Regional Hunan @ Spice Temple

It’s dark, intimate, spicy and yum!

The first in the series of monthly Chinese Regional dinners hosted by Neil Perry, we are off to the Hunan region with the promise of spice. As per the Spice Temple blog – Hunan Province is located in South-Central China, sandwiched in the middle of six other provinces including Sichuan, Guangxi and Jiangxi, which also feature predominately on the Spice Temple menus.

The shared tables have taken over the top floor of Spice Temple and there is an excited buzz across the dimly lit room as Neil Perry starts tweeting pictures of the food from the kitchen!

We start the night with Hunan style pickled cucumber and shitake mushrooms and a fantastic, fresh, zingy shredded chicken salad with heaps of coriander and salted chilli. Succulent chicken married with fresh coriander leaves and bejewelled with red chilli, the spice works beautifully with the cucumber and mushrooms with their tangy vinegar dressing.

Steamed Pearly Meat Balls are hearty and tasty, speared onto a chopstick we are all tucking in and enjoying a glass of Ocean Eight Verve Chardonnay.

Dong’an Chicken arrives next, a famous Hunan dish dating back to the 8th Century, a result of three ladies in a spot of trouble on a busy night in their restaurant, with barely anything left they had to rustle of a new dish with the chicken they had and the spices and aromatics they had in the pantry! It’s a great dish, plenty of sichuan spice and teamed with plain boiled rice, there is a little sichuan tingly and numbness creeping in!!

The dish is also served with a steamed egg custard, I miss hearing not to eat a big spoonful of it on it’s own, it is to be mixed in with the chicken and rice to add another depth of flavour…. on it’s own it is not so good!!

Potato salad and bass groper braised with black bean and chilli are next on the table, the potato salad is not the usual European version with lashings of mayo, this is delicate sticks of crunchy potato with a light dressing and welcome freshness to counteract some of the chilli!

The fish flakes into the delicious salty, hot sauce and again some boiled rice helps to soak up all of the flavours of the cooking liquor.

The beer braised duck with heaps of fresh chillies is a winner, the rich duck leg is spiced up and holds the flavours perfectly. Though a little hard to manage on a shared table, it helps to get to know everyone a bit better, then you can be a little less polite when trying to divide up the food!!

The ‘Chairman Mao Pork’ is a dish that Mao claimed to eat every day! With all this lovely Hunan food I reckon he was missing out sticking to the one dish but we are very glad to try it! The hearty chunks of pork have been slow cooked from the way the flesh falls apart into the soupy sauce packed full of spring onions. It’s a warming dish with big flavours but not something I would want to eat everyday!!

When desserts arrives the Eight Treasure rice pudding is cute and very nice, perhaps I was a bit too full from our Hunan degustation but for once dessert was not the highlight, but the competition was pretty fierce!

At $85 a head plus drinks the Regional Dinners are a great way to experience Spice Temple and the joys of this modern approach to Chinese cuisine. The staff are lovely, the food is great and the wine list is 100 great wines, a recent winner of the Brown Brothers Wine List of the year award at the Age Good Food Awards. There are also some amazing looking cocktails on offer and I recommend a pre-dinner drink at the bar to see the masters in action!

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