Underground at Crown
Venturing into Crown Casino is not something that I relish. It's generally loud, there's too many people, and gambling is simply a tax on people who are bad at maths. But there are refuges to be found within the complex, one of which I have decided to dub "Neil Perry Corner". This would be the area between the foyer of Crown Towers, and the entrance next to Nobu. Contained within this small area is Rockpool Bar & Grill, The Waiting Room, and the newest addition: Spice Temple.
While we were waiting for the Gourmet Wives to find their way to Crown after watching some film that Dave and I had no interest in seeing, we figured it would be best to check out The Waiting Room. As we only stayed for one drink there's not a lot I can say. Seemed okay. It's pretty dark in there. Hmm...maybe I just shouldn't have mentioned it.
Anyway, eventually the Gourmet Wives made their arrival, just in time for our reservation at Spice Temple. It's dark in there too (see? I knew there was a reason to mention The Waiting Room). A perusal of the wine list later, and there were some cocktails on the table and a bottle of Alsace Riesling on its way. An interesting note on the wine list is that it is surprisingly sparse, but this is done on purpose (we're told on the front page of the list). Only 100 wines grace the pages at Spice Temple, which has allegedly forced each of them to "fight for its place on the list", there's a logic to this which I quite like. All too often I've been confronted with a thousand page, leather bound, tome (possibly a slight exaggeration), and ended up picking a "safe" choice which I've had before because there's just too much risk involved in experimenting with so many different wines on offer. Here, a lot of that guess work has been removed for me, or taken from me depending on your point of view.
A note on the cocktails, they were pleasant and slightly weird. Each named for a year in the Chinese calendar, the Monkey contained house made ginger beer, and would not be my choice for quenching a fire caused by some of the spicy food which was to follow, the drink was spicier. The Dragon also showed off its star ingredient of Lemongrass in a way I'd not experienced before. This is a pretty interesting cocktail list, and obviously a lot of thought has gone into it; many an Asian spice or ingredient has found its way into a glass here.
The food menu occasionally offers tantalizing names, but little detail, sometimes a waiters assistance may be required. See dish names such as Tingling Prawns or Strange Flavour Chicken. Also, some of the items are coloured in red, indicating the hotter of the dishes, but more on this later. All the food is designed for sharing, so a few small dishes and a few larger were the order of the day. Northern style lamb and fennel dumplings and Spice fried chicken wings with heaven facing chillies arrived first. Both of these had an element of "Aussie-Chinese Fusion" about them, I figured the chicken was what would have eventuated had the Chinese invented KFC; while lamb dumplings could have been straight out of the Sam Kekovich Asian recipe collection. I feel I should note that the dumplings weren't Chinese enough for Alicia's tastes, but they were still plenty tasty.
Following these were the Hunan style crisp pork belly, Hot and numbing crispy duck and Steamed king abalone mushroom. There was also a special of prawns with fresh bamboo shoots, as they were currently in season (the shoots, not the prawns). The duck was the only dish we ordered from the "red" section of the menu, indicating it was a particularly hot dish. We didn't actually find this to be the case; sure if you licked some of the Szechuan pepper you'd get a little fire on the tongue, but it's not like it blew your head off or anything. Maybe if we go again we'll go more of the hot stuff and see how much it varies, I'd be interested to hear from people who've had some of the others.
All in all, a good time was had. The food was both interesting and tasty, the standouts for me being the chicken and the duck, though all the dishes impressed in their own ways. I guess my gripe is really about the lighting levels; we're already dining underground, there's no need to rub our faces in it. So yes, Spice Temple gets the Gourmet Husband's tick of approval from me, just as Rockpool did and probably The Waiting Room. That means if you do find yourself stuck in Crown Casino, you can at least make your way to one area which isn't rubbish.