The Very Very Hungry Caterpillar

YES, this is yet another Melbourne food blog!

Chin Chin

125 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8663 2000
http://www.chinchinrestaurant.com.au

When a restaurant that’s barely been open for two months is full at 6pm on a Thursday night and already has a list of blogged reviews on urbanspoon.com that’s longer than the Gold Coast Highway, you know you’re onto something real good. And that something is Chin Chin, THE hottest new restaurant in Melbourne. Owner Chris Lucas, formerly of Pearl fame, is smart, really smart. Using social media as a tool to launch his new restaurant, he’s seen it get two thumbs up from food-bloggers and the cool kids of Melbourne alike. And I can see why. Set up an eatery with a cheeky name (according to Shirley, Chin Chin means ‘penis’ in Japanese) in the space that was used to be the notorious Icon Bar (HURL!). Secondly, shove an Asian-inspired (more specifically, Thai-inspired) menu care of Andrew Gimber, former head chef of Sydney’s Jimmy Liks, with jacked up prices and sassy menu items such as ‘morning glory’ (a vegetarian stir-fry, no less) to appease all the eggs out there and there you have it – the next cool Asian-inspired eatery. Step aside Coda and Izakaya Den, Chin Chin is here to suck your wang.

 Hayden, my second favourite GE employee behind Shirley, took his mother to Chin Chin the other week. He loved it so much that he was willing to go again the second time, this time with three hottie Asian girls, me, Shirley and Linda so on Thursday night, we waited in line anxiously waiting for a table to open up before being led to one by the semi-open kitchen. The place was bopping as we took our seats, and cooed over the OMG-SO-KAWAII design on the back of our menu-slash-placemat (below). Although the noise level at Chin Chin was at a decent level when we walked in, it got louder as more people arrived and lined up, and the bar started filling up with suits. Pretty soon, the music started playing which made talking and hearing a tad more difficult (even more so when they started playing a terrible female cover of Nelly’s ‘Just A Dream’).

 Heeeeh! Pho-to!

Both Hayden and Linda, having been there before, told us what dishes they liked and what dishes they didn’t like. In the end, the extensive menu proved too hard for us to choose from so we decided to take the easy (and probably more expensive) option by paying $66 p/h and getting the kitchen to bring out seven dishes for the table to share.

 I wanted a cocktail (and why wouldn’t I, given the hell-ish day I’ve had at work what with our e-mail servers playing up) so I settled on a Thai Basil ($15). The blend of Thai basil, pink grapefruit, rose water, 42 below vodka and lychee served over ice in a short glass sounded promising on paper but failed to impress – it was too sweet and there was none of that tartness that I expected from the advertised pink grapefruit. Fail.

 Hayden decided to order a Melbourne Bitter. He’s from Geelong, pretty self-explanatory.

Our first entrée was the kingfish sashimi with lime, chilli, coconut and Thai basil, a dish that Linda loved when she was here with her boyfriend a week ago – and I can see why. Everything about it was fresh – the colours, the textures and the flavours – and extremely tasty. I was worried that the dominant flavours of lime and chilli would overpower the kingfish but instead, they accentuated the freshness of it even more. Add a dollop of coconut dressing to dim the sharp lime and chilli flavours, and add shredded kaffir lime leaves and basil for that bit of edge and you have a winner.

 Less impressive were the spicy corn and coriander fritters, though. They weren’t remarkable – though I guess I’m biased because my mother makes them at home and she jam-packs them with heaps of corn whereas these bastards had little corn, but lots of batter. Not cool. That said, they tasted alright when paired with the chilli jam provided and then wrapped Vietnamese-style in mint and lettuce cups.

Next, we had the Indian-style barbecued goat with cucumber and mint raita ($27). Looking and tasting very much like the Indonesian beef rendang, the tender pieces of goat meat were barbecued which gave it a lovely smokey flavour before being coated in a rich spicy sauce that was slightly sweet. On its own it was lovely, but matching it with the cooling raita (yoghurt sauce) was genius. It was a bit rich and spicy for some of us, but thankfully a bowl of jasmine rice ($3) was on hand to allay any tingling taste buds.

