At Spice I am in Surry Hills, Sydney, both the owners and the diners are smiling; the owners because this is how busy it was at 6.10pm on a Sunday evening,
and at 7pm when we left,
and I hear you ask, why are the diners smiling?
Well the fabulous and truly spice balanced food. Yes, it is hot, as hot as I believe a Thai family would cook for itself, no mucking about, no fake flavour 'balances'; just fresh fast and cheap Thai food.
I am a lover of Thai food and have eaten widely across Thailand, yet always had the trouble of trying to convince the Thais that we really did want the food as they would eat it, they were mostly too accommodating, yet, though they are incredibly hospitable at Spice I am there is no 'accommodating' when it comes to the menu.
A young couple next to us, sipping BYO crouchen riesling, were warned that the jungle curry they ordered was hot, sure no problems was their response, yet when it was delivered and they were crying with chilli pain and laughing at each other, they realised that Spice I am is no usual Australian Thai restaurant. It is the real thing.
We ordered a selection of dishes; the Thai vermicelli salad with prawns, cuttlefish and pork was glossy with a dressing of hot, sour, sweet and salty flavours. The noodles were nicely textural and it was all freshened up on the palate with loads of green herbs, particularly holy and common mint, Thai basil and coriander.
These types of salads are best eaten without hesitation, no wine, no water or conversation, time is your enemy. If you stop and let the dressing ponder on the palate you will be sorry, the chilli will creep up on you and it will be difficult to start again. I made the mistake. Forgetting my 'Thai salad technique' and I needed a moment or two to recover. The only expression possible is a smile and a teary eye, I loved it, but it was not the dish of the night, or my dish of the month, that accolade goes to a special that evening.
February Dish of the month
Crispy baby snapper with green papaya salad and cashews
The flesh had been scored and slightly loosened from the bone, well seasoned and fried. The kitchen had done a great job before cooking so it was very easy to remove the meat from the bones. It was topped with the shredded salad and served with a shot of nam jim dressing to pour over the top.
The remarkable thing was that the skin and scored flesh remained crispy even under the weight of the salad, yet cooked well with softly flaky meat and a crispy tail to nibble.
I found Spice I am to be an absolute winner on most fronts, its only let down was that it is so popular that the waits can be inhibiting to people wanting to dine at usual times (not Nanna time like me that evening!) and that the tiny shop front dining room was far less glamourous than I had imaged and totally BYO so we were at the mercy of a dodgy pub bottle-o for our selection with dinner.
But to quote PDC "I can't name the last time I spent $60 bucks in a restaurant and enjoyed it so much".
Enough said. Smiles all round.