Red Spice Road caters to the 'it' style of eating in Melbourne at the moment- fancy Asian fusion served sharing style. Apparently Red Spice Road has been kicking some goals in this area long before some of its newer competitors opened up, but I couldn't help comparing RSR to Chin Chin and some of the other tapas style sharing menu's I have tried.
The restaurant is aethestically pleasing- long communal tables with a very tasteful Asian theme, beautiful lighting and a massive gorgeous red lantern (biggest in the world apparently!) hanging from the roof. I couldn't complain about the service. We had a lovely bubbly waitress who was helpful and cheery and efficient.
But somewhere in our $65 banquet, something missed the mark. There was something lacking in the food at RSR. Quality Asian food should punch you in the mouth with flavour- sweet, sour, salty, spicy. Unfortunately, many of the dishes at RSR were just too bland and Western for my particular taste. There were some dishes that were absolutely beautiful, real ripper dishes, but I missed something zesty and spicy with loads of flavour, and felt instead swamped by heavy Westernised dishes.
The entrees were both hit and miss.
The betel leaves with chicken, coconut, crab, chilli and kaffir lime was not spicy enough. A bite size leave needs to pack a punch in my opinion, and these didn't, although still tasted nice.
The scallop with sweet pork sausage, cucumber and green onion also needed some heat, although beautifully presented.
The twice cooked lamb ribs with tamarind and coconut relish was the absolute winner of the entrees. Beautiful, tender spiced lamb fell off the bone and made you want to suck the juices off the bone. The relish was a perfect accompaniment and had me scooping more and more onto my lamb. A gorgeous, balanced dish that allowed the lamb to be the star.
The chicken, lemongrass, chilli, tomato, shallot and lime juice salad was one of the disappointing dishes. The banquet really needed a salad to cut through all the heavy foods, especially in the mains. Something spicy and zesty with loads of Asian herbs. This was not that salad. It was bland, lacked texture and had a real balance issue with way too much chicken mince and not enough greens or chilli.
The corn fritters were also quite disappointing. I was expecting something similar to Chin Chin's crispy corn fritters that pack a spicy punch but these were doughy and lacking spice, also didn't seem to have much corn in them at all!
The pork belly with apple slaw, chilli caramel and black vinegar was the star of the banquet, and one of RSR's signature dishes. Crispy on the outside, melt in your mouth on the inside, and topped with a gorgeous apple slaw and sauce, we made sure this was evenly distributed between the four of us! This was RSR's saving grace for me, a real winner!
The barramundi curry with potato and roasted carrot was also not my kind of food. It was too heavy, not spicy in the slightest and the rockling was overdone and somewhat chewy.
The beef cheek with mushrooms, crunchy bean shoot salad and spicy broth was an enjoyable main. The beef cheeks were fall apart tender, and super tasty. I am a sucker for bean shoots so loved that addition, and the broth was delicious however not at all spicy. I am not even a huge fan of chilli, but I do love that punch that good Asian food carries, where the chilli kick is noticable but not overpowering, and this food just didn't give that to me.
Dessert was another saving grace. I am a huge fan of Asian desserts and the Pandan cream with puffed wild rice, peanut praline and coconut was one of those classic inventive and memorable desserts that use beautiful Asian flavours. Absolutely loved every mouthful of this creamy, crunchy treat, even though I was pretty chock full by this point in the banquet!
So, would I say that Red Spice Road is one of the 'must try' Melbourne Asian fusion restaurants? Probably not. I would definitely direct anyone that asked to Chin Chin and Longrain before I would suggest Red Spice Road. A pleasant dining experience, yes, and nice food, yes... but not mind-blowing. I would honestly rather smaller servings of quality food than the generous servings of so-so heavy dishes we had for the price. Except that pork... next time, give me a serve of ribs, two serves of pork and dessert, and I would be a happy little camper!