One of the lighter dishes that was consumed on the night was a very Vietnamese cuttlefish and glass noodle salad with wombok, Vietnamese mint and nuoc mam. Linda said that this was a salad that her mum could easily whip up at home and I have to agree with it – I love making summer salads and this is something that I can prepare at home to take to work the next day. Regardless, it was a lovely salad – the cuttlefish pieces were beautifully tender and they, along with the fresh mint leaves, wombok and sliced carrot, soaked up the lovely tangy nuoc mam dressing which had hints of chilli in it.

Also good was the caramelised sticky pork with sour herb salad and chilli vinegar ($24) – yes PORK, Hayden, not chicken! I’m not normally a pork person but this dish was enough to make me start eating it more. I can’t decide what I loved more about the dish – the tenderness of the pork or the deliciously sweet, sticky and slightly smokey sauce that it was slowly-cooked in. A fresh salad on top kept things fresh while a malty chilli vinegar brought both the salad and pork together. Delicious.

Not so good were the wok-tossed jumbo clams with XO sauce. Steamed in XO sauce and some sort of Asian beer, they should have been fantastic on a cold night but we were all disappointed. The XO sauce was generally bland, but for a sharp and annoying bitter aftertaste that kept popping up which I suspect was the beer that was used. Give me Supper Inn’s pippies in XO sauce for a fraction of the price, anytime.

We were stuffed at this stage but we still had one dish to go. Thinking that it was going to be a dessert course, we prepared for a plate of sweet goodies to arrive at our table… only to involuntarily shudder with horror (yes, horror) when two plates of Hopkins River beef massaman curry appear on the table with two bowls of jasmine rice. It wasn’t a bad curry (okay, maybe they could have turned a dial down a bit in terms of the level of sweetness) – it was rich, comforting and extremely tasty but I couldn’t really enjoy it. Firstly, I (and the rest of the table) were too full to eat any more savoury dishes. Secondly, we were disappointed at the lack of beef brisket in the dish – there were more shallot bulbs and pink fur apple potatoes in the dish than there were beef.

I was able to pass out from all the rich food but being the glutton that I am, I decided to order sundae and so did Linda. I ordered the palm sugar ice cream sundae with salted honeycomb and lime syrup ($14), only because I saw the word “salted” and it was GAME ON from there. Globs of vanilla ice cream and palm sugar ice cream wrestled for attention in a large glass that was topped with salted honeycomb that wasn’t even THAT salty. Even though the overall result was perhaps a bit sweet that what I would have liked, I decided that I enjoyed the well-constructed dessert and the tiny trickle lime syrup did much to dim down the sweetness of the rest of the components.

Linda ordered the layered jellies of coconut milk, passionfruit with slow-poached pineapple and toasted coconut ($12) which was good, but not as nice as mine (which is funny because her dessert is something that I would have otherwise picked for myself). The coconut milk jelly was exquisitely creamy and appropriately sweet. Married with passionfruit and pineapple, and a sprinkling of toasted coconut it was a comforting dessert which was perfect for winter but also made us yearning for the warmer months.

We thought the food was generally good, with the exception of some of the dishes, although Hayden and Linda both said that the food was much better when they went on their first visits. I’m not sure whether it was because of the dishes we were given or if it was because we came on such a busy night, though. In hindsight, it would have been cheaper to choose a bunch of individual dishes (entrées were $15-20, and the bigger dishes $18-30) and we would have probably been better off with the variety as well. We felt that the balance of dishes received on the night skewed positively towards the rich and stewy side, hence why we all got full so easily. I will definitely come back, but forgo the banquet and just select individual dishes from the menu to avoid being stuck eating a bunch of rich dishes that almost gave me indigestion and as well as to perve on the awesome babushka tattoo that the sommelier had on his right arm, heh!  And next time, I will not choose a dud cocktail while telling Hayden that Melbourne Bitter is for losers.

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

12 Comments on Chin Chin

  1. Hannah
    July 25, 2011 at 22:42 (3 years ago)

    Is that supposed to look like the playboy bunny in the window?!

    Hmm.

    I still love the look of the palm sugar dessert, even though every review I’ve read has called it too sweet…

    Reply
  2. Miss T
    July 26, 2011 at 05:41 (3 years ago)

    dont you love that ol’ nugget “it was SOOOO much better the first time I came….” yeah, ok. thanks.

