In typical coastal town architecture, you’ll find Spice Monkey in an otherwise unremarkable glass box facing the water (Wallis Lake) under the Reef Apartments. It was opened just over a year ago by local restaurateurs, Darren McDonagh and Joni Cassano, who also own Reef Forster next door.
While my usual dining companion and I were attracted to this restaurant by the idea of finding Japanese food in Forster, my accompanying mother-in-law wasn’t so keen. That’s where Spice Monkey’s wider pan-Asian menu is useful, keeping her content with a fillet of Grilled Snapper ($22) while we commenced our meal with sake and Japanese Pickles ($5).
Staff were also only too happy to serve the Thai-style nam jim separately in case she found it too hot (which she did).
Head Chef Brian Rout might not be Japanese, but he has spent fifteen years in Hokkaido Japan learning how to be an Australian-Japanese chef. You’ll see the results of this cultural collision in Cured Ocean Trout ($19), which read like it might be a train wreck, what with gin and citrus infused sake cured ocean trout, crème fraîche and kiwi fruit, but ate surprisingly well. The addition of some roti quarters (Indian flat breads) combined with the lightly cured fish, makes this an ideal way into eating Japanese-style raw fish dishes.
With a smidgen too much external sear for my liking, Tuna Tataki ($19) with chilli ponzu, grated radish and shallots, proved another dish for those wanting an accessible way into enjoying raw fish. This dish sings against the Ippin Junmai Daiginjo Sake ($95/bottle), an easy-drinking sake only available by the bottle, that has enough going on to extend to dishes beyond sushi.
With a schooner of Monkey Magic ($9.50) – a quaffable, slightly sweet golden lager brewed by Monteith’s – in one hand and the other wrapped around a Gua Bao ($6/each) I’m sweet to kick back and enjoy the Friday night live music. The soft steamed bun is filled with panko crumbed chicken, Asian ‘slaw, snow pea tendrils and a good slurp of chilli mayo., and it would hold its own against Sydney's best.
With a generously proportioned bowl of Seaweed Salad ($9), it rounds out our shared meal nicely. It’s great to see this place jumping in winter with a largely local crowd. Some are kicking back on bar stools, with drinks and snacks, enjoying the tunes, while others are starting their Friday night with larger groups of (mostly female) friends.
Forster, I suspect this one’s a keeper.
Shop 4, Reef Apartments, Wharf Street, Forster
Ph: (02) 6554 8767