When I first came up with the idea for our Spice Temple Regional Dinners, I was thinking that they would be a great way to showcase the unique elements of the cuisines we focus on at Spice Temple - Sichuan, Yunnan, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi and Xinjiang. So many Chinese restaurants in Australia base their menus around Cantonese cuisine, and the regional dinners would be a wonderful opportunity to pay homage to the cooking of individual provinces that most people don’t know much about. Our Hunan dinner last month was a great success, and many of the dishes immediately found their way onto the Spice Temple menus.
However, thinking back to the great meal I had at Heston’s newest restaurant, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, where he takes long forgotten dishes and brings them back into the modern world, it gave me inspiration do the same for a one-off Imperial Chinese dinner at ST. Delving back into the history of Chinese cuisine (and there’s plenty to delve into!) was great fun, as was testing and adapting all these dishes from the past.
The floor staff getting ready for the pre-service briefing – with a brand new menu, we didn’t want any hiccups.
Spice Temple Melbourne Head Chef Ben Pollard running through the dishes.
The clay pots all lined up for our First Ranking Official Pork…
Duke Huan’s Goose (or duck, as it was) en place.
Jade Belt Fish Rolls prepped and ready for the steamer…
Cooking the snow pea tendrils for the first dish…
‘Playful Dragon and Phoenix’ c.1519 AD - the first dish of the evening and a real winner. The chicken was first marinated in shao xing and salt, then stir fried with the squid and black and white fungus and the snow pea tendrils. Great flavours and great textures.
‘The Most Delicious Dish Under Heaven’ c.1021 AD - this dish delivered as promised, and then some! For such a simple stir fry, this was amazing. The clams were stir fried with lots of ginger, pork fat and jicama – then a little cornflour was added to thicken the sauce and finished with ground white pepper. The clams were so succulent, and the tiny bit of cornflour added carried the flavour of the pepper making the dish almost spicy. Straight onto the menu!
‘Jade Belt Fish Rolls’ c.1680 AD - This was such a beautiful combination of flavours - prosciutto, mushroom and bamboo shoots all wrapped up in the whiting. But the best thing about this dish was the awesome textures – the wonderful, gelatinous steamed whiting and the crunch of the bamboo shoots.
‘Li Bai’s Chicken’ c.701 AD - Another textural feast – the soft poached chicken and shiitake mushrooms, hand chopped prawn mousse that’s gently steamed, and wok-fried biodynamic bamboo shoots. Just finished with a light soy broth, this was probably my favourite dish of the night.
‘First Ranking Official Pork’ c.1213 AD - This was so delicious – the pork belly was first marinated in red bean curd, then braised with ginger, garlic, spices and red rice. The claypots were lined with fried cabbage leaves, then the pork was transferred to the pots, covered up and steamed. Yum!
‘Duke Huan’s Goose’ c.643 BC – Unluckily, there weren’t enough geese for our dinner – so we had to substitute duck instead! The duck was fried until golden, then braised until tender in loads of spices. Another cracker!
‘Box-Shaped Bean Curd with Minced Meat’ c.1500 AD - a surprisingly rich dish. First we fried the firm tofu, cut a lid out of it, scooped out the middle and filled it with a stir fry of pork, dried shrimp and ginger – that right there is as good a base to any dish! We put the lid back on and steamed them until they were hot inside, then finished with a black fungus and black vinegar sauce. You can’t beat the texture of the firm tofu when it’s fried..
Another great night, all the staff had a really good time and I hope all the guests did as well. We can’t wait to do the next one, but unfortunately it won’t be until the new year… we’ll keep you posted!