Spice Temple

Jill Dupleix
Quality over quantity: The darkly moody interior of Spice Temple Sydney.
Quality over quantity: The darkly moody interior of Spice Temple Sydney. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

10 Bligh St Sydney, NSW 2000

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Opening hours Mon - Wed 12:00 – 3:00 PM 6:00 – 10:30 PM, Thu - Fri 12:00 – 3:00 PM 6:00 – 11:00 PM, Sat 6:00 – 11:00 PM, Sun 5:30 – 11:00 PM
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Degustation, Events, Groups, Late night, Licensed, Lunch specials, Long lunch, Private dining, Romance-first date, Yum cha, Wheelchair access, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Neil Perry, Andy Evans
Seats 150
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 8078 1888

I'm really happy to spend $12 on a single dumpling at yum cha. Said no one ever.

Yum cha has traditionally been cheap because of the economies of scale. The chefs don't just make one prawn dumpling, they make thousands. They don't spend 10 minutes turning each plate into art; they send out trolleys piled high with steamers.

But now that Spice Temple Sydney has followed the lead of big sis Spice Temple Melbourne and Sydney's Mr Wong, by offering high-end, produce-driven yum cha, we might have to create a special category in our prefrontal cortex for dim sum that is more about quality than quantity.

A sampling of the high-end offerings.
A sampling of the high-end offerings. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams

This is clearly not your average Canto bun-fight, as Neil Perry and head chef Andy Evans explore neighbouring province Hunan and head north to Beijing, packing top-shelf produce such as Spencer Gulf prawns, full-blood David Blackmore wagyu and Otway Farm pork. Spanner-crab rice rolls are hidden under a tangle of green and white spring onions, the shards of crabmeat highlighted rather than muddied by light and dark soy sauce.

Individual gua bao pockets of steamed bread filled with white-cut chicken or roast pork belly make a damn fine handful; cool and crunchy with pickles.

Har gau are ho-hum, and wagyu beef sui mai are no improvement on the traditional pork and prawn dumplings; the slow-braised brisket being too soft and sweet. Spring rolls are all the better for being trad, chunky with scallop and prawn filling. Then there's that $12 dumpling, which - being more like a plump cloud of creamy lobster meat than a dumpling - is pretty spectacular.

But ooh-wee, the deep-fried honeycomb tripe with heaven-facing chilli salt ticks all the Bar Snack of the Year's boxes, being madly salty, peppery, spicy and crunchy all at once. And it's tripe! There's no going back to that wimpy salt-and-pepper squid, ever.

The L-shaped basement bar space has been re-structured with tall tables and stools in pale, beechy woods, and lighting is more helpful than in the darkly moody restaurant. There's single-origin cold-drip coffee, too, which works almost as well with yum cha as tea, which in turn, works almost as well as beer. And the best thing? Yum cha is like a bar menu - it gives you dress circle at one of the city's most glamorous high-end restaurants for the price of a cheap seat.

DO … sit up at the bar.
DON'T … go on the weekend, it's lunch Mon-Fri only.
DISH … fried tripe with heaven-facing chili salt, $12.
VIBE … yum cha worth dressing up for.