125 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 8663 2000
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’).
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.