Spice I Am - The Restaurant
Time Out says
A fancier offering from the Spice I Am family
The original little hole-in-the-wall Spice I Am on Wentworth Avenue has been trading like crazy since 2004. You can't book, and getting a table can take longer than two schooners in a nearby pub - but the wait is never less than worth it (they'll take your number and call you back when your table is ready). Now there's a fancier branch on Victoria Street under co-owner and chef Sujet Saenkham, where you can book ahead, drink cocktails in their lounge and listen to chilled beatz.
Inside, the room is dark and moody, with exposed beams, vases of tropical flowers and a lot of rattan. On the menu you'll find clusters of what's unfortunately called silver fish (they look a lot like whitebait), deep fried and served with a shot glass of sweetened chilli sauce. There's also spicy, briny Boston Bay mussels steamed with basil, hunks of lemongrass, galangal and chilli, served with (yes) a shot glass of hot and sour chilli sauce.
There's certainly a lot more on the fancy food front, too, though the thinking behind it is sometimes a bit confusing. It seems wasteful to use eye fillet in a green curry, say. Why not use an exciting cut with a bit more flavour and texture?
More interesting are the slices of feather-light chicken mousseline with Panang sauce - sweet enough to ease you out of a bad chilli burn. And we love the pork belly stir-fried until crisp then injected with sweet heat in the form of chilli jam and hot-hot heat from your regular bird's eye missiles. Like a bit of stink? Try the thin slices of pork loin stir-fried with shrimp paste - it's a very pungent surf 'n' turf crunched up with sugar snap peas.
Tao jeow loun is great for sharing - fermented white bean, pork mince and prawns are cooked down to a paste and mixed with coconut milk, lemongrass, kaffir lime and chilli served with carrots and cucumbers artfully carved to resemble wood-cut leaves. After some fire in your belly? Order the som tum - a hot-as-hell green papaya salad studded with dried baby shrimp, tomato, chilli dressed with palm sugar and fish sauce. Why it's served as a side dish, though, is a mystery.
Thai desserts rock: the sweet, salty, crisp squoosh of them is an absolute joy. Take the yellow mung bean cake topped with deep fried shallots and coconut sauce, or mango sticky rice with a perfectly ripe mango cheek. We only wish there was more of each.
While the food here lives up to the Spice I Am benchmark, the expectation was that this new establishment would be even more dazzling than the original. But for these prices you'd expect something more than decorative plates and fancy décor; for instance, waitstaff that keep the water glasses filled and don't snap at you. The portions here are less than generous and it's expensive (you're looking at around $70 with a couple of beers thrown in rather than the usual $25).
If you love the food at Wentworth Avenue and don't mind paying a lot extra for classier digs and a guaranteed seat, then you'll be pleased with this new offering. For our two cents, though, we're quite happy to wait at the Hotel Hollywood, phone in one hand and a six-pack in the other.
Read more about Sydney's best Thai restaurants.
296-300 Victoria St
|Opening hours:||Lunch: Thu-Sun 12 noon-3pm; Dinner: daily 6-10.30pm.|