up this part of the meal. These dishes really were the highlight of the meal and we were a little sorry they hadn’t come out sooner as we were fast running out of stomach space. The beef cheeks were again slow cooked and falling apart. They were probably be most tender and tasty beef I’ve had anywhere. To me this dish was a mix of Asian flavours with a western twist. It was rich and warming, probably not what you want on a really hot day, but lovely considering this cool start to summer we’ve been experiencing. The Barramundi Green Curry was AMAZING, that’s all there is to it! The fish was spectacular, the texture of the Thai eggplant was explosive (has anyone had a go at growing these?) and the sauce was thick, creamy and packed with green curry yumminess (I’m sure that’s how Matt Preston would describe it). I desperately tried to squeeze a little more of this dish in, but sadly we were all defeated by the quantity and half the dish went back to the kitchen. As I said earlier, if only it had have been brought out earlier.
The dessert (we all know there is a separate dessert stomach) was
Passionfruit Cream with Peanut Praline, Puffed Wild Rice & Coconut Ice Cream
which was thankfully quite small and a delightful finish to the meal (and a half!).
The final indulgence was a jug of white sangria from their short but enticing list of jugtails. This was refreshing without being overly sweet like some cocktails tend to be and as none of us are real red wine drinkers it was a nice option to have over the traditional sangria.
The service was mostly attentive without being too obvious and the wait staff were knowledgeable on each of the dishes that came out. Our water glasses were almost always topped up without have to request more (with one exception when the service was really busy) and the dishes were cleared away unnoticed. Considering the restaurant was very busy (even on a Tuesday) the efficiency of the waiters was impressive – though perhaps this is because good service is hard to come by. Included in the bill is an automatic $2 donation to Streetsmart which is optional, but something we were happy to pay. The program called Dinesmart, asks partner restaurants to apply the $2 donation to all bills in the six weeks leading up to Christmas, with 100% of the proceeds going to Streetsmart programs. My only criticism of the meal was the level of waste – I hate seeing food go uneaten and consequently end up in the bin – as the banquet really was too much food. I would have liked to see the four main course dishes reduced in quantity just slightly and have less food left on the plates.
In all this was a thoroughly wonderful dining experience which ticks about all of my boxes when it comes to eating out (without children). So if you’re looking for a good restaurant in the city (27 McKillop Street, Melbourne VIC 3000) this one is definitely worth checking out.