This week for Cheap Eats I visit a restaurant where South and South East Asia collide.
The Parnell end of Quay Street is often the last place one thinks of when wanting food. Better known for that terrible rite of passage, the restricted driver’s license test, the only other reason one visits this isolated block of shops is for the KFC or 24 hour McDonalds. But the shops at number 8 Quay Street are the unexpected home of a restaurant which serves up an equally unexpected pairing of Indian and Thai food.
Spice Garden is a small restaurant styled with a colour scheme that would make The White Stripes proud. There’s plenty of sitting space, but if eating in public isn’t your thing, they do a takeaway and delivery service (and you get 10% off your bill to boot). Their menu doesn’t break the mould of either cuisines but it covers all the basics, including a few classic Indian-Chinese dishes and a number of vegetarian dishes hailing from both countries. Prices are also standard for your average Indian and Thai place, with a slightly higher premium on dishes that used to quack or live under water. And hinting at the restaurant’s slightly stronger Indian roots, all mains are accompanied by rice.
Feeling it would be too difficult to decide on one cuisine or the other, Alex and I embraced bi-culturalism and ordered both; the chicken vindaloo ($15) and the golden basil leaves ($15; a stir-fry of chicken and fresh basil leaves). Although we love a bit of heat, we ordered the vindaloo ‘Kiwi-hot’, not ‘Indian-hot’. As Alex put it, we’re brave, not stupid. What arrived was more medium than hot, but the curry was fragrant with cardamom and had that distinctive tang which makes vindaloo a favourite. Chicken, a meat I try to avoid because it too often is dry, was surprisingly moist and had been basted such that it tasted like it’d been licked by the flame of the tandoor oven.
The chicken in the golden basil leaf stir-fry was comparably less moist and more reminiscent of home-style cooking without the unearthly tenderised meat. This dish too had had the smoky treatment, but this time it was a kiss from a wok. The portion was generous and full of julienned bamboo shoots, which were saturated with the flavours of the stir-fry and lent a moreish, chewy-tender texture to the overall dish. Alex also ordered a mango lassi ($4), a choice motivated by the way drinking it enabled her to have dessert at the same time as dinner. Her lassi was slightly thinner than some, such that it resembled a drink more than the dessert she was hoping for, but it was gone in no time.
Spice Garden’s location puts it slightly out of the way for some, but if you’re indecisive about what to have for dinner, don’t feel compelled to settle for one cuisine. After all, variety is the spice of life.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30am-2:30pm and 5:00-10:00pm; Friday-Sunday 11:30am-3:00pm and 5:30pm-late
Prices: Starters $8-$21; Curry mains $12.90-$17; seafood dishes $17-$25; vegetarian dishes $12-$14.50; rice and noodle dishes $12-$18; soups $8-$17; Thai salads $16-$17; sides $3-$5.50; desserts $5; drinks $3.50-$4.50
Credit Cards: Yes
Licensed: BYO wine; beer for purchase
Suitable for Vegetarians: Yes
Takeaways: Yes (10% off) and Home Delivery with Dine-In
Wheelchair Accessible: Yes