    Reply
  3. msihua
    July 26, 2011 at 21:19 (3 years ago)

    Ahahaha.. I love this sentence, “Chin Chin is here to suck your wang.”… HAHAHAHAHAHA… I found the palm sugar ice-cream a bit too sweet and not salty enough (or limey) but still finished it :P I think the only things we ate which were similar were the desserts and that pork.. gosh that pork was sooo good!

    Reply
  4. DL
    July 26, 2011 at 22:44 (3 years ago)

    Whoa, formerly of Pearl? In late 2010′I think the dude was trying to revamp it. Must’ve given up…’this place seems…’Golden Fields-ish!!!

    Reply
  5. The Truth
    July 27, 2011 at 01:42 (3 years ago)

    give me a break, bloggers are just personal opinions, they mean nothing in the end. Does anyone ever wonder why chefs don’t let real publications and reviewers do an honest review of their restaurants? maybe because they have no confidence in their food, like this place, Coda is no better, also ask George Calombaris how much he pays for PR on his “empire”, could be tipping the $20,000 a year scale there. this isn’t directed at you hungry caterpillar, but theres no way a restaurant with such big names behind it, cant have one proper review, thats not some crazy coincidence. Also don’t be surprised if all these bloggers are friends on twitter helping each other out, are these real reviews? or friends helping friends?…

    Reply
    • The Truth
      July 27, 2011 at 01:44 (3 years ago)

      not to mention the front of house has 200,000 blogger friends, who thinks shes cooler then she actually is, talk about an attention seeking twitter account

      Reply
      • libishski
        July 27, 2011 at 18:32 (3 years ago)

        Hey there,

        Thanks for your comment – I take your comment and others’ comments seriously regardless of whether they’re merely personal opinion or ‘the truth.’ While you do raise some interesting points, let me put in my two thousand rupiahs:

        1. You’re right in that bloggers’ posts are ‘just personal opinion’ and in the grand scheme of things, ‘they mean nothing in the end’ but one could read your comment and say the same about you? And although these bloggers’ opinions may mean nothing to you, they mean something to the thousands of people to surf these blogs for places to eat or simply just to read up on the Melbourne restaurant scene.

        Additionally, most bloggers write because they love food and they love the Melbourne dining scene, and for those reasons alone, decided to create a blog. I am one of them. Anything else that came out of it, whether it be making new friends (fellow food-bloggers, for example), receiving perks such as tickets to food-related events, writing assignments etc are merely incidental bonuses. The point is, they’re not there to get their name out there – they write because they love food.

        2. “Does anyone ever wonder why chefs don’t let real publications and reviewers do an honest review of their restaurants?” I find this statement pretty ironic. How could ‘real’ reviewers do an honest review of a restaurant if chefs ‘let’ them do so? Food critics usually dine at a restaurant, usually without letting the restaurant know beforehand. That way, they can give an ‘honest’ and objective review of the place without being subject to preferential treatment. Chefs who ‘let’ (and by ‘let’, I assume you mean ‘give permission to’) reviewers come in to review a place are more likely to amp up the service and the food quality, thus defeating the purpose of an honest review.

        3. I can see why you don’t like that George Calombaris pays $20,000 and certainly, there are some valid arguments that one could make about how a struggling family-run Greek taverna in the suburbs is supposed to compete with the Calombaris empire. Yes, I can see why it MAY be unfair but when you think about it, if someone like George has the money to pay for PR, then there is no reason why he shouldn’t. At the end of the day, it’s his money and his business, not yours.

        4. I don’t disagree with your view that restaurants such as Coda and Chin Chin are popular, mainly because of social media and ‘big names.’ I do, however, fail to see the problem in that. It’s the 21st century and social media is big, whether you like it or not. Rather than shun it, Chris Lucas has used the power of twitter etc to his advantage and it has definitely paid off. As time goes by, as peoples’ tastes change and as the Melbourne dining scene evolves, so do the way restaurants market themselves. And sure, twitter, blog reviews etc may lure the punters in, but at the end of the day smart diners will judge by their taste buds and not by big names and the coolness factor associated with the ‘it’ restaurant of the month. If a place fails to deliver (in terms of food), then they will not return. This was the case with me and Coda.

        5. I love receiving comments, whether it be positive feedback, constructive criticism and comments about my reviews/food/Melbourne restaurant scene etc like yours that make me stop and think. Your last line, however, reads like a passive-agressive personal dig at the front-of-house and that kinda diminished whatever respect and credibility you had in your first comment. Not cool.

