Spice I Am - Sydney CBD
Spice I Am had shaken the Thai restaurant and cafe scene in Sydney for several years by now. With modest beginnings beside a back packer accommodation joint, the operators now have also opened upmarket outlets in Balmain and Darlinghurst, plus an alternative operation in House, sited not far away. However I always look to its first venue, near the triangulation of Campbell, Wentworth and Elizabeth Streets near Central Railway Station, as its heart and soul.
There were only two of us who stumbled upon an available table on the pavement at the corner of this Thai food delight. I had to have the homok, steamed spiced up fish mousse wrapped in banana leaves, but I realised that the servings that Saturday night lacked fish and flavour. One of my fav dishes here is the pork belly cut up in bite sized pieces that provided the intensity of the garlic, basil and chili that they were stir fried with. We gave that a pass over on this occasion as there were only two of us. I still felt trepidation at having the shredded papaya salad called the som tum on our request, as a few times over, I experienced over the top chili burn, sour amplification and burning sensations on past attempts with this well known salad. To my amazement this evening, the som tum was perfect in my view, infused with crunchy flavours but not on the radical end of the chili burn spectrum. Have the cooks toned this down?
Guests do not expect to linger on sitting at Spice I Am. They have a few turnovers of the same table each evening or lunch arvo, as people still streamed in to wait on the roadside even if the compact sized site was abuzz with customers. It does make sense to come in groups of six for Thai food, as then there is an opportunity to sample more dishes. This was like the group of twenty somethings at our next table, practically dressed in shorts, T shirts and an easy carefree attitude. The evening's humidity was decreasing but the chili heat was going up. As demonstrated over many years, service was super efficient and may be too fast.However I knew we could not hold on to our table, no matter how small, for more than the average 45 minutes. Hence there was this penchant from neighbouring residents for take aways, which was delivered equally as fast as for the sit in diners.
The best dish that both of us had on this occasion on a Saturday night was the deep fried snapper, garnished with a mango salad that was generously heaped on top of the primary item. It was mouth-watering, both the fish and salad. I did miss the pad thai, another favourite of the Aussie customer in Sydney. Orders are taken by the earnest staff from people waiting outside the joint and that does help to escalate delivery of the dishes once seats are offered to them. The relative absence of use of coconut milk in many of the dishes at Spice I Am is a good point to note, for they move away from the creamy and sugary emphasis of most Thai outlets in most suburbs across the Australian continent. Many Aussies have visited Thailand on one occasion or another and it can be useful if the Thai restaurant scene here can distinguish themselves more by their variations in regional cuisine. Phuket food is so different from Korat or Chiangmai.