After many years of hearing about the queues and a small visit to the basement once for a drink and dessert, I finally avoided my avoiding of Chin Chin. I'm not sure why - I think the thought of queues put me off as well as it being "the place to be seen" with only a moderate-to-good opinion of the food from some friends early on. As much as modern Asian has taken over Melbourne (and most of the white world), how much better could it be than the classics Longrain, Ezard, Coda, Gingerboy, Blue Chillies, Easy Tiger or the (relatively) newer Rice Papr Scrs and Spice Temple? Sure I accept there are different Asian styles to be modern over but still... in the end there seems to be a vast amount of crossover.
In any case I digress. A friend suggested meeting there for lunch one day which I had no qualms over. In fact I was excited to finally try it. After meeting at 11am on a weekday (yes, that early a lunch to get a spot) we were the 5th and 6th people inside to drink shared cocktails and try the food (the long list of mostly great sounding things made simpler by a chef selection option for $69pp). By around 12-1pm almost the whole dining room was full. It was impressive considering a Monday but what was less impressive was the tight squashing of tables together such that eaves-dropping neighbours became a little awkward at times.
But to the food... a nice plate of chilli selection was presented as a DIY heat. I like the concept. I much preferred the various paste versions although none were incredibly hot (which is fine by me).
- Kingfish sashimi (lime, chilli, coconut & Thai basil) - beautiful slices of fish in a balanced zesty dressing;
- Chin Chin pork rollups (red braised suckling pig, pancakes, slaw, Asian herbs) - soft meat, good herbs and strong binding sauce all quite good;
- Laab gai (stirfried spiced chicken mince, lime & roasted rice with lettuce cups) - I'd preferred larb with more herbs and lime from some Thai places. This was fine but nothing I felt was special;
- Twice cooked grass fed great southern pinnacle beef short rib (with coriander & prik nam pla) - beautifully tender beef that I happily swathed through the sweet (palm sugar?) sauce that it floated above;
- BBQ cuttlefish som tum (with green papaya, pickled tomato, burnt green chilli, peanuts & nam jim) - some of the softest cuttlefish I've had without a hint of rubber. Really excellent;
- Butter chicken curry (with yoghurt & green chilli) - by this stage our stomachs were struggling and even though this was nice and creamy, probably made it difficult to appreciate fully. In any case I'm usually more a fan of potent rather than mild flavoured curries;
- Coconut sago (with sweet corn icecream, praline & puffed wild rice) - sweet corn icrecream is new and went well with the coconut cream surrounding it.
I must admit that despite all my reservations given the sheer degree of hype and queuing, the food was very good. Better than Rice Papr Scrs? For quality I'd say yes and definitely quantity although at double the price for 2 people. Better than Longrain? I'm still likely bias toward Boetz but it'll be close. The flavours at Longrain are probably still more potent and other than the sharing tables at Longrain (which are a little too wide to speak to your date easily), the tables at Chin Chin seem mighty packed together for maximal occupancy and minimal privacy.
What can I say - you've impressed me with your food Chin Chin and I'll be back. There's so many dishes to have again.
Next time I would order a la carte. Not that there's anything wrong with the feed-me option but now I know what I like from it. I'd take the cuttlefish som tum and beef rib and could be convinced of the kingfish sashimi and rollups. Otherwise I'd probably skip the little dishes next time other than trying the chilli salt chicken wings. Duck red curry will always be my Thai curry default/favourite but (Wagyu) rendang touches my Malaysian bone. BBQ pork ribs and Issan chicken appeal to me. The sticky pork and roast duck are the alternative mains for the beef rib.