Melbourne, back to Asia (Part 1)

Name: Chin Chin

Address: 125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Ph: 03 8663 2000

Website: chinchinrestaurant.com.au

Hours: 7 Days, Lunch + Dinner

If at the beginning of the year you read any of those “what are the food trends going to be” articles you would have seen a lot of talk of South American food, and US style junk-food. And yes, both of these have come true to an extent.

What you wouldn’t find is any reference to the explosion that has happened in Melbourne in the past six months. For Melbourne has returned to Asia.

No one was expecting the people of Melbourne to be clamouring to eat Thai or Vietnamese, lining up for half and hour for the pleasure. And yet, that is exactly what is happening.

And when the food is as good as at Chin Chin or Dandelion, why wouldn’t it?

Chin Chin, a barn of a room filled with the hippest dining crowd in Melbourne, is well worth waiting for, and wait you probably will. With The Smiths and Iggy Pop providing a dining soundtrack over the hum of a conversation and glorious smells wafting from the dishes going past, you feel ready for food.

There is a lot to choose from. Across two meals, I was able to sample a lot, and most of it delivered.

Some dishes zinged with freshness, like the kingfish sashimi lifted by lime, chilli, coconut and an aniseed hit of Thai basil, while others were rich and warming, such as deeply satisfying Masaman curry.

Everything is to share, starting with snacks that are best eaten with your hands. This was particularly true of the luscious egg net rolls, where the spicy sauce oozing through the egg onto your fingers and lips is half the joy. The well-balanced flavours are the other half. It was also the case with corn and coriander fritters, heavy on the coriander, wrapped in the crunch of lettuce with a sweet, sticky and beautifully spicy chili jam.

This jam, or a similar version, appeared again in a side of son in law eggs, working brilliantly with the rich egg yolk. Although serving them already cut in half removed the fun of biting into the whole egg.

Goat is great meat and is not seen often enough on menus. This opinion is only enhanced by the thick, ginger-heavy Indian style barbecued goat. It was a rich and unctuous sauce with fall-apart tender meat, offset by the coolness of some cucumber raita.

The best of the savoury dishes used the most popular ingredient of the moment, beef short rib. This is on every menu at the moment, and this tender, twice cooked version demonstrates exactly why. It was rich, sweet and sticky, balanced by the sharpness of the nahm pla prik sauce. Stunning.

Some dishes were less impressive. The pork pancakes were a little lackluster and much less exciting than other dishes of similar style around the place. A barramundi fillet cooked in pandan leaves seemed a little redundant under a powerful red curry sauce. And the roti was far too dry, missing the buttery softness of really great versions. But overall, there were a lot more hits than misses.

Unlike most Asian restaurants, you must make sure you save room for dessert, in particular the palm sugar sundae. This was a brilliant demonstration of balance. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream and one of just bitter palm sugar sit in a tart lime syrup. Crushed slightly salted honeycomb add that last element. If you get some of each bit on your spoon you get hit with flavour from every direction. A great dessert for any cuisine.

Service was efficient and friendly, especially given how insanely packed the place was, and the aromatic focused wine list offered lots of interesting, lesser-known brands. The Wine Guy, identified by his apron, offers some fascinating choices, although the matching isn’t always on the letter. The cocktail list also looks interesting, with a very spice-driven Bloody Mary making a great start to a Sunday lunch.

It doesn’t take a long time to realise that people are lining up for Chin Chin not just because it is trendy, but because it is one of the most enjoyable new eating experiences around Melbourne at the moment.

And the soundtrack helps.

Next week, from modern Thai to modern Vietnamese, as I look at Dandelion.

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About freehugstommy

Food, films and politics are my triumvirate of passions.
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