Red Spice Road
27 McKillop St, Melbourne (map)
Trying to find somewhere to have a nice lunch with M in the CBD legal district during that first sun-drenched, ghost-town week of January was always going to be a challenge. For M and I, fans of good pasta and vino, Benito's is usually "our place" - but it and practically every other restaurant I know in that part of town was closed for summer. A bit of hunting on Your Restaurants (I'm not an especial fan of the website but I LOVE the map function which shows where all Melbourne restaurants are located in relation to each other) turned up a nearby name I wasn't familiar with: Red Spice Road.
RSR opened in late November, financed by the Hong Kong group Apples and Pears, which recently also poured money into Interlude. Speaking of Interlude, I went there in December for a very special celebratory dinner. Their 11 course degustation was AMAZING but the dim lighting meant my photos are horribly blurry, so I decided not to write it up (must get a better camera, stat!!) - anyway, Cindy from the blog Where's the Beef recently wrote a brilliant review of the vegetarian-but-still-very-similar version of the Interlude 11 Courser which I suggest you read.
BUT I DIGRESS. Red Spice Road is divided into four distinct areas, all of them very generously proportioned: the bar (top photo) with cocktail lounge ("opium bed") seating just out of shot, the "long room" (second photo - as Epicure pointed out, borrowing heavily from the Longrain school of design), the courtyard (third photo) and finally the "round room" (pictured below), which is where we elected to sit.
The round room is very impressive, with sunlight flooding in through a huge domed skylight on to a round wooden table that can seat 56 people around its inner and outer rims.
Also like Longrain, the RSR menu has a strong Thai accent, but with a few more pan-Asian dishes thrown in. I had been delighted to read about the lunch special on their website - a $40 total for two people gets you an appetiser each, plus three share dishes and a bit of rice. Sold!
Yeah, I know. MORE salmon roe for Claire! This is the appetiser, eaten leaf and all: betel leaf with spanner crab, chicken, salmon roe, shallots and peanuts. I really loved this scrumptious little morsel - it was the perfect way to start the meal.
The first of the share dishes was the shredded chicken, mint, bean noodle, lemongrass and coconut salad. This was also excellent - the dressing on the salad was quite delicate, allowing all the other flavours to balance out nicely.
The second share dish was the lamb shank Massaman curry with eggplant, potato and peanuts. It was probably my least favourite of the dishes we tried, not that there was anything wrong with it - it was a nice Massaman curry - it's probably because the hearty, heavy nature of the dish didn't suit my appetite on a stinking hot January day.
The final share dish was crispy pork belly with chilli caramel, apple salad and black vinegar. I really wish I'd taken a better photo of this one so you could see the lovely dark sticky sauce - this one was deliciously sinful, with slivers of apple providing an ideal foil to the strong flavours of the crispy meat and the sweet/sour/spicy sauce.
Definitely worth a visit. I'm hoping to head back there soon!