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spice i am, darlinghurst

August 6, 2013

spice i am exterior

I remember, back when I was a somewhat-skint uni student, eating Thai food for lunch at least once a week. It was an edible luxury – the smoky char of wok fried noodles, the silky coconut cream based curries.

But there was one Thai restaurant that was special. The one I saved my precious pennies for and shunned Friday night shenanigans in favour of.

I was first introduced to the original Spice I am in Surry Hills by a male friend of mine. Not a boy-friend, mind you, though we did spend our free Saturdays out on “practice dates” from time-to-time.

“I’ll take you somewhere nice.” he would say over the phone (for we still used land lines back then). “But not too nice. A first date sort of place. I need to suss out my first date locations to make sure they’re still good.”

(He was always going on first dates, this friend of mine, though he has since bucked that trend and settled down).

“Alright,” said I, ever the willing assistant in such situations. “Do I need to get dressed up? Should I wear heels or flats?”

“Flats. But nice ones please.”

 

young coconut juice $5.50 // milk ice tea $4.50

young coconut juice $5.50 // milk ice tea $4.50

 

I wondered what he would have made of the still-fairly-new Spice I Am in Darlinghurst, when I visited as a guest some Saturdays ago. Whether he would have insisted on a flippy dress and shiny pair of well heeled stilettos? Whether the dark lacquered tables, gold gilt wallpaper and clay urn feature wall would have elevated the date-venue-worthiness from first-date casual to third-date impressiveness?

(I’d like to think the answer would be a resounding “yes” to all three).

We were served, that sunny Saturday, by the ever-accommodating Jib (who apologised profusely for the lack of cocktails on the lunch menu), and (being overwhelmed by the choices) left the ordering to her.

Two drinks are brought swiftly to the table. The first, a thirst-quenching young coconut juice, with slivers of flesh floating here and there, and the second, a thai milk tea that had my pupils rapidly dilating from the heady mix of sugar and caffeine.

 

Nua Daed Deaw $9.50 - Sun dried, marinated beef strips, lightly fried and served with Jim-Jaew dipping sauce

Nua Daed Deaw $9.50

 

Bour Thod 6pcs $14.50 // Grilled Marinated Pork 4pcs $12.50

Bour Thod 6pcs $14.50 // Grilled Marinated Pork 4pcs $12.50

 

A plate of Nua Daed Deaw leads the trio of entrees. The sun dried, marinated beef strips, lightly fried and served with jim-jaew dipping sauce are sweet, salty and spicy all at the same time, with the texture similar to (but infinitely less chewy than) biltong. It is charmingly moreish and would be an absolute treat alongside a cold beer on a hot and humid day.

The grilled and marinated pork (or sate) comprise tender slices of meat skewered with bamboo and served with the same syruppy jim-jaew dipping sauce as the beef. They are lovely, without any fat or gristle, but pale in comparison to the intricacy of flavour present in the others.

Most impressive is the Bour Thod, a Phuket style fritter of green prawns on crispy betal leaf with chilli sauce, crushed roasted cashew nuts and coriander. It is simultaneously crisp and tender, with that perfect balance of Thai flavours – the sweet, salty, spicy and sour – all in one messy bite. When pressed, Jib tells us that the betel leaves are first soaked in red curry to absorb the flavour, before becoming part of the crisp fried fritter.

“This is,” says Jib proudly, as she clears the plates, “real Thai street food. It is one of my favourites, but it can be difficult to find it, even in Thailand now. Not many people make it anymore.”

 

Yum Hua Plee $29.50

Yum Hua Plee $29.50

 

Po Taek $17 Mixed seafood clear soup with lime juice, Thai herbs, mushroom and Thai holy basil

Po Taek $17

 

We are spoilt with not two, but four main meals – “One from each section of the menu” explains Jib as she sets them on the table.

The Yum Hua Plee arrives first, a neat cylinder of banana flower salad which is quickly disassembled into ribbons of shredded chicken breast, roasted coconut shallots, chilli and the aforementioned banana flowers in a nutty nam prik pao dressing. Three plump king prawns sit atop, the last of which is eyed off by the two of us, before Koji graciously offers to go halves.

“Do you eat chilli?” asks Jib, popping back briefly in between courses.

A brisk nod of the head follows.

“Oh good then!”

