Red Spice Road QV is one of the nicer restaurants in the city. I've been aware of the restaurant, and I know that colleagues have dined at Red Spice Road at the McKillop Street location (see Big Fil's review back in April 2011), and I've always been intrigued about the high, arched tunnel that leads into the Orchid Room, which is their function room.
Earlier this week, I was invited to attend the book launch for 'The Road to QV', a recipe book of the dishes that are served at the two Red Spice Roads. Stepping through the shadowy, arched tunnel, with the energetic thump of the music from within, this was an enticing prelude for an exciting evening for the senses.
The Road to QV - the perfect gift for the foodie in your life!
With a welcoming glass of bubbles in my hand, I spoke to Rita Erlich, a respected food writer with (among other things) 15 years under her belt as co-editor for The Age Good Food Guide. She is also the editor of The Road to QV, and shared the night hosting the event with Andrew Cameron (owner), John McLeay (chef), and Gavin van Staden (General Manager).
As the host for the night, Rita led us into the dining room - a gorgeous room with a fantastic water feature and flower centerpiece...
...and atmospheric lighting; with the geometric wooden chairs contrasting against the smooth, oval ceramic dinner set.
Talking us through the dishes, Rita and chef John McLeay provided insights into the dishes that we would sample, while Gabriel Tuppini (sommelier) took us through how he picked each wine to accompany each recipe in the book. Rita, Gavin and Andrew also provided anecdotes of their collective journey in setting up Red Spice Road and also writing the book.
The menu for the night would be a showcase for the many cuisines in south-east Asia. For starters, we had the duck and prawn relish on watermelon, served with Balgownie Premium Cuvee Sparkling Rose, Yarra Valley. A wonderful, vibrantly coloured way to get the taste buds going!
Equally so, was the incredibly punchy Thai flavours of the duck and prawn. Meaty tendrils that tasted like a sophisticated version of the deep fried anchovies snacks that you buy from Asia. There's no holding back in terms of flavours - each bite was a burst of flavour of salty, sour and sweet. To counteract the potential umami overload, there was the clean fresh, juiciness of the watermelon and the earthiness from the roasted peanuts.
The second starter was a contrast in texture and flavour - a Burmese inspired squid, chilli, heirloom tomatoes and coriander salad, which was served with 2011 Chalmers Vermentino, Heathcote. A lovely refreshing contrast from the amazing first course. Very tender and fresh squid that have been lightly cooked so that you can taste its own sweetness.
The mellow, savoury tomatoes and the judicious use of coriander (one of my pet peeves is when places put too much and it drowns out everything else) went well with the clean, sharp flavours from the red onions and the dressing. Despite the presence of chilli, this wasn't spicy at all. Even chilli wimps, like myself, could easily enjoy this dish.
For the mains, we had a Vietnamese caramelised pork braised in coconut juice with eggs, served with NV Harcourt Apple Cider. I was curious to try this dish because less than a week ago, I had the exact dish at a Vietnamese restaurant in Footscray. The Footscray version was much more homestyle in nature - melt-in-your-mouth fatty belly pork and a simple, light brown soy sauce.
The Red Spice Road version was definitely more complex in flavour - subtle, yet it was a deep, darkly coloured, sweet and buttery soy-based sauce. I'm sure there's a whole lot of ingredients that went into the sauce but I couldn't discern what they were, except to say it was delicious and I loved drizzling it over my rice. The pork here was much less fatty but a had a nice thin caramel crust - something which the Footscray version didn't have. The eggs here were a tad over boiled for my preference.
Perhaps the most interesting dish on the night, for me, was the rich Khmer lamb curry, served with 2010 Pyren Yardbird Union Cabernet Blend, Pyrenees. Trying this dish was an illustration of how we first eat with our eyes before our mouths. When the dish was brought out to the table, in the waning candlelight, it looked to be quite a murky coloured dish. However, the moment I took the photo with the flash, I was surprised to see that it was quite red in hue.
Despite knowing that was red in colour, while I tasted the dish, I couldn't help but feel like I was eating a chocolately brown stew. This impression was further heightened the fact that, despite the presence of kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass, it seemed like a European style stew - this view was shared by my neighbour. A luscious stew, in which the curry sauce had the mouth-feel of melted couverture chocolate - definitely raised the bar for comfort food, this!
For the finale for the night, a chocolate chilli delice with salted peanut praline and coconut ice cream, served with NV Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Ruby Port. Chocolate may seem odd to serve with at an Asian meal, however, following the chocolately mouth-feel of the preceding curry, it seemed rather fitting. The dessert was where the zinginess of the chilli, which had been lurking in the background of all the other dishes, came to the fore. The fire of the chilli was tempered by the incredibly smooth chocolate and the cool coconut ice cream. The peanut praline added a lovely contrasting crunchy texture.
Food – 10
Ambiance – 9.5
Service – 10*
Price – 8*
* Scores are notional as I was a guest of Red Spice Road QV.
Everything about the night was a perfect showcase of the food, service and experience at Red Spice Road - I'm fast running out of adjectives! The recipes on offer are different from the hoi polloi - the tastes and flavours here are complex and expertly crafted by the chefs. The service was second to none - friendly smiles, attentive eyes, and the staff knew what they were serving to the table. Added to this, the sumptuous surroundings of the Orchid Room, made this a night to remember.
I'd definitely recommend coming to Red Spice Road QV if you want to treat yourself to a special meal (Christmas and New Years is just around the corner!), or you can buy The Road to QV if you fancy trying the dishes yourself at home.... or you can do both!
Red Spice Road QV
31-37 Artemis Lane
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Telephone: 8660 6300