Chin Chin has to be the hottest and most blogged about place to eat at in Melbourne over the past few months. I’m only reporting on it now, rather late some would say, but it’s simply because I was in no hurry to spend my money here since I have yet to be impressed by any modern Asian-esque restaurants in Melbourne. Part of me also shows preference to resist the herd mentality, I mean.. is the food here really THAT good that a late-ish evening arrival equates to a 1hr 45min wait?
We strolled into Chin Chin on Easter Saturday for lunch at 12.40pm. The initial feel was one of positivity. There was a relaxed feel to the place, being just after opening the floor was not busy at all with only 5 other tables seated ahead of us. We were seated right near the entrance station, which was a little annoying since there were many tables free along the glass windows on the right of the establishment. Menus are printed on the flip side of the decorated sheets of paper on the table, with the drinks menu hidden within a folio with an R-rated adult warning on the front. I wonder, is all this necessary? What sort of impression and feel are the owners trying to convey to the diner? A bit random, a touch of this and that.. quite a distraction in my opinion.
Chin Chin was previously featured in The Age’s Cheap Eats guide for 2012 (link here). And that is a curiosity in itself because unless the team that compiles that list are on $150k salaries, I can’t understand how a menu listing mains with an average price of $30 constitutes cheap fare. Sure, the entrees are priced under $10, but with the current serving sizes, these are nothing more than a mere taste-bud activating snack. By my estimation, the bill easily comes up to $100 for a couple dining here if they ordered 2 entrees, 2 mains and a couple of desserts. Some one needs to have their primary school Maths skill re-examined.
But before I appear to be unfairly critical of this establishment, let me re-count my experience there. We started off with the Chilli Salt Chicken Wings with coriander & lemon ($14). Three wings came already split sans the wingtip, and it’s not really the nicest looking fried batter. Dark-ish in colour (that’s already a clue of it being potentially over-done), it had a nondescript appearance to it and I think this reflects an element of laziness to shake off the excess batter prior to the frying process. The meat on the small pieces was on the dry side and I have had plenty which are certainly much more juicy. This was saved partially by the use of good fresh sliced chilli which was enough of a teasing kick for me.
The second entree was the Dry Curry ‘Pad Ped’ which is stir fried vegetables with spice crusted organic tofu, kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil ($19). There is a good spice load in this dish, the chilli kicks in the mouth. The tofu is obviously the main feature here, but I found the crust too tough and rather stretchy. And it wasn’t the crust soaking up the sauce to become soggy. There is a need to exercise your mandible and bite through it when I was expecting it to fall apart easily. Things aren’t feeling that flash at halftime for me.
Our first main was the Twice cooked Hopkins River beef short rib with coriander & prik nahm pla ($29). This was literally ‘A’ rib, which I think is too little for the price. Overall good flavours, soft meat accentuated by the chilli and lime sauce. But preparation needs to be looked at because on one side of the rib, the membrane was so dry it had a plasticky texture and I couldn’t even tear it with a fork and spoon. I was reduced to scrapping the meat off it like pulling cotton that had been glued onto a piece of paper. Really not worth the price.
By this time (approx 30mins into our meal), the restaurant had filled up a fair bit and a queue had started to develop by the entrance. I was then led into a substantial 20min wait for the second main. We informed one of the waitresses about our long wait, who duly walked off to serve another table without uttering a word, went over to the order station, punched something into the terminal, then never came back to us. Now, is it just me being old-fashioned in my belief that service staff should have the courtesy to provide a response to a customer’s query. At least tell me if the dish is slow in coming out, or if it had not been put through yet, or if it had been left off the order by mistake. I can accept all the above EXCEPT for a non-response.
After a further 10mins (30mins since our previous dish was cleared), our Steamed Suzuki mulloway fillet with snow peas & white cabbage in a soy, lime & ginger broth ($29) finally hit the table. That’s a lot of words to a dish name; if only the dish was as tasty. The fish fillet was fresh, the meat tender; there was a residual hidden bone though. The broth was rather sweet, I didn’t get the ginger flavour at all and really, I was expecting more fish flavour to exist. More liberal use of fish sauce perhaps? This dish was a jig saw puzzle of ingredients assembled and lacked depth of flavour.
So finally, we’re onto the desserts. My order of the Black Sticky Rice with fresh mango & sweetened coconut cream ($13) was rather wet and there was too much rice in disproportion to the 4 slithers of mango. The Layered Jellies of Young Coconut, Coconut milk & Roselle with candied ginger ($12) was actually an impressively assembled dessert. The ginger is a good addition and added a bit of a crunch to the soft assemblage. The coconut milk jelly was of good texture, not overly sweet. The young coconut flesh at the bottom was a bit strange, chunky, completely different from the flesh that I’ve spooned off the side of a freshly cracked young coconut shell.
Overall, this place is over-hyped and over-priced. I will be returning for a second try of this place because I don’t think it is fair to create an impression from a sole visit. However, first impressions count the most, don’t they?