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Australia chef Neil Perry has had a busy year—not only did he open the spectacular Rockpool Bar & Grill, but in a subterranean space just below, he launched Spice Temple, where he serves his take on Chinese food. It’s a sexy spot, with dim lighting, a sultry red glow and portraits of gorgeous Asian women on the walls and menus. It seems out of place in sunny, laid-back Sydney, but the restaurant was packed for a Tuesday lunch a few weeks ago. (When I ran into Neil Perry later, I wasn’t surprised to hear that he’s thinking of opening another location in Los Angeles.) Dishes to try: Cool silken tofu with funky preserved eggs that are given a lively kick with a chile-inflected soy-ginger dressing. The hot-and-numbing chicken, which is poached and served cold, hits some of the same flavor notes, with the added element of lip-tingling Sichuan peppercorns.
At the new Sepia, chef Martin Benn, formerly of the venerable Tetsuya, is turning out some seriously ingenious dishes. Barbecued eel with licorice-flavored powder was such a clever combination that I wondered why I've never used anisey flavors in barbecue sauces before. Earthy buckwheat risotto became luxurious when topped with mustard butter, sweet spanner crab meat and a shellfish foam. A delicious meatless version of surf and turf.