A CLEVER labour-saving device or a glimpse into a soulless future with automatons?
That is the question philosophers might ponder after eating lunch at Spice Market in Fremantle.
In the Thai restaurant you order and pay on your phone, and the meal is delivered to your table by a robot waitress that says hello and wishes you a pleasant meal.
The human waiting staff were more like IT Support – traipsing behind the robot like an extra in a Kraftwerk video.
The novelty factor was high and for the first 15 minutes I was besotted with the minimum-wage R2-D2, watching it zoom about the restaurant.
Spice Market’s interior was also interesting with sheer curtains, colourful tiles and lush plants creating a bright and exotic vibe.
The restaurant runs from High Street Mall to Market Street, and a nice breeze funnelled through as we ate, causing the curtains to flit and billow in artistic waves.
Spice Market opened in the redeveloped Manning building in March and it’s gone down well with locals – the place was heaving with patrons on Thursday including plenty of Asian folk, which is usually a sign the cuisine is authentic.
The dinner menu was comprehensive and had every base covered from bao buns to roasted duck with plum sauce, but since it was 1pm we opted for the lunch menu, which seemed good value.
Unfortunately when the big moment came, Metal Mickey had a hissy fit and went to the empty table beside us – maybe it didn’t like my WD-40 cologne – but fortunately a lowly human was on hand to save the day.
After a few mouthfuls my wife was raving about her Massaman wagyu beef with coconut saffron rice ($18.90).
The beef had been slow cooked for six hours and hit the spot.
“Oh my God, it tastes divine and the beef just melts in your mouth,” she said.
“The cashew nuts and fried onions add some nice texture, while the baby potato is nicely cooked and goes well with the rich curry sauce.
“It’s got just the right amount of heat with the coconut providing a cool balance.”
My Tom Yum Noodle Soup ($16.90) didn’t quite hit the same heights.
The broth had plenty of flavour, especially when you mixed in the chilli jam paste and dipped in a crispy wonton skin, but unfortunately a lot of the slices of BBQ red pork and regular pork were slightly tough.
It was still a very tasty and filling dish, with the boiled egg, marinated pork mince, peanuts and noodles creating a moreish swamp.
There were three levels of spiciness with the soup and I selected one, which still had a decent kick, so err on the side of caution if you have a timid palate.
The human waiting staff were very pleasant; providing us with a bottle of tap water on arrival and explaining how to order using our phone.
If you didn’t have a mobile you could still order and pay the “old fashioned” way.
If you’re a social creature who likes the personal touch then Spice Market may not be for you, but for a part-time misanthrope like me it wasn’t a big deal and the robot was lots of fun.
My wife’s Massaman curry was very, very good and I’d like to go back and try some dishes from the full menu.
Maybe by then the restaurant will be like Westworld and human staff will be a novelty.
135 High Street Mall, Fremantle
by STEPHEN POLLOCK