For my birthday, I wanted to go somewhere special, and it’s been almost three years since I went to Chin Chin for lunch with my friend Lai Heng and meant to come back (here’s the review from then). This time, my husband and I were seated in the GoGo section (to the left as you enter). Everything is bathed in a pink light, the music was specifically early 80s, and I was amused by the very large photo art, two large separate images of women in fetish gear.
Chin Chin has a storied reputation: hard to get into in Melbourne, also in Sydney. As I’ve mentioned before, I find it interesting that in Australia, white Australian male chefs become experts in Asian food, and open fine-dining modern Asian restaurants. When I grew up in Vancouver, they were all Chinese chefs in the kitchen of every restaurant, whether at a hotel or ethnic food; this changed to a focus on authenticity where the chefs were from the culture of the cuisine presented, so this Australian model is interesting.
I didn’t quite know what to think with season Ben Cooper, the white executive chef of Chin Chin, on Masterchef this seasion, in a challenge where contestants (many of them Asian-Australian) had to recreate his dish, a Thai jungle curry, without a recipe. It felt jarring.
Yet there’s no denying that the flavours at Chin Chin, whether they are learned or are an authentic presentation of a particular culture, are absolutely delicious. Rather than the much-talked about umami flavour (the sort of savoury combo of other flavours), I found the flavours of most of the dishes quite distinct: a beautiful combo of spicy, sour, salty and sweet. Although tempted by one of the ‘feed me’ menus, I thought I would have more control by choosing dishes myself and that’s what I did, and was rather pleased with myself.
Kingfish Sashimi with Lime, Chilli, Coconut and Thai Basil
Caramelised Sticky Pork with Sour Herb Salad
Twice Cooked Beef Short Rib with Shaved Coconut Salad and Prik Nahm Pla
Roast Pumpkin with Curry Spiced Coconut Cream
Oh, and some dee-licious cocktails to start with and a glass of wine each. Slighty too much food so the leftovers made a nice lunch the next day. We loved each dish. All hits no misses. Well, the dessert wasn’t a standout, but that was fine after such great food.
I worried that the kingfish sashimi was too typical a dish, but the flavours on that sauce were incredible. The sticky pork was an interesting combo of meltingly tender and a crispy chewy crust. The salads that came with the proteins had such beautiful flavour I’ve been trying to recreate them ever since: same with the roast pumpkin, which could be a simple dish but was not just a vegetable on the side!
Finally, it was an interesting mixed crowd: some young women on one side of us, a larger family with young children on the other side, a few couples like us who looked like they are local to Surry Hills: I think restaurants as good as this attract a wide base of customers. I’ll make sure we return in a shorter amount of time than my last interval!
Chin Chin Sydney
69 Commonwealth St, Surry Hills NSW 2010
I really like Chin Chin. The food is excellent. Though I haven’t been for a while, and maybe it’s different with social distancing, I used to find it too noisy. The music was far too loud for these old ears! How’s it going now in the socially distanced world?
We gave our names and contact details when we went in, and there was ample spacing between tables. It was full, I think, so they were doing well. I found the music a notch too loud, but also found it jarring on my 51st birthday to be brought back so specifically to my early teenage years with the soundtrack.