As part of The Age Good Food Month celebrations, there was a Cantonese banquet and we decided to attend, I was interested in how the more subtle flavours of Cantonese cuisine that I'd grown up with would turn out.
We were seated with three other couples so 8 to a rectangular table. Both floors of the restaurant were full. There were definitely some of the more regular wait staff there augmented by a few roped in for the event I'm sure as one of the guys near us had no idea about the food, the drinks or even the table numbers!
The atmosphere was good; jovial and noisy much like a Chinese wedding banquet and the the set menu reminded me of those events I'd attended as child and teen with my parents. Neil came and gave an opening speech and then it all started.
Superior soup with pork, chicken, tofu and vermicelli
Prawn wontons with red vinegar
Roast pork belly with plum sauce
Lucky duck noodles with pickled vegetables
King Prawn stuffed tofu with special soy
Stir fried spanner crab with sweet corn and egg white
Char siu roasted tooth fish with pickled bamboo
Eight treasure chicken
Twice cooked beef cheeks with shiitake and garlic stems
Stir fried cabbage with xo sauce
Mango pudding and sago cream
It wasn't fine dining because the fact that it was an event with everyone starting at the same time made it banquet catering and when it's banquet catering I always find, you have to lower your expectations because the food is never of the standard of actual dining.
Stand out dishes for us were probably the roast pork belly and the toothfish. The pork belly had delicious crackling to it and real plum sauce that was fresh and zingy. The toothfish had a real sweetness to it reminiscent of char siu because it had been made in that same lacquered BBQ way and it wasn't unlike the black cod miso at Nobu. Highly enjoyable with the slightly tangy pickled bamboo. I also like that they brought out fresh rice with the last two meat courses so there was no cold rice situation. On the whole the dishes came out quickly and it didn't feel too dragged out which can be tedious when seated with strangers and the night feels like it's just going on and on with lots of wait time. On the upside, our dining companions were a lot of fun.
What didn't work for me included the fact that the soup came out cold. Flavours were good but the temperature was lacking. I'm not sure if that was because the soup was left to wait whilst Neil Perry finished speaking. An idea is rather than have the soup ladled out into bowls already that cook quickly due to lack of volume, is to have a big bowl or tureen and it's then dished out at the table. With larger volume, the liquid retains the heat more.
The prawns in the tofu were mushy and paste like and I don't like mushy prawns. I did like the silken tofu in the soy though. Shame the prawns added an unwelcome element.
It was an interesting way to break up the week and overall it was enjoyable. I'm not sure it was good enough to convince the Spice Temple newbie to give it another go tsas I don't think it showcased the strength and quality Spice Temple is capable of.