Spice I Am and Chat Thai. They're the Ali and Liston of the food world. The Jay-Z and Nas. Doctor Who and the Master. The Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, if you must. But whichever camp you side with, both are responsible for dragging Sydney kicking and screaming into a new era of fish-sauce drenched Thai deliciousness.
And when we hear that Spice I Am have opened another branch in Balmain, far from the reaches of the inner east, we slip on our loose pants and hop on the 433. Darling Street's new Spice I Am is an amalgamation of all their other venues - the posh (and fairly underwhelming on last visit) Victoria Street digs; the ferment-and-fish-sauce-focused House; and the mothership hole-in-wall on Wentworth Street. Which, snackin’ fans, is as good as ever with lines as long as ever to prove it. There's certainly a lot to choose from.
But whether it's because the restaurant is pretty much empty on Time Out's visit or because it's so new, it just doesn't have quite the same electricity the other places do. It does have deep-fried betel leaves topped with tiny little prawns, though. There's nothing like eating leaves. All the better if they're fried. A soup of soft-braised pork ribs, chunky with lemongrass and galangal, is a salty mo-fo, but pretty delicious all the same. Seasoning’s a bit of a problem across the board, actually. Little pieces of crisp-fried chicken breast with chilli and holy basil are so over-seasoned they're a little hard to eat. Better to go with the mild-yet-fragrant yellow curry of chicken with potatoes or the stir-fried pork belly with chilli jam. Oh, and those Isaan-style fermented pork sausages. There's some hustle and bustle missing from this branch of the Spice and a lot of the sharpness and precision we've come to know and love about the cooking at the other restaurants seems to have gone out the window here. That said, it's still the best Thai in the suburb and while we wouldn't suggest crossing town for it, it's a brilliant addition for Balmain.