The foodies chorus at work was forever singing the praises of Red Spice Road. "You've got to go to Red Spice Road, its great". "Red Spice Road, the pork belly is amazing." Well, after our visit I think they got it about half right.
Lunch started off very promisingly. Booking well ahead and in a small group we managed to avoid the big, slightly impersonal communal table.The interior is open, well furnished with natural light and interestingly decorated. Hanging in the middle of the room is the biggest red lantern I've ever seen in a restaurant, and the pictures of the woman along the wall reflect the fusion style of the restaurant, an Asian theme but in a western style. It's unlikely to be to everyone's taste but I thought it was attractive, well thought out and a great reflection of the restaurant's theme.
The $25 banquet comes with a set appetiser and the choice of three out of five main courses. The appetiser of chicken, smoked eggplant, coriander and lemongrass wrapped in betel leaf was a good way to start the meal. I'd never tried betel leaf before and it added an almost furry texture to a slightly tangy start to the meal. While I thought the flavours could have been turned up a little if its purpose was to get me interested in what was to come it succeeded.
The bit that the chorus got half right was the pork belly. Served with apple slaw, chilli caramel and black vinegar, absolutely delicious. Sweet, thick, juicy, tender, not too fatty, exactly how I like my pork belly. Despite sitting in the sauce it had even managed to retain a degree of crispiness.
The major problem was that the other two dishes weren't able to keep up the same standard. I was hoping that our green papaya salad with snakebeans, peanuts and chilli salad would be a real tastebud tingler to cut through the heaviness of the pork. However it didn't turn out that way, being very mild in flavour to the extent that the chilli was almost unnoticeable.
The story with the chicken kung-po, with chilli, cashews, green onion, soy and rice wine was very similar. I'm used to this being quite a fiery dish and normally with peanuts rather than cashews. I didn't like this version much at all, finding the sauce a bit heavy and lacking any real fire. Not at all what I wanted from a dish I normally like.
Such a disappointing finish after the promising start, its hard to know what else to say about our meal here. Servings were generous, I loved the atmosphere of where we sat, the first couple of dishes were great but the last two quite ordinary. I'd like to go back but would probably avoid the banquet next time to see if I could find some other things on the menu more to my taste.
One minor point about the service, this was another of those restaurants where, after you finish your meal, it took ages to get the wait staff's attention to ask for the bill.
Food - 7
Ambience - 8 (probably lower around the table)
Service - 6.5
Price - 7
27 McKillop St
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: 03 9603 1601