Charming Spice

Level 1, 276 Lonsdale Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9663 9898

Aaron and Shandell were in town for their wedding preparations and a bunch of us decided to have a big dinner party before they flew back to Perth. Okay, so there were only three who made it (Adam, Cathy and Kanishk) but given that Adam bought me along (seeing as I’m pretty much part of the family anyway) and given that Cathy bought her squeeze along (MY friend Aaron … not that the other Aaron isn’t my friend. I mean, he IS. But I still think of him first and foremost as Adam’s former boss), it would be a big enough party anyway. Confused yet? Yeah, so am I. While Cathy was finishing her shift at the shop, everyone else decided to have a few drinks at Lounge on Swanston Street bar me who had to stick with boring water because I had been sick all week, boo.

So Cathy and the other Aaron arrived and for some reason, Cathy wanted us all to have bloody Szechuan food never mind that I was recovering from a severe flu and couldn’t stomach such spicy food and never mind that Adam doesn’t like Szechuan food but because we couldn’t be bothered arguing and walking around for an alternative place to eat, we decided to go around the corner to the new Szechuan restaurant on Lonsdale Street, Charming Spice, which sits on the site of the now-defunct Shun Feng Seafood Restaurant and has probably the most blatantly fobby restaurant name on this side of Chinatown. The restaurant is still in its honeymoon phase, only having been opened for around two months. The week it opened, loud fob disco music could be heard playing from the restaurant in order to attract punters but it was so bad that it made me and Adam run away from the place rather than go in. So when Cathy suggested going there, I was naturally hesitant but finally relented when she said that it was quite good and that there were a few non-spicy items on the menu.

Ok, so the first thing that hit me when we walked up the stairs and into the lantern-decorated cafeteria was the pungent smell of garlic and chilies. Given that I was not in a good state, you could imagine how much it did my head in. Ugh. We were seated in a long table in the middle of the room and presented with 10 billion page menus which contained pictures of the dishes complete with Chinese descriptions and English translations on almost all items (except a few food items which were apparently too “weird” for gweilos to stomach such as dishes containing pig’s blood stew and according to Cathy, bull penises). There were a few examples of Engrish which prompted Adam and boss Aaron to explode in fits of laughter such as “punkin cakes” and “pork mama.” I was getting my camera out and taking photos of said menu items but not before some bitchface fob waitress snatched the menu off me and snapped “no photos” before giving me the evil eye. Seriously? Like I’d come to a restaurant trying to get some ideas on menu design for when I want to set up my own mainlander cuisine restaurant… pfffft. Because I wasn’t paying for my meal, I didn’t pay much attention to what was being ordered and how much everything was so my descriptions would be sketchy at first but as always, I do try my best…

Stir-fried sliced dried tofu with chilli and szechwan pepper ($16.80). This was the first time I tried “tofu noodles” and I thought they were quite nice (haha Adam didn’t even realise that they were made out of tofu) but I wasn’t sure about the sauce. To me, it was just a messy concoction of chilli, oil and peppercorns and eating it felt like a warzone was entering my mouth which was definitely not pleasurable. The fact that there was still about 70% of this dish left on the table at the end of the meal meant that everyone else didn’t really like it too…

This was a tamer but more boring dish of minced pork, green beans, peppers and chilli. It had a sweet soy aftertaste which I didn’t particularly like. I don’t remember much about this dish (name, price etc) except that it wasn’t entirely memorable… sorry.

More mild dishes, but this time they were actually halfway decent. In front are a plate of steamed Szechuan dumplings (15 pieces for $8.00) which tasted a lot like the ones at Shanghainese restaurants but sweeter and lighter in taste. It came with a little bowl of chilli own that was mixed with malted vinegar, soy and toasted sesame which I really liked. For some reason, no one else liked the dumplings which was good because that meant that there were more for me!

Behind the dumplings are some dry stir fried beans with minced pork ($14.80) which, again, were quite good. They were by no means bland because there was so much flavour thanks to a liberal dosage of salted pickled vegetables and more peppercorns. Yummy.

