All of my previous blog posts have been a mere warmup to this point. Now we get down to business, finding and sharing with you: the best food , the best restaurant and dining experiences, the best value for money and (of course) all the places that you want to avoid if you’re after any of the above – in Melbourne.
A bit dramatic? Probably.
But Chin Chin definitely deserves it.
Let me first say, I’ve been a few times. Well, quite a few times. There was the time it first opened (when you didn’t have to line up to get in – quelle horreur!), there was the time at 9:30 at night on a Monday when I stumbled from the office and straight into the waiting arms of Chin Chin and its glorious Penang Curry, and there were numerous times I took friends here. And you know what? It has never failed me.
Oh sure, I have been knocked back a number of times during peak hour, or been relegated to the bottom bar (down the stairs) to wait it out. A line out the door at 5:30 on a weeknight? Yes. Worth the wait? Yes.
This time our group of 7 came for dinner rather early on a Wednesday night (6pm) and 5 of us managed to get in and secure a table. Chin Chin doesn’t allow you to walk in and ask for a table of 7 if there are only 5 of you standing there – you have to either wait for the rest of your friends, or squish up when the others arrive (which is what we did).
It goes without saying that the no-reservations-under-any-circumstances-only-if-you-have-a-table-of-12 policy is extremely frustrating, but it has launched the trendiest of new Melbourne restaurants into the most talked-about and salivated-over list. I wouldn’t complain (I’d do the same if I owned a top notch restaurant, create hype) but there have been days where doing the no-reservations loop of Flinders Lane and Little Bourke from Spring down to Exhibition has been more gruelling than my morning workout.
But on to the food!
We were in a rush to get to a concert and had allowed just over an hour for food. Our waitress was very obliging and I must say, the service is always excellent – we have had a free jug of the house wine (once) and any requests for additional food (or dietary requirements) are always met quickly and dilligently. So we ordered a whole host of dishes and got them coming out almost one-by-one, leaving enough space for us on our squishy table.
The kingfish sashimi ($14) is a winning dish – very juicy and tangy (due to the inclusion of lime) but super-soft on the tongue. Topped with some coconut cream is quite a nice twist.
DIY tofu rolls ($8), where the tofu has a crispy deep-fried crust and smooth silken insides. They’re nothing particularly interesting or groundbreaking (unless you count the DIY part to be groundbreaking) but I think it is the attention to detail that counts. Whilst they might be a little bland if you’re after a flavour punch, they are well executed and a good starter for many people.
But I did think the pulled pork rollups ($16) were a vast improvement in terms of flavour and deliciousness. They were a bit of a random choice but a good one, the freshness of the salad and the sauce that comes with it balances the richness of the pork – all wrapped in a part soft/part sticky roll that you DIY.
Then, my favourite dish of all: salt and pepper squid (large $28). The vietnamese mint, lemon and nuoc cham take this dish from just lovely crispy squid to a whole ‘nother level. I have practically inhaled this dish before, but this time I was nice enough to share. Love how snack-size and juicy these little squid-bits are.
For the rounds of mains, we ordered willy-nilly and probably had a little bit of hit and miss. Not that there were any BAD dishes, per se, but they just weren’t amazing. Like I adored the crispy, nutty topping on the Gai Laan Chicken (first picture, $22) but not the otherwise bland steamed chicken itself. The Massuman Curry ($18), while delicious, wasn’t particularly exciting or mind-blowing (which is what you almost expect from this lauded restaurant). However, the duck (pictured below, $33) was really a standout – nice and crispy, with an amazing marinade.
Other dishes ordered included the rockling green curry (by all accounts, a not-too-spicy creamy curry) and the steamed gai laan with sesame. I can wholly recommend the the palm sugar sundae (the honeycomb is ridiculously sweet!) although I was told this time I didn’t have time for a dessert. I can’t get over the adorable toothpick holders (pull the bunny ears up to release the toothpicks!)
Ambience: 9/10 (if you like noisy and bustling, which I generally do)
Food: 9/10 (some amazing dishes, but it can sometimes be hard to order… you can easily be dazzled by the complex menu)
Value for money: 8/10 (I can pick up two amazing dishes and a substantial amount of the house white – which is definitely good value – for just under $50. If I can dine myself at a top restaurant for that much, I count myself very lucky)
Other bloggers who have visited Chin Chin include: Gourmet Chick – who also loved the kingfish sashimi, Fresh Bread who dubs it the ‘best overhyped pan-Asian restaurant’ (but justifiably so), and Munch & Muse – who ordered some different dishes and swears they’re the best Chin Chin has to offer (maybe you can try some of them out!)