        Cheers,

        A food blogger who does not use twitter.

        Reply
  6. ed
    July 27, 2011 at 13:27 (3 years ago)

    I love this place and have been back a lot of times, it is sometimes hit and miss in terms of being consistent in the flavor department. The quality is always there and on a good day some dishes are perfectly balanced on the flavor profile, on the contrary some dishes such as the caramelized pork can be too sweet at times.

    Have tried 3/4 of the menu, loved every other dishes except for their stir fries and curries.

    Reply
    • libishski
      July 27, 2011 at 18:37 (3 years ago)

      Oh wow, 3/4 of the menu? You’ve done well!

      I’m definitely going back for more :)

      Reply
  7. Ya Boy Truthy
    July 28, 2011 at 17:36 (3 years ago)

    I would reply to your comment, but after you said you thought it was ok for George Calambaris to pay for his reviews [yes it does fall under PR and yes he does do it], it is his money and his business, but as a reviewer don’t you feel the quality should be expressed and served without payment? much like chin chin, why haven’t any professional reviewers reviewed the place? when they finally let someone, won’t you feel somethings wrong there? newspaper and magazine reviewers have been turned back from coda and chin chin already, based on those involved not wanting it to be reviewed. Don’t you feel used? or played? based on their views on your experience with food/taste? I hope you didn’t take my comments as an attack, I stated it wasn’t aimed at you, I enjoy your blog, but maybe its time to drop the camera when you go and consider how the food and service is without it.

    Reply
    • libishski
      July 28, 2011 at 19:02 (3 years ago)

      Hi Truthy,

      Nah, I didn’t take your comments to heart at all. Like I said, I love receiving all sorts of comments and hey, it’s good to engage in a little friendly debate every now and then to keep things a little interesting :) And as I stated above, you do raise some valid points but I also can’t help but wonder whether you have some sort of personal grudge against the guys behind Chin Chin (and Coda), particularly after reading your last bit about Chin Chin’s front-of-house lady.

      In response to your comments above:

      1. I’m not sure if you know the difference between a PR tool (media releases, for example) or an independent review. Like I said, I don’t have a problem with George Calombaris paying money for PR as a way to increase business but I would have a problem with George bribing a reviewer from The Age, Herald Sun to write a positive review of his restaurant. Can you see a difference there?

      2. When a restaurant opens up, food critics don’t normally visit the that restaurant for AT LEAST three months. As you can imagine, running a restaurant isn’t easy and there are many issues to iron out upon opening. Because of this, reviewers usually wait until restaurateurs have sorted their issues out BEFORE they review the new restaurant to ensure that the restaurant gets a fair review. The reason why you have not yet seen a review of Chin Chin in the newspaper is not because of the reasons you’ve suggested above, but simply because it’s only been open for two months. Wait a few more weeks and you’ll see the reviews appear.

      4. Coda HAS been reviewed by big name reviewers. Check out Larissa Dubecki’s review in The Age’s Epicure section 11/08/2009 and John Lethlean’s write-up in The Australian Weekend magazine 15/08/2009, for example. How exactly would they write their reviews if they were, as you reckon, “turned back from Coda”?

      5. On that note, given how many positive blog reviews that Chin Chin have been receiving, there is no reason why “those involved” with Chin Chin should NOT want the place to be reviewed.

      6. I never feel “used” or “played” after going to restaurants and writing a review of my experience on my blog. I only feel that way after drunken hook-ups with douche-y men at nightclubs.

      7. In regards to your last line, in all my 3-4 years of food-blogging, I have NEVER noticed a correlation between the presence of my camera and my dining experiences. There have been times where I’ve had fantastic service and amazing food and times where I’ve just had a rotten meal – the presence of the camera had nothing to do with my experience at all. On that note, there HAVE been times where I’ve not brought along my camera yet still managed to sit through a terrible meal. Like I said, the camera does NOT influence.
      :)

      Reply
  8. Hayden
    July 29, 2011 at 12:11 (3 years ago)

    Honestly kids, who really gives a shit what George waxes his bread on? Let’s eat the good stuff and enjoy ourselves.

    Great review libishski, true I will defiantly choose dishes to my own taste next time and not the set mistery menu.

    Nice photo of the ‘loser’ beer too.

    Reply

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