The main event: I don’t know what this dish is called but it’s like Chongqing chicken, but with prawns instead of chicken (again, I don’t recall how much it was but it was the most expensive dish we ordered. $20-30, I’d say). It was served on a plate holding a mountain of refried birds eye chilies (shudders at “refried”) and basically, you had to dig your way through the mass of red to find your prawns which were coated in flour and peppercorns and then fried. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of this dish. I hated how the act of finding the prawns was a task more cumbersome than prying meat out of mud crabs and I hated the thought that the chilies were probably used in several other dishes for other people before they eventually landed on our table. Despite all that chilli, however, the prawn that I managed to grab for myself wasn’t all that hot and only a little bit spicy. No one else, apart from boss Aaron, particularly liked this dish too and well, the massive pile of chilli still left on the plate after every prawn was taken just looked ridiculous…

Spicy chicken with wood ear mushrooms. To be honest, I didn’t get to try this dish as it remained on the other side of the table…haha… oh Libby, you are clearly failing this post…

Grilled pancake with spring onion (8 pieces for $3.60). Surprisingly, this wasn’t bad at all. It was even more flavoursome than most versions at dumpling restaurants too…

Aaron loves his prawns…

The food was reasonably priced, we paid around $151 for the seven of us and that included drinks and steamed rice (at $1.50 per person). Most of the mains were in the $10-25 mark, and each smaller dishes were less than $10 so sharing several dishes between a few of you would mean a pretty cheap meal for everyone. Foodwise, there were a lot of misses but also a lot of pleasant surprises. As for the service, well there are heaps of things that could be improved upon. I wasn’t happy about having my menu snatched by the fob bitch but fair enough, she had to do what management told her to do but as for the other staff, they weren’t exactly friendly either. Seriously, a smile or two wouldn’t hurt. Thirdly, there are cold drinks located in a fridge towards our table. There are signs on the fridge clearly stating that there is no self service which is fair enough because otherwise everyone would be stealing drinks left, right and centre. Adam did not see the sign (?) and so he gallantly went to get a soy bean drink for me when my mouth was tingling from that fried tofu stew. The whole table was yelling out at him to stop but he didn’t hear us. We noticed that a few fob male waiters were practically a metre away from him and clearly, they saw that Adam was helping himself to the drink but none of them did anything to stop him. Instead, they were pointing at him and whispering amongst themselves. Talk about whimp much? In the end, Cathy had to go up to one of them and tell them that Adam was from our table and to charge the drink to our bill. Sigh.

Given my predisposition to Szechuan cuisine, my review was clearly clouded so I’m probably not the best person to ask about this place but when I asked Adam about it, he gave it an even harsher rating – “shitty Mainlander crap,” he spat out whereas Aaron said that it was “fairly standard Szechuan fare.” To me and Adam, Charming Spice is a perfect example of how irritating Szechuan food can be. Rather than use chillies and Szechuan peppercorns to enhance the dishes, they are used way too liberally and so they end up overpowering the ingredients to the point of suffocation. I haven’t tried Dainty Schihuan yet (apparently one of the best Sczechuan restaurants in the city) so I don’t have anything to compare it to but for now, I’m still of the view that Cantonese cuisine reigns supreme over all other Chinese food!

I eat too much.


  1. chaoness
    July 7, 2009

    Tofu noodles looks interesting… I hate eating at chinese restaurants because the service is just fucking appalling. It’s like they compete to have the worst service

  2. fipar20
    July 7, 2009

    Chillies, chillies and more chillies =S I think I’d be sweating the entire time eating all that food after being spiced up so much.

  3. icesabre
    July 7, 2009

    Enough Chilli to shoot fire out of your ass!Yep, I agree, them dumplings look like they came out of Shanghai Dumpling, Dumpling King, JG Dumpling, Northeast China Family etc…

  4. peach_water
    July 7, 2009

    Although I can eat spicy food, I’ve never really tried sichuan cuisine!From your post it seems to be very spicy yeah? hmm

    July 8, 2009

    @peach_water – Extremely spicy. Haha I think I can only have it in small doses. In the meantime, I’ll stick to Cantonese thankyouverymuch!

  6. Johno
    May 30, 2012

    You people are retards and really have no idea
    About food

    1. libishski
      May 30, 2012

      And you really are clueless when it comes to grammar.


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