Fancy hotel restaurants are generally suspect. Locals will not venture there. At times, however, there are very notable exceptions. A few years back my favorite restaurant in Prague was Alcron, which carried a Michelin star for a few years. Is Spices one of those exceptions? Michelin did award Spices with a Plate so the dishes should have a certain standard.
The restaurant interior was impeccable and tasteful. Perhaps a bit on the cold side but it was very comfortable for me. The service was close to perfection. The wait staff that was attentive and efficient; friendly and personable; above all, very knowledgeable about the food and wines. All in all, the experience was very good.
The chef is originally from Sri Lanka, Stephen Senewiratne, and has earned his laurels all over the world. Being a hotel restaurant, the menu does feature a “Classics” section with even Spaghetti Carbonara and Veal schnitzel. After the immediate disregard of this menu, the attention focused on the “Taste of Asia” menu. Some very interesting and creative dishes were featured. We settled on 3 appetizers and 2 main courses.
The Amuse bouche, mango essence drops with a mushroom cream all served on a Tayer leaf. On the side homemade bread. The flavors were intense and well balanced. A very nice start.
Green Mango and Papaya salad with sprouts dressed with herbs and mint. A standard Asian, Thai/Vietnamese, salad but with a bit of a twist. The herbs and mint gave it a real kick and made the dish come alive. The addition of red grapes, the blasphemy (!), was a really nice touch that worked wondrously well. A simple conventional dish that exceeded expectation.
Prawn Tempura with Mango Tempura and mayonnaise adorned with crispy rice sheet with cilantro and spring onions. I did not like the way this tempura looked. It was just too dense, not the fluffy crunchy and light panko batter I was expecting at all. The execution, however, was flawless. The batter was actually very light and fluffy, the shrimp was done just right with a delicate flavor. The mango salsa was intense and delicious, the crispy rice sheet was crunchy and so light.
Eight; Octopus, black cardamom, tamarind, mizuna. A little creativity with the name that piqued my curiosity. The combination was unconventional also. This dish was perhaps the highlight of the evening. It just worked. The cardamom flavor was subtle but very present whereas the tamarind gave it some nice sweet tones. The mizuna gave it a nice mustard-like bite. Octopus was crunchy and tender on the inside. The cloud of the fried rice paper was welcomed also as the previous appetizer featured that also. Though the presentation was very nice, black octopus on the dark plate was a bit off-putting. But that is a very minor point of contention.
Fried rice with shrimp. Yes, a bog-standard fried rice on the menu. I had to try it, just to see how they would execute it. It was just passable. Rice was a bit on the wet side and quite bland. Shrimp was cooked well though somewhat tasteless. It was passable and not more than that. The pickles and the shoot of Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli) were however very good.
Beef rendang, with pickled cucumbers and lemongrass coconut rice. This quintessential Indonesian dish has so many variations and every household has its own version in Indonesia and throughout Asia. This was the best I ever tasted. To do this dish with beef ribs is unusual, often it is much more like a stew. The beef was so tender yet firm, it did not fall apart until in the mouth. The flavor was intense yet not overpowering. The pickled cucumbers ware crunchy and lightly sour. The rice was simply satisfying with a nice coconut flavor. Yes, the best rendang I ever had.
So, would I go back to Spices? Hesitantly I would say yes. The service and the interior (fancy) were, for my taste, very good to even excellent. The food was very good, creative and even fantastic (the beef rendang), well-executed with some minor dissonance. The portions were very good (none of that fancy-schmancy micro portion stuff). Even the bill was not too much of a shocker, 2600kc for 2 (a lot of food) including 2 aperitifs 2 glasses of wine and coffee. I consider that to be pretty good value in a high-end restaurant like this. It is fancy, so definitely special occasion stuff. Ultimately though, the only other guests were hotel guests.