Spice & Lime: Hidden gem hits the spot

Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

What: Spice & Lime

Where: 85 John Street, Singleton (entry via York Street), (02) 6572 3330.

Owner: Kithima Camiggelt

Drinks: Licensed. Cocktails. Wine and  sparkling, beers and ciders, juices, soft drinks, tea and coffee.

Hours: Lunch: Tuesday to Friday, 11.30am to 2.30pm. Dinner: Tuesday to Sunday, 5pm to late.

Vegetarian: Yes.

Bottom Line: Set menu, $40 to $60 per person; tapas/entrée $12-plus; mains $22-plus; wine/beer $5-$11.

Wheelchair access: Yes (stair lift).

Do try: Dragon Eyes, Coconut Chicken.

LOCATED on the banks of the Hunter River, Singleton is the largest town in the Upper Hunter region, and it is probably not the first place that springs to mind when you're deciding where to go for dinner on a Saturday night.

However, if you're like me, dear reader, and will drive just about as far as it takes to be able to push amazingly fresh Thai food into your mouth (Thai Pothong in Newtown, anyone?), then set your tastebuds to standby as you might need to drive a little further than usual, in order to get your fix. Spice & Lime is the latest hidden gem to be found in the crown of the Hunter Valley's gastronomic awakening to all things delicious.

Serving up an Asian fusion with a clear Thai food focus, Spice & Lime is located just above John Street, Singleton, in a spacious open-plan setting, featuring a peaceful and well-lit balcony, courtesy of the ambient glow from the street lights below. New and darkly stained timber floors stretch out along the length and breadth of the main dining room, where comfortable chairs and white-clothed tables, decorated with glowing candles, invite you to sit, underneath a series of neon-coloured faces of Maitreya (the generally leaner faced depiction of Buddha). The soft sounds of contemporary pop play overhead which, to be honest, I thought let down the atmosphere the restaurant is trying to present.

Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

However, I understand that perhaps the traditional sounds of Asia might not go down as well as the traditional smells that waft from the kitchen and entice the locals through the front door.

The menu at Spice & Lime is extensive, featuring a clever little tapas menu to tempt your tastebuds, before launching into entrées, mains, sides and dessert. There's a menu for the little ones, featuring chicken satay and fried rice, or for the less intrepid infant, nuggets and chips. If you suffer from choice anxiety, I would suggest checking out the set menus, which have been prepared according to group size and range from $40-$60 per person and feature many of the highlights from the regular menu.

My friend and I ordered an entrée of duck pancakes and a dish called Dragon Eyes, made from fried octopus, crispy wonton and Thai chilli sauce. The duck pancakes featured four delicate and tightly rolled parcels of warm roast duck, cucumber, coriander and shallot, served with Hoisin sauce. The coriander added a welcome twist to the soft and chewy textures of the pancakes, while the gentle sweetness of the plum sauce complemented their savouriness. Enter the Dragon Eyes . . . this dish is a textural playground where the palate swings from the crunch of the wonton cradle to the chunked softness of the mollusc itself, which has been laced with an ever so spicy and creamy chilli sauce.

To help wash this deliciousness down, I chose a by-the-glass pour of the Margan Field Blend White, made from a curious combination of semillon, sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio. Soft and structured, lightly aromatic and just enough sweetness to carry the spice. My dining associate ordered an Appletini cocktail from their decent drinks list, but we weren't quite sure if it had actually been prepared properly, that is, mixed in a shaker with ice, as it tasted suspiciously syrupy, like apple concentrate.

The staff were polite, friendly and attentive. However, constant interruptions from different staff members wanting to take the same order was a little distracting, and could be easily fixed by assigning certain sections of the restaurant for staff to operate in.

The mains followed the entrée, surprisingly swiftly, and soon our olfactory senses were awash with the fresh scents of slow-cooked beef in a homemade massaman curry sauce, topped off with cashew nuts and slivers of sweet potato chips. As well as, possibly, one of the best examples of coconut chicken (and my dining associate agrees) that we've ever had the privilege of eating. White, fleshy roasted chicken breast unites with shavings of real coconut, chilli and lime in a harmonious blend of fresh natural flavours that are, at once, subtle and present, gentle and vibrant, isolated and integrated, and completely balanced.

We had planned to order dessert, but no one arrived to take our order in time. Take-away is available, so perhaps the next time we're passing we can sample it. Don't let these small pedantries stop you, however, because the food is really something special, and well worth the trip out.