Friday, 21 February 2014

Melbourne Series - Chin Chin

We were sitting around at home one day thinking about where we could go to eat, which is a pretty normal activity for us.  As we worked through the list of places we felt like visiting, the talk turned to some of the restaurants we hadn't visited in Melbourne yet.  The talk intensified and before I new it, we were at the computer booking some flights down to Melbourne and had mapped out a clear line of attack.  Four days in Melbourne and each and every meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner mapped out for the entirety of our trip.  Sweet plan.

We'd picked an early flight, one that would get us to Tullamarine airport with enough time to get into the CBD for lunch, but not so early that we had to get up at 4am.  I called it our 'goldilocks' flight as it was juuuuuust right!  The big question when going to the airport is do we drive and park short term (hoping that the car is still there) or cab it, with our eventual decision to cab being the smart move.  There are lots of stories about flights being delayed and baggage being lost, but this is not such a story, in fact we arrived in Melbourne right on time with baggage in tow.

After jumping in a cab and taking a seriously different route to our hotel, we deposited our bags in our huge hotel room and hoofed it towards Flinders Lane, one of the coolest streets in Melbourne and our final destination.  I'd been dying (not literally) to get to Chin Chin for a long time.  Not only is Chin Chin one of the most popular restaurants in the country, it's also over a wicked little bar called the GoGo Bar, a place that I had in fact been to a couple of times.  Amazingly it was much easier to get into the GoGo Bar than Chin Chin, with each time I'd visited the bar noting the ridiculously long queues and absolutely pumping vibe at Chin Chin.

Chin Chin is one of those Melbourne institution restaurants where there is a no reservation policy (unless you have a group of ten or more) and we really wanted to get there early so we didn't have to wait in a queue.  We were in luck and were seated straight away, and even though there were no sit down tables available, we were placed at the kitchen bar, which suited me just fine - I could watch the kitchen and see the chefs do their thing.

The menu at Chin Chin doubles as a place mat and as we sat and contemplated the extensive list of Asian fusion, we watched the few vacant seats in the dining area fill up quickly.  Looking over the Chin Chin menu is quite torturous, there are simply too many lovely looking options to possibly eat in one sitting and I suddenly saw the benefit of coming here in a big group.  With a large group of friends you could get a heap of different menu items and just share, share, share!

And share dining is what Chin Chin is all about, with the menu designed to be attacked in groups - even small groups of two like SC and I.  It was really hard to limit ourselves to just a few plates as we wanted to pig out, but saner heads prevailed, we had a lot of eating to do and would be visiting Vue De Monde in a few short hours and we didn't want to ruin our appetite.  

We started off with the Chin Chin pork "roll-ups" with red braised suckling pig, pancakes, slaw and asian herbs.  I really love these do-it-yourself pancake dishes, I get to add just the right mix of ingredients to suit my tastes.   I love suckling pig, which is essentially very young piglet flesh and the pig from Chin Chin was sublime, especially when covered in the sweet and sour sauce and wrapped in an incredibly thin pancake.  The asian flavour shone through but the suckling pig was the standout.  Best of all, there was enough for us to make a couple of pancakes each!

Out next were some of the tastiest fritters I've ever had.  The spicy corn and coriander fritters with iceberg lettuce and Chin Chin's own special chilli jam.  The corn fitters were incredibly light but packed a real punch, not too spicy but a rich flavour of caramelised corn on the outside mixing with the sweet corn mixture.  They were nice on their own but when smeared with the chilli jam and then rolled in the fresh lettuce cups, they became spectacular.  I really loved them and could easily have munched on a couple of dozen of them, that was if there wasn't more tasty morsels on the way!

The flavours and textures just kept getting better and with the arrival of the handmade crab and pork cakes with a salted duck egg and tamarind nahm prik (duck egg sauce) I had a new favourite.  I have to admit to thinking that the crab and pork was an odd combination, that was right up until the moment I tasted it, pure genius!  I was a bit dubious of the duck egg and tamarind nahm prik, it looked a bit weird, but all such thoughts were dispelled once I tasted the sauce - even more-so when I added it to the pork and crab cakes. The flavour was a little salty, a little eggy but it balanced out the sweet flavour of the pork and crab beautifully.

