Thursday, July 28, 2011

Red Spice Road to ruin

Venue: Red Spice Road
Style: Thai, Vietnamese, South East Asian
Address: 27 McKillop Street, Melbourne [Google Maps]
Phone: (03) 9603 1601
Hours: Lunch Mon-Sat 12:00pm-3:00pm / Dinner Mon-Fri 5:00pm-late, Sat 6:00pm-late
Prices: Set Lunch $25 / Banquets $45-$75 / E $4.50-13.50, M $26-38, D $13-15
Bookings: Necessary, telephone or online

GLUTTON, n. A person who escapes the evils of moderation by committing dyspepsia.
~ The Devil's Dictionary (C) 1911

Between the dim lighting, red accents and walls lined with comely maidens who've misplaced their shirts, Red Spice Road has the look of a den of iniquity. The sexy and raucous atmosphere coupled with the diverse scents emanating from the kitchen lulled me into a sense of abandonment I've not felt in some time (the 2010 Balgownie pinor noir probably played a part, cheap drunk that I am) and I gave my lustful appetite free reign. While the meal didn't qualify as a 10, our table discerning a number of missteps, you certainly wouldn't kick this one out of bed (perhaps my mixing of metaphors should cease here).

A starter of lamb ribs crumbed in chilli salt and cumin meets with universal acclaim. Will expresses a desire to forgo the rest of the menu in favour of MORE RIBS, as the meat is so soft and perfectly seasoned. I look forward to enjoying this dish in summer with a Belgian white ale.

Lamb ribs with chilli salt, cumin and coriander morsel left behind

Our three shared mains along with fragrant rice arrived shortly thereafter, including a Panaeng (sic) curry of venison shank, soft shell crab salad and Red Spice Road's lauded signature dish of pork belly with apple slaw, chilli caramel and black vinegar.


Soft-shell crab salad of green papaya, peanut and tomato

I fail to detect much papaya in the accompanying salad but the soft-shell crab is beautifully crisp on the outside, tender on the inside and quickly annihilated.

We move on to the pork belly, divided into neatly-sized mouthfuls that are entirely deserving of rave reviews. Despite being partially immersed in the slaw dressing, the pork retains firmness and has a luscious mouthfeel, offset by the sweet and sour of the apple and vinegar, respectively.

Venison shank Panaeng curry with kipfler potatoes

However, it was the venison shank curry that proved to be my undoing. Unorthodox spelling aside (Panaeng?), this plate of food was so comprehensively pleasing that I ignored the fact that I was full and forged on. Like the ribs, the venison had been cooked until it was almost slipping from the bone. A mouthful of meat, curry sauce, potato, nuts and coriander was rich, crunchy and fresh-tasting, with the gentle flavour of coconut also coming through.

At this point, the only disappointment was that our second serve of rice was overcooked - tragically mushy.

The guys insisted upon ordering dessert, which I was receptive to provided we were sharing. I hiccuped and thought ruefully of the 'gluttony' scene in Seven...

Lemongrass pannacotta, watermelon jelly, mango marshmallow and peanut praline / Lychee-filled doughnuts with palm sugar and coconut ice-cream

Sadly, the lemongrass pannacotta was a bimbo of a dessert: pretty as a picture and bland, with no lemongrass registering. Both watermelon constituents also lacked taste and the peanut praline was of such negligible quantity as to be worthless.

Fortunately for our tastebuds (and unfortunately for my stomach), the lychee-filled doughnuts made for an inspired dessert. I've never before seen doughnuts stuffed with whole fruit; the dough had obviously been fried rapidly, leaving a light outer layer that gave way to the bright juiciness within. Additional fresh lychees flanked quenelles of coconut ice-cream.

There is a great deal to like about Red Spice Road, not least of all the generosity of flavour and serving sizes. I should also mention that most seating is communal, which is a set-up I quite enjoy, although in this instance, I suspect the party atmosphere contributed to my excesses.

So it was that I ate with alacrity and lost my head...and my appetite for the next 16 hours.

Red Spice Road on Urbanspoon

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