Even three years after opening, Chin Chin is still the restaurant buzzword hot on every Melbourners’ lips. Constantly packed to the rafters with hungry diners, you should expect to get there early or be prepared to test your patience with their long waiting list.
So in a fickle Melbourne restaurant market, what’s the secret to their success?
There’s a lot to love about Chin Chin’s fit out. It’s a modern take on the old school hawker dining halls with its cramped, bustling atmosphere. Pop art posters flank the entrance and are paired with other contemporary touches like hanging filament globes and exposed brick walls, giving it a semi industrial feel. There’s a sense of controlled chaos radiating from the kitchen, creating a heightened sense of energy and excitement.
The pan-Asian inspired menu is designed with a shared eating concept in mind. Executive chef, Ben Cooper, takes diners on a journey through a mash up of flavours from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and India.
If you’re feeling indecisive, just say, “feed me” and the chef will serve up a selection of their favourite dishes so you can fully enjoy the experience. This consists of roughly seven dishes priced at $69pp, tailored to your tastes. The staff are friendly and attentive, retaining an uncanny sense of calamity amongst the madness.
To start, a picture perfect plate of kingfish sashimi to tantalise the taste buds. And ignite the palate. Thin slices of silky sashimi fanned elegantly across the plate with juicy segments of fresh lime, Thai basil and a final sprinkling of coconut cream which was just enough to balance the heat of the chilli.
Spicy corn and coriander fritters were golden morsels of joy. Designed to wrap in iceberg lettuce and eat with your hands, the crunchy outer layer of the fritter exposed a juicy inner busting with sweet corn and fresh coriander. The house made chilli jam was the perfect accompaniment, delivering a further insult of fire and spice.
Perhaps paling in comparison to the other dishes, the wok fried salt and pepper squid with nuoc cham and Vietnamese mint fell a little flat. With a thin crisp batter, the squid were beautifully cooked but lacked the wow factor of the other dishes.
The hero of the night was the crispy barramundi and green apple salad with caramelised pork, peanuts, chilli and lemongrass. Generous chunks of barramundi were infused with slithers of crisp green apple, chilli, lemongrass and crunchy peanuts. But the real winner was the caramelised pork, which was succulent and cooked to perfection, falling apart at the slightest nudge.
From the barbeque, Ora King Salmon was served in a banana leaf fresh from the oven. The charred salmon was slathered with a coconut red curry paste and finally garnished with a lacing of coconut cream, lime and Thai basil. Unfortunately the fish was overcooked which compromised the flavours of the dish and did not let the salmon flake easily.
Chin Chin is famous for their caramelised sticky pork, some saying it is the best in Melbourne. And it’s no surprise: The flavours are brilliant – melding hot and cold elements together to create a heavenly dish full of palate-popping flavour. Succulent pork with a crisp upper crackling was soaked in a sweet sticky sauce with citrus notes. The sour herb salad and a shallow bath of chilli vinegar was enough to offset the sweetness of the pork beautifully.
After consulting our dessert stomach, we finished with the coconut sago. A scoop of sweet corn ice cream in the middle gently melted into the sago, which created a fried egg like effect. The addition of praline and puffed wild rice were nice textural contrasts to the creamy sago.
I can see why Chin Chin still continues to be one of Melbourne’s hottest restaurants. It takes every diner on a journey and showcases the best of pan-Asian cuisine without dulling down the flavours. What I love the most about Chin Chin is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It makes dining fun. So laugh loud, come hungry and let the good times roll.
Value for Money 8/10