There’s more to Spice Temple than sultry photos and slow service, writes Ali Kaneet.

Like my last meal at Spice Temple, this review has taken a long time to arrive and is a little fiery but aims to leave you feeling satisfied (if a little bamboozled).

I was dining at the joint a few days after Ruby Rose went there and found a bug in her food. I hadn’t heard of the scandal (or Ruby Rose) and didn’t see why my fellow diners thought it was worth mentioning. Having enjoyed fried cockroaches from a roadside stall in Jinan, in China’s Shandong Province, I’ve been dead keen to find them on a plate in Australia.

Nevertheless, you might have expected chef Neil Perry’s team would be desperate to impress after the what’s-her-name kerfuffle. Instead waitstaff, who appeared to have taken a vow of silence, were slow to serve our meals. Maybe they were busy out the back laying cockroach baits. Mortein Lure ‘N’ Kill works best for my money.

The downtime meant I could take in the surroundings. I’d been to Neil’s den before but never noticed all the photos of sexy Asian women on the walls. What’s the go? It’s a little sleazy and must confuse the businessmen who dine there. After a few bottles of wine they’re likely to order a four-handed massage rather than dessert.

An hour after our booking, when we were looking for cockroaches to eat, the food was plonked down without so much as a “Qǐng màn yòng.” That means “eat slowly” in Mandarin and is the equivalent of bon appétit. It was left to me to explain the delicacies to my fellow diners but after drinking half a bottle of wine on an empty stomach I was half-pissed and didn’t acquit myself well. “Just enjoy the banquet and stop whining about the wait,” I said.

As it turned out, we weren’t able to “eat slowly.” The kitchen was like Ali against Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle. After laying on the ropes for several rounds, they came out firing with a flurry of punches. A lead right hand with white cut chicken, a left hook with pork buns, a right uppercut with fried squid. Every dish hit the spot but we were reeling from the pace they landed.

One of my friends was so punch drunk – okay, just drunk – that he grabbed a handful of chillies from the Kung Pao chicken and threw them in his mouth as casually as if they were salted cashews. His face reddened and his eyes bulged as the heat hit. The rest of the table laughed at his discomfort, both then and – we anticipated – the day after.

That day after wasn’t far off by the time dinner was over. The streets were empty when we climbed the stairs from Spice Temple. The meal had dragged on for hours. I was thankful I had enjoyed it with a great group of friends. Maybe that was the Spice Temple team’s cunning plan in the first place. Or they took us for drunks who would spend big on booze. Either way, the night was a winner and I’m looking forward to going back – though next time I’ll make sure I eat a Chiko Roll or two before I head down.

Image © Efe Arat, used under this licence.