Melbourne, VIC 3000
Fine Dining and Good Value are as far from each other on the ‘occurrings of the universe’ spectrum as you can get, really. At least it was until Red Spice Road came along. Biting its thumb at the notion of a $3.5 potato chip, it offers a three-course (out of a possible five) banquet lunch with mounds of jasmine rice and a delightful little appetiser for a mere $25 per head. We would’ve happily gone for all five dishes for an extra $5 each, but that level of gluttony is restricted to parties of 6 or more.
A moderately-sized room with two long banquet tables gives way to a huge, cavernous space at the back, housing two crescent shaped communal dining tables that are watched over by three lovely paintings of three lovely ladies. The bar that sits to the side sees plenty of action, even during lunchtime. Some people might find the dining hall-like space a bit impersonal, and at worst like a feeding barn, but I actually really liked the relaxed and open atmosphere it provided. Plus, novelty.
What’s most astounding about the banquet is how much value it offers, especially when you look at the a la carte menu. Entrees are around $15, whilst mains hover in the mid-high $30s. The waitresses were pretty keen on pushing for drink orders, which is understandable – they have to make their money somehow.
|Betel Leaf with Chicken, Chilli, Lemongrass and Coriander|
To start off, we were served a small appetiser of Betel Leaf with Chicken, Chilli, Lemongrass and Coriander. A small pinch of smoky chicken wrapped in a velvety betel leaf packed a big punch of flavour. It was sour and spicy and full of herbs, perfect for tingling the tastebuds and whetting the appetite.
|Pork Belly with Chilli Caramel, Black Vinegar, and Apple, Cabbage, Mint Salad|
The Pork Belly with Chilli Caramel, Black Vinegar, and Apple, Cabbage, Mint Salad is the only dish that never changes on the banquet menu. Most likely due to the threat of unavoidable mutiny by their patrons, as it is the most popular dish at Red Spice Road by far. And it’s not hard to see why. Hidden beneath the greenery were four hefty cubes of pork belly, twice cooked and deep fried to yield a crispy exterior that gave way to insides so soft and caramelised that the fat practically melted in our mouths. And it only gets better, soaking up the flavours of the sticky chilli caramel, and drizzled with a small pot of black vinegar. The salad is equally as stunning, though for entirely different reasons. The sweet-sour crunch of the apple and cabbage slivers, liberally doused in fish sauce and garnished with mint, was the perfect ying to the pork belly’s yang.
|Lamb Rendang - Malaysian Lamb, Potato and Coconut Curry|
Considering how great the pork belly was, it’s a surprise to find that the Lamb Rendang – Malaysian Lamb, Potato and Coconut Curry was bland and uninspired. One blogger accurately (though slightly harshly) described it as ‘insipid drivel’. To be honest, the flavours weren’t actually half bad, but they were so muted they may as well have not been there at all; even a salt shaker could have done it worlds of good. It’s a disappointment really, especially considering that it looked so rich and delicious when it was put onto our table.
|Barramundi, Watermelon, Cucumber, Chilli and Coriander Salad|
The Barramundi, Watermelon, Cucumber, Chilli and Coriander Salad sat somewhere between the pork and the lamb. It was a deliciously refreshing salad with some great flavours, but it didn’t wow like the pork belly did. We enjoyed the crispy nuggets of barramundi, tossed in with a savoury fish sauce that contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the watermelon. The overall crunchiness of the salad was a definite win.
And rice enough for three. There was a lot of food, easily enough to feed an extra person. When we finally rolled out of the door, half of the rice, and most of the lamb rendang was still left on the table. There was no way we would have been able to fit in dessert, even if it was only an extra $5 each.
Rating: 14.5/20 – fine dining value meal