Having not seen him in person for several years, Michael and I were quite surprised to discover that Michael's dad would be visiting Melbourne twice in one month. We cooked for him the first time and decided to try a new restaurant with him on his second visit. I suggested Red Spice Road on the basis of Adski's recent rave review, though I was aware that experiences have been mixed. While Claire enjoyed the lunch special, Dan liked the banquet and JamesBluntKnife loved the service, Melbies/Foodies were less impressed and Ed's initial review had him 'respectfully' uninvited to their launch party.
I didn't exactly enter Red Spice Road in the best frame of mind - I was two days into a headache that could not be tamed and alcohol was out of the question. But there, on the second page of the drinks menu, Michael drew my attention to a range of fabulous-sounding mocktails. Big points to Red Spice Road! Even bigger points when my Chi chi ($8) arrived - this concoction of roasted pineapple, hazelnut, pineapple juice, vanilla and lemon tasted terrific, sweet and tangy with a marshmallowy foam.
Only a small proportion of the menu is veg-friendly but it's well marked. Michael picked out the tofu stir fried with spinach, sesame, eggplant, green onion and sweet soy ($26). I liked the silky textures but was pretty underwhelmed by the mild, salty flavour.
For our other main, we shared the green papaya, cashew, coriander, cucumber, chilli and lime salad ($22). It had a more noticable chilli kick, but not the right balance of sweet, sour and salty to counteract it. 'Twas no match for the vibrant green papaya salad we ate at Gingerboy.
Red Spice Road redeemed itself once more at dessert time. Ron politely declined anything more than a coffee and Michael said he'd "just have a bite of whatever you have", but ultimately I had plenty of assistance in polishing off the lychee jam doughnuts, chilli syrup and coconut sorbet ($14) - a perky combination of flavours and comforting, winter's night textures.
In the face of mixed blog reviews, all we can offer you regarding Red Spice Road is... a mixed blog review. While I was delighted by my mocktail and dessert, the vegetarian mains left us cold. Though it's not without its own flaws, I'd be more inclined to revisit Gingerboy, another Asia-inspired city restaurant with $30 mains, than return here; Ed compares it instead to Longrain, which we haven't visited. Either way there's a sense that at this price, we can expect a little better.
Address: 27 McKillop St, Melbourne
Ph: 9603 1601
Price: mocktails $8, veg mains $22-$28, desserts $12-$14