The perfect combinations of ingredients and decor can make a restaurant special. A little spice in both will go a long way.
These days, a restaurant’s design is almost as important as the food it serves. Anyone can paint a room and put a stove in one corner. But the best dining experiences are enhanced by the synchronicity between the personality, look and feel of a place – and the flavours of the food on offer. Many restaurants grow in the most unlikely spaces. My new Sydney venture, Spice Temple (above), was basically a sub-basement document-storage space. But all those involved – architects, builders, the lighting and sound consultants, branding experts and front-of-house team – were single-minded about what they were striving to create: one of the sexiest modern Chinese restaurants in the world. We set about bringing that design to life with a menu that represents my favourite provinces in China. It is all devoted to, you guessed it, spice. We love to use chilli in all its forms – fresh, dried, fermented, brined, pickled and salted – as well as generous amounts of cumin, coriander, fennel and Sichuan peppercorns. That last item is the star performer in the recipe at right: Sichuan-style steamed beef. When sensual lighting and mood music collaborate with great dishes to awaken the palate as well as the spirit, you know you’ve got it right.
Sichuan-style steamed beef
This dish is easy, but a real show stopper. For extra effect, cook it in a bamboo steamer that you can take straight to the table. I love the texture of the rice-coated beef. Having a steamed dish as part of a shared table will really take the pressure off you in the kitchen, as they’re generally easy to prepare.
450g (1lb) sirloin steak, cut into
200g (7oz/½ cup) ground roast rice
1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
2 spring onions, chopped
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp fermented black beans
2 tbsp shaoxing
1 tbsp hot bean paste
½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns, crushed
1 tbsp peanut oil
To make the marinade, mix together the soy sauce, black beans, shaoxing, bean paste, peppercorns and peanut oil. Add the steak and leave for 30 minutes. To make the ground roast rice, dry-fry some jasmine rice over low heat until each grain is opaque, but not coloured. When cool, grind it into a coarse powder in either a mortar with a pestle or a spice grinder, and add it to the marinade. Mix to coat the steak well, then stir in 4 tablespoons of water. Put the steak strips, in a single layer, directly onto the slotted base of a large bamboo steamer, cover with the lid and steam for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the coriander and spring onions over the steak and steam for another minute. Remove from the heat. You can transfer to a plate or serve directly from the bamboo steamer, drizzled with the sesame oil.
Recipe from Balance & Harmony: Asian Food by Neil Perry, photography by Earl Carter
Sydney chef and restaurateur Neil Perry designs Qantas First and Business menus. For recipes and cooking tips visit: Website
Source: Qantas The Australian Way March 2009