Andy Evans started working as a kitchen hand after school at “a terrible Mexican restaurant - awful food but funny people.” But his cooking career started in earnest when he joined the Rockpool (on George) team as a first year apprentice on his 19th birthday. He stayed there for nine years, working his way up to sous chef, and says: “It was Rockpool that inspired me to become a chef - awesome people, food and atmosphere.”
When Neil Perry opened the much-loved Victoria St Potts Point venue, XO, Andy moved across there as sous chef, before a stint outside the Rockpool-family for 2½ years at Woolloomooloo’s China Doll. He then took an extended break, travelling through the wilds of South America. Back in Sydney in 2008, Andy returned to the Rockpool fold, working with Neil on the development of Spice Temple Sydney and assuming the role of head chef when it opened in early 2009, where he remains today.
This subterranean space is dark and moody, though I’m delighted to say clever lighting ensures it’s bright enough where it counts (on the table where I’m reading the menu). And what a menu it is - the idea being to promote regional Chinese cuisines beyond the Cantonese which constitutes the vast majority of Sydney’s current offering. The focus is on the regions of Yunnan and Guangxi, bordering northern Laos and Myanmar; chilli-loving Jiangxi, Hunan and Sichuan; and the largely Moslem Xingjiang in the northwest where the Turkic Uyghur cuisine predominates. Don’t let the ‘spice’ in the restaurant name mislead you, though there’s plenty of chilli for those who want it (and the hottest dishes are marked on the menu in red), there’s also a world of subtle flavours and gently spiced dishes to discover – like the lamb and cumin pancakes. For chilli fans, leatherjacket Sichuan-style is a must, for the theatre of the table-side service as well as the flavour, while stir-fried spanner crab with leek, salted chilli and cured pork, along with hot and fragrant prawns, are less spicy, but equally tasty, options.
As with every restaurant in the Rockpool group, only the best possible produce is used – and nowhere is this more evident than in the yum cha dumplings, which are a world away from any you’ve tried before. The banquet menus (available even for tables of two) are outstanding value at $75 and $95, with optional wine matches for just $55. Add to this, great service, a wine list of exactly 100 wines all perfectly suited to the food, and a fun cocktail list based on the signs of the Chinese zodiac, and this just might be Sydney’s best Chinese restaurant.
Visit Spice Temple for more information.