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Spice Den At Santai Retreat, Casuarina, NSW

 

Where Is It: Santai Retreat, Casuarina, NSW.

Why Go: It’s a highly regarded Thai-fusion restaurant with indoor and al fresco seating.

Best For: Stylish couples looking for romance, and top notch cuisine.

Three Things We Loved: The poolside setting, the share plates, the friendly service.

The Ultimate Factor: The mouthwatering array of dishes to choose from.

Overview:

Santai Retreat is a gorgeous Balinese-inspired holiday resort set back from the beach on the picturesque Tweed Coast, with luxury self-contained apartments and a lineup of attractions including an on-site day spa (read our full review of Santai Retreat here). But the retreat is also home to one of the best restaurants on the northern coast, Spice Den, a Thai-fusion dining venue which appeals to both discerning locals and visitors to the retreat. We dined there on a Friday and Saturday night, although if you’re staying at Santai you can order takeaway during opening hours, and the place was buzzing infectiously with happy diners of all kinds including loved-up couples, groups of friends, and families. Our journey began both nights with a warm welcome from friendly staff on arrival, a pleasantly common theme at Santai Retreat we discovered. We were shown to our table; the first time we dined al fresco beside a warming heater, and the second night at a cozy table for two inside. The outside tables have plenty of space, sea breezes, and the sparkling Balinese pool stretching through the middle of the retreat. Inside the mood is different; dark and intimate, with a smart Asian decor, dimmed lighting, and floaty sheer curtains. And if the food was a good as the ambiance, we thought, we knew we’d be in for enjoyable experiences.

The Menu:

Dining here on consecutive nights gave us the opportunity of sampling as many of the mouthwatering dishes on the menu as two people could. Which was just as well, as choosing proved to be quite a dilemma. If you want to leave the choices to the chef, on a Sunday night you can try the banquet which takes you on a tour of its signature dishes, or opt for a lunch banquet on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Plates are designed to be shared, which is good news for people like us who love variety, although the portion sizes are generous; order some, we were advised by our friendly waitress, and add more dishes later if you need them. As for the wine list, as we could see from fellow diners that the cocktail list was popular, a lineup of classics including a French Martini, sitting alongside Asian-inspired concoctions such as Thai Bloody Mary. You could also buy wine by the bottle or by the glass, from a quality list.

Back to the food, though. The smaller, appetiser sized dishes we tried across our two experiences included steamed pork and shiitake dumplings, which were juicy perfection, and sashimi white fish, which was so fresh it was almost moving on the plate. We also couldn’t resist the soft roast duck pancakes, served with cucumber, pickled chilli, soy and crisp shallots, and which were pre-wrapped for uber-convenience, as well as tender, and perfectly flavoured. Mains were also difficult to choose from, but from glowing reviews we read we had some ideas before we arrived. The massaman curry of organic chicken was gently spicy and luxuriously creamy, served with kipfler potatoes, while the wagyu beef pat see yeuw came with tender hand cut rice noodles, oyster sauce and crisp, fresh greens. And the royal red curry of white fish was a lovely combination of juicy and spicy, accented with lime, lemongrass, green and fragrant herbs. Although we were pretty full both nights, our arms were gently twisted to try a refreshing coconut ice cream which was well worth finding room for.

The Verdict

It’s hardly surprising that Spice Den has become a big hit with locals from the Kingscliff and Casuarina area. And if you’re staying at Santai Retreat, you should definitely set aside at least one night to experience it. The convenient location, the salty sea breezes, and the casual yet sophisticated atmosphere come together to create a restaurant ideally suited to couples on a romantic escape. And did we mention how good the food is?

Spice Den is located at Santai Retreat, 9 Dianella Drive, Casuarina, NSW 2487, www.santairetreat.com.auwww.spiceden.com.au. 02 6674 8924.

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