Food choices beneath Circular Quay’s railway-expressway viaduct are a little dismal, to say the least. It’s a transport hub that’s predominantly fast food, tourist-centric businesses and shelters enough buskers to clean out anyones coin purse.
Over at The Quay Building where trains emerge from the underground is The Spice Room, a much welcomed addition to the Circular Quay dining scene. And anyone that’s familiar with Jewel on the Bay in Rose Bay, this so happens to be their latest venture and one that may well become a jewel itself.
The first thing you notice is a vintage bicycle adorned with tiffin boxes. A bit of a nod to Mumbai dabbawallas – or lunch box delivery men – that keep many office workers fed at lunchtime. Two and three-tier tiffins are even available at The Spice Room, so no need to wait for anyone delivering by bike or train.
Ascending steps that are adorned with names of spices, the decor of the restaurant is nothing short of stunning. It takes on the appearance of India’s grand haveli’s, with intricate wooden carvings from Rajasthan and a multitude of picture frames displaying vintage photographs. Even the restrooms have been given a colonial Indian touch.
India is known for its enormous variety of street food, so we’re chuffed to see that some of it has made it to The Spice Room menu. Pani puri is a street food that’s very popular on the subcontinent. We had our fair share of them many years ago on Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai, so it was a given that we revisit these crunchy little semolina puffs.
The pani puri shots (7.9) are a DIY affair with tiny cubes of potato, crispy sev noodles and puffs, coriander and onion. The semolina puff is merely a vessel that’s loaded with the filling, then topped up with either tamarind water or spiced mint water. One is never enough.
Also from the street food selection is aloo tikka chat (8.9); two spiced potato and lentil patties topped with an onslaught of date & tamarind chutney, yoghurt & mint sauce, coriander and curried chickpeas. An absolute celebration of flavours.
One of the house specialties is king prawn gulmohar (14.5); a colourful dish that’s a perfect reflection of the colours and textures of India. Plump and juicy prawns – fresh from the tandoor – sit alongside a colourful salad, some minted yoghurt and a smear of pink yoghurt scattered with rose petals. With prawn tails this deliciously charred and crispy, it’d be a waste to not eat the entire thing.
A multitude of meat and vegetable-based curries populate the menu, making it a bit of a challenge to settle on one or two. The first pick is chicken patiala (22.9); a generous bowl of tender thigh meat curried-up with capsicum, tomato and topped with a thin egg omelette. One thing for sure is that portions this generous are sure to be doggy-bagged, should you not get through them as we did.
The other curry was also of the same bird – Andhra curry leaf chicken (22.9) – a dish made in the Hyderabadi style; a cuisine with Turkish, Arabic and Mughlai influences. The coconut-based curry is incredibly aromatic with a slight smokiness, a dish that became an immediate favourite. The glutton within was craving more of those delicious crispy curry leaves.
Spice Room desserts encompass the usuals like gulab jamun and carrot halwa, with some other tempting delights like saffron rice pudding and kulfi. The trio of kulfi (12.5) may not have been required as much as it was desired, but it made it to the table anyway. Cardamom kulfi laced with sugar coated fennel seeds, mango and pistachio-saffron is the tri-line-up.
Gulab jamun (9.9) is a perfect example of those fried and sugar-soaked dumplings I’ve grown to love, and the warm Nutella naan (8.9) is as indulgent as you’d expect. Nice touch with the plantains sugared-up with jaggery.
Date & walnut samosas (9.9) come very close to resembling some kind of baklava as soon as you douse the crisp pastry triangles in the provided sugar syrup. Some accompanying vanilla ice cream topped with mango syrup reminds us of a creamy Weis bar, and a dusting of chocolate takes the form of the Om symbol.
The moaning coming from us may have sounded like Om chanting, but in reality, we were just full and moaning with overstuffed pleasure.
There are slight differences with the lunch and dinner menus and we couldn’t help but notice we got much more in the curries at lunch, than we did at night on a separate visit. Still, it’s great food and well worth visiting.