Melbourne is the food capitol of Australia. Melbourne is a food capitol of the world. And Chin Chin is one of the best damn examples Melbourne can prove of these points.
Years back, on a different tour of Australia, Paolo and I tried getting in to Chin Chin; our efforts were fruitless. This last trip on Sound Wave 2014, we had 3 days off in Melbourne, we attempted once again to get in on the first day off only to find the restaurants exactly as we left it: bursting with people. We asked one of the servers “If you don’t do reservations, how and when can we ever get in?” They gave us two options of times that would work (I’m not listing those times to keep those around for me when I get back); we tried the earlier option the following day and magically had a table.
Chin Chin is located at 125 Flinders Lane in Melbourne; Chin Chin is open from 11am till late, 7 days a week. The restaurant specializes in South-East Asian cuisine with Benjamin Cooper as executive chef. The restaurant is based on hawker style dining, with sharing being a key theme. The restaurant doesn’t do reservations – and is so dang popular, it obviously doesn’t need to do it.
Tonight was the band boys’ night out. In tow, I had my three other band mates, and man were we hungry. The interior of Chin Chin, the decor, the menus, the music, the atmosphere; everything is cool and inviting – a funky Asian vibe. We begin previewing the menu and instantly notice “Feed Me”: a course option of the restaurant’s favorite dishes; we each decide immediately that this is the way to go.
The food and drinks that soon greeted us truly mark Chin Chin as one of the greatest food experiences we’ve all collectively ever had on tour. I would easily put Chin Chin in my top ten of greatest things I have ever eaten at, and anyone who knows me, knows I eat very well.
We all pick our cocktails; I start with: a Thai basil, gin, kaffir lime syrup, fresh pressed lemon cocktail. Remarkable, fresh, basil-y, a wonderful lime-y/lemony acidity thanks to the kaffir lime leaves and lemon. Beautiful. The food that began coming out included:
– Kingfish sashimi with coconut milk
– Pork and a roti-like roll to pop it in
– Crispy barramundi and caramelized pork with an insane salad (this dish was so mind-blowing, I bought the cookbook to make this dish at home; which I did once I returned home)
– Green beans and crispy shallots and peanuts
– Short ribs with a traditional Thai dipping sauce
– Massaman curry
– A lavender syrup, gin, dry vermouth, egg white, fresh pressed lemon and Campari powder cocktail
– Soft-shell crab curry
– A quadrivium of Asian deserts that ranged from having honey comb, to red beans and coconut milk, and jelly, and a rice pudding… unlike any deserts I’ve had.
Every dish we scarfed down had such a varying flavor profile from the previous; the sauce for the short rib and the salad for the crispy barramundi had so much delicious lime, basil, mint, garlic, and lemongrass flavors. I recall drinking the dipping sauce just to attempt to figure out what was going on in that delectable elixir. The crispy barramundi and caramelized pork will be a dish I’ll talk about forever; so complex in its combination of flavors, so simple in its presentation. Having made this dish, it’s a salad that takes an entire day of prep and resting of ingredients just to make it happen. It involves making a master stock, cooking the pork belly in that, pressing the pork belly overnight, then cooking the belly in a caramel of Asian sugars. And that’s just for making a salad. The greatest salad on planet Earth.
Other standouts included the short rib in all its fall-apart sweet and saltiness; and the massaman. The massaman curry at Chin Chin floored every massaman I’ve tried. Don’t believe me? Try it. Too good.
The deserts ranged from hot to cold, sweet to almost savory (from the red bean), jello and jelly-like, to crunchy and powdery (the honeycomb). Just as the savory dishes combined flavors and ingredients we just weren’t ready to have combined – the deserts followed suit in the jaw-dropping goodness.
Words fail me when I try to recall the textures, the flavors, and the marriage of ingredients unexpected that we experienced at Chin Chin. The four of us felt alive here, and again I am reminded why I love food so much – and especially wonderful food like this, created by people who obviously love what they do. Food brings people together, it creates memories and gives us high points in our lives to look forward to once again when we’re not at that pinnacle.
Thank you for what you’ve done here chef Benjamin and everyone at Chin Chin. Bravo.
(See my attempt of making the Crispy Pork and Barramundi with Apple Salad in the images below; recipe NOT included (get the book!)):