In what would turn out to be a bit of a trend over the weekend, we'd chosen the duck as our main share plate.  We had looked at few main sized share plates but given we both love duck, we couldn't pass on the crispy skinned roast duck with spring onion and orange nahm jim jeaw.  There was half a duck in the bowl with incredibly crispy skin that still had a crunch, even though it had been mixed in with the mild spicy sauce.  The flesh of the duck had that lovely gamey flavour that signified both quality of produce and cooking.  We'd only been eating light share plates to this point but once we started on the heavier duck, we realised that we were filling up and midway through the main SC shut up shop and couldn't eat another bite.  This left more of the delicious duck for me, but I was also filling up and wanted to eat some dessert, so I reluctantly set the duck aside.

Before I could crack on with the dessert though, we had to navigate the "son-in-law" eggs with chilli jam.  I'd only had "son-in-law" eggs once before and my memory of them was a little cloudy when we ordered, but came crashing back once they were delivered.  The first thing I noticed when the bowl was placed in front of us was how pretty the dish was, it really was a beautiful sight with bright colours and a bowl that was just perfect.  There were three eggs for us to share and we ate one each before just about completely giving up on food.  The texture of the eggs is a little weird at first but once you got used to the thick skin, the egg flavour in combination with the chilli jam was a winner.

I kind of suspected that ordering dessert was a mistake, but I went ahead and ordered anyway.  There was nothing that really stood out for me, so I ordered the black sticky rice pudding with sweetened coconut cream and sesame seeds.  There was  a layer of mango sitting atop of the black sticky rice, which I assume was to help cut through the thick glugginess of the rice.  I wasn't a fan of this dessert, in fact, apart from the nice and sweet coconut cream, I found it really hard to stomach.  I'm pretty sure I'm not a fan of black rice.  I might have to try it again some time, but I won't be excited about the prospect.

The whole time we were sitting down enjoying our Chin Chin experience, we were watching the hive of activity that was prevalent in arguably Melbourne's most popular dining spot.  The kitchen area in front of us was a constant flurry of activity and the hubbub from the dining area was very appealing.  I really love the vibe in Chin Chin and could definitely see the appeal of the place and why there are sometimes multiple hour waits in a queue to get in.  Added to the appeal of the restaurant is the cool and funky bar just a few steps away.

I'd read about poor service at Chin Chin before and some friends who had been late last year had warned me that there can be long waits for food, as well as getting in.  I have to admit that this didn't eventuate at all and we had lovely service by friendly staff and the food kept coming out at regular intervals.  Perhaps it was the fact that we were there for lunch and it was not as chaotic as I'd been expecting?  In any case, we enjoyed practically every aspect of our visit to Chin Chin, with the one notable exception of the dessert.

We rolled out of Chin Chin pretty excited to have begun our food journey around Melbourne.  We were full and satisfied, if not a little worried that we were about to hit a ten course degustation at one of the country's most awarded restaurants in just over five hours.  We really hoped that several hours of walking around the streets and laneways of our second favourite city (Brisbane after all is the best) would help build our appetite.....  Stay tuned for our Vue De Monde adventure :)

Just behind the bar are the steps to the GoGo bar - a spot that I quite like
Fork?  I don't need no stinking fork - It's chopsticks for me!
Placemats that double as menus - not original but it sure does work
You can see the famous Chin Chin bunny in the background
Why hello - what's got you boys so interested?
Of course you can buy the book
Amongst other things -  a comic book cook book? 
Just to make sure you know its an Asian restaurant -  a rickshaw thingy (but a cycle)
Its a lovely old building inside with lots of character
Even more so from outside - what a great day so far

Chin Chin on UrbanspoonChin Chin

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