We quickly discover the reason for her question in the form of Po Taek.

It is, in essence, a clear seafood soup. Infused with lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime, redolent with squid and prawns, mussels and mushrooms. And it is shockingly, explosively spicy. Koji’s first reaction was splutteringly funny, and whilst the first few mouthfuls had me gasping, I eventually became accustomed to the sharp heat.

 

red duck curry $29.50 Roasted duck in red curry with pea eggplant, apple eggplant, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, cherry tomatoes, lychee, pineapple and Thai basil

red duck curry $29.50

 

Pad Prik Pao Crispy Pork Belly $23 Stir fried crispy pork belly wok, tossed with Spice I am chilli jam, cherry tomatoes

Pad Prik Pao Crispy Pork Belly $23

 

Two Spice I Am favourites follow – a red duck curry, which draws gasps at its presentation in the hull of a young coconut, and the infamous Pad Prik Pao.

Rifling through the coconut (and trying our best not to upturn it and cause a mess) we discover chunks (and not slivers) of roasted duck meat, pea and apple eggplants, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, cherry tomatoes, lychee, pineapple and thai basil, all encased in a mild red curry. Later that evening (because seriously, two people would never have been able to eat all of that food in one sitting) we turned the leftovers into a duck red curry noodle dish and declared it quite the success.

The pad prik pao (or that-addictive-crispy-pork-belly-from-Spice-I-Am as it is far better known) is eaten later that night as well, straight out of the take-away container, fingers at grabbing the still-shatteringly crunchy skin, eyes popping at the sweet chilli jam and salty crackling.

 

bael fruit $4.50 // lemon ice tea $4.50

bael fruit $4.50 // lemon ice tea $4.50

 

I am, at this point, full to the point of discomfort, eyes glazed and mind weary.

“This,” says Jib, “will help.”

The first sip transports me – it is the drink of my childhood. A round, grassy sweetness with a cleansing bitterness as it slides down the throat. Bael fruit (or wood apple) drink, nature’s very own stomach settler and popular offering of my Ahma when I’d had one too many things to eat. Koji is happier with a dark lemon tea. Perhaps his childhood was not as herbally infused as my own.

 

Khao Neaw Dum $10.50 Warm black sticky rice with Thai smoked coconut cream and pandan gelato // Saku $10.50 Tapioca pearl with coconut and dark palm sugar sauce

Khao Neaw Dum $10.50 Warm black sticky rice with Thai smoked coconut cream and pandan gelato // Saku $10.50 Tapioca pearl with coconut and dark palm sugar sauce

 

“Just two desserts ok?” asks Jib, with a cheeky smile as she brings the glasses to our table.

We are not so full that there is not room for a little bite more. Especially when that bite is one of warm black sticky rice drenched in a smoked coconut cream and topped with the silkiest pandan gelato known to mankind (or, this kind of lady at least). It is not too sweet and I find it so strangely satisfying chomping down on the plump grains of glutinous rice that I end up eating far more than I intended to. (But oh! They pop! And with such subtle sweet nuttiness!)

Koji, who is usually a campaigner against all things sago, is looking rather pleased with the Saku in front of him, notwithstanding that it is essentially the very tapioca pearl he often despises, served in shaved ice, coconut cream and a dark palm sugar sauce.

“This is,” the mutters in between mouthfuls, “the first sago I’ve liked.”

There is hope yet.

 

shez at spice i am darlinghurst

spice i am darlinghurst

Spice I Am, Darlinghurst

296-300 Victoria St
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
e: [email protected]
w: www.spiceiam.com
Open for lunch: daily from 11:30pm – 3:30pm
Open for dinner: daily from 5:45pm to 10:30pm (no bookings taken)

 

 Shez (and Koji) dined at Spice I Am, Darlinghurst as guests of the restaurant. No money was paid for the publication of this post (not that it would have affected the expressed feelings of the author in any case).


  • #1
    August 7th, 2013

    Food looks incredible, and I love how the red duck curry was served in the coconut! Genius!

  • #2
    August 8th, 2013

    The crispy pork belly is definitely my favourite there! a Thai meal def needs Thai milk tea with it lol

  • #3
    August 8th, 2013

    Bour Tod is my fave but I can’t stand the heat. No wonder, if it’s soaked in red curry first!

Shez