60 second reviews: The Spice House, Wan Chai: January 22nd
I hardly need to say it, but fine food comes in myriad forms. Michelin may have bagged the bragging rights at one end of the spectrum, but some of the best and most memorable meals are served in settings a million miles from Christofle knives and crisp white linen. It’s telling that the service is also invariably warmer in venues delivering humble checks at the end of the meal than in those where you feel you’ve just taken on a second mortgage.
Demonstrating both these attributes was a recent lunchtime pitstop recommended by a friend. Just as well, because it’s the sort of place I’ve passed by a thousand times without giving a second glance, anonymous in the slippery pavements around Wan Chai wet market.
It’s called ‘The Spice House’, a none too subtle hint that heat is forecast, but nothing prepares for the subtlety of a simple but brilliant bowl of Kao soi:
It’s a Chiang Mai staple, one whose quality depends on the balance and nuance of the paste that forms the heart and soul of any Thai curry. I’m stabbing wildly in the dark here, but I’d guess that at Spice House it’s some combination of shallots, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, turmeric, coriander, lime leaves, cardamom, chilli along with a few secrets that the super-friendly owner Kik would doubtless never divulge.
The dry spices and wetter aromatics are usually pounded slowly and methodically in a mortar to break down the cell structure and release the flavours that eventually combine. That’s certainly what had happened in my intoxicatingly-good broth, amongst the shrimp paste and coconut milk, an unusual addition for a curry from Northern Thailand.
From there it’s a question of incorporating the chicken along with the egg noodles, not unlike a thinner tagliatelle. The genius is they come two ways, boiled underneath and then deep fried on top, the softness and the crunch all at once.
It’s served with lime wedges, sour and sharp pickled mustard root and sliced cabbage. All play their parts in the beautiful little symphony, simultaneously complimenting and contrasting textures and tone. The Kao Soi also reminds me of Chiang Mai’s proximity to Burma and similar knockout roadside curries I’ve enjoyed there that have a strangely beautiful sourness to them.
The price for this faultless and filling bowl of absolute joy? HK$48. So go, go soon and go hungry. You may well see me in there, exploring the rest of the menu.
– no website
(There are two Spice Houses under the same owner, the other is close by on Amoy Street)