We Sydneysiders are a spoilt bunch. There’s practically a neighbourhood Thai restaurant in every suburb, and better yet, we have places like Spice I Am that set the benchmark.
Spice I Am spans across four restaurants in Sydney – the original Spice I Am in Surry Hills, Spice I Am Darlinghurst, Spice I Am Balmain and their north-eastern Thai street food restaurant, ‘House’ in Surry Hills.
The Darlinghurst sibling is more refined, elaborate and I’d even add, sultry. A dramatic feature wall made of large clay pots sit behind a sleek cocktail bar. Everything from the floorboards to the tables have a polished glow. It’s sassy, not snobbery; the focus is always on the food. Good taste runs in the family, and co-owner/head chef Sujet Saenkham ensures every meal across all four restaurants takes you on an unforgettable journey to Thailand.
The drinks menu includes traditional Thai beverages such as the sweet-like-caramel milk ice tea ($4) as well as a few pages of cocktails and a handful of mocktails. My Ocean 11 ($10) mocktail is a lush concoction of crushed lychee, pomegranate jewels, spearmint, freshly squeeze lime and cranberry juice. In the beer arena, there’s also Thailand’s Singha Lager ($8) to complete the Thai experience.
A favourite starter here is bour thod (six pieces for $14), a Phuket style fritter of green prawns on crispy betel leaves with chilli sauce, crushed roasted cashew nuts and coriander. The tempura-like batter is thin enough to allow you to taste the prawns and betel leaf, and thick enough to add a bit of textural excitement.
The tod man pla ($12), are deep-fried fishcakes of fish and prawn and are topped with sweet chilli sauce, cucumber, eschallot and crushed roasted peanuts. They’re spicy, moist and bouncy, just shy of rubbery, a sign they aren’t over-processed.
The kaeng ped pett yang ($29.50) is a red duck curry which is absolutely gorgeous in presentation; served in a whole coconut, pieces of roast duck and shreds of coconut flesh overflow from the perfectly carved opening. The aroma of the curry paste is vividly exotic and the trove of pea eggplant, apple eggplant, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, cherry tomatoes, lychee, pineapple and Thai basil makes every spoonful that much more exciting.
Ordering something special like the fried rice with crab meat ($21) instead of plain rice transports us into a holiday mood. The flavours are subtle, allowing the rice to act as a base for some of our more pungent dishes, such as the incredible Pad Prik Pao Crispy Pork Belly ($23) which is a signature dish with good reason!
As if the moreish and deeply satisfying crunch of deep-fried pork belly isn’t enough, the pork belly is then wok tossed with Spice I Am’s own chilli jam and cherry tomatoes. And no, just one photo of this dish isn’t enough, I’ve included a close-up tease too!
Our last savoury dish is a deep fried whole snapper topped with a green mango salad from the Specials Menu. Going by the name of Pla Tord Yum Ma Muang ($29), this dish is all about contrast. The crispy skinned fish, the soft sweet flesh, the crunchy green mango, the play on sweet and sour… Flavours of garlic, chilli, eschallot, lemongrass, coriander and cashew nuts also carry through the salad, lending it lots of fresh and zesty notes.
When it comes to dessert, you cannot go past the BTS, short for Better Than Sex ($16). I’ve had this many many times and never fail to order it. It’s essentially toasted brioche served with pandan gelato, Thai caramel sauce and roasted black and white sesame seed. The pandan gelato is heavily fragrant, yet light and luscious. You’ll also be delighted to know that the thick slice of brioche is proportional to the generous double scoop of icecream. I say this for those of you whose pet peeves are burgers with buns too big or too small, or getting Hainanese chicken rice with not enough chicken and too much rice.
Or if you’re one of those people who haven’t had dessert until you’ve had something chocolately, then try the Cup C ($16), a warm baked soft chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato. It’s a departure from the Thai adventure but chocolate cake goes with everything!
Spice I Am
296-300 Victoria Street, Darlinghurst NSW
Phone: (02) 9332 2445
Also at Surry Hills and Balmain.
Jenius dined as guests of Spice I Am and O’Loghlin Communications