Flavour house with a red thread.
MENU HIGHLIGHTS Son-in-law eggs; Massaman curry; beef short rib
AMBIANCE Before the girls hit the town
SERVICE Just coping
WOULD I GO BACK? For reliably good curry
When I think of Chin Chin, I think of colourful, flavoursome, fusion food. Confining their cuisine to the Thai label would be a misdescription and an understatement.
A caveat of the Chin Chin experience is that every dish starts to taste the same, eventually. There’s a red thread, a common taste and often grainy texture, to almost every dish. I can’t tell if it’s soy, fish or Worcestershire sauce, or a powdery dull, dry spice (maybe even Paprika).
Service is somewhat hard to come by. A major downside of the visit is that they have you on tenterhooks before, during, and at the end of your visit. If you arrive after 6pm, you’ll invariably find yourself waiting outside in a queue – although they’ll offer you the chance to wait inside GoGo (their internal bar), if there’s room, and you’re in the mood for a dragonfruit cocktail. When you’re finally ushered inside, following your waiter dangling the promise of deliciousness before you, there are more mind games standing between you and ordering, eating and paying the bill.
Instagram loves the Chin Chin aesthetic. Pink neon lighting and an irrelevant rabbit logo on the wall somehow complement bright green lashings of lime and Thai basil with chilli and coconut milk across kingfish sashimi. All these bowls of colour turn on your appetite.
The menu has changed significantly since the opening of the Sydney appropriation of Chris Lucas’ already successful original Melbourne restaurant. So here are my tips across time.
The butter chicken ($26.50) did not have the right balance of spices and was too sweet. It was powdery (grainy?) and dull.
This Isaan chicken ($28.50) was delicious, but the skin was undercooked for me, and you could do just as well at Chargrill Charlies, which is no insult. I am a wing woman.
Like the butter chicken, there was something about the flavour of the coconut cream, chilli and peanut sauce in the eggplant rendang ($22.50) that overtook the dish. You start off thinking the sauce is complex, but you’re left with only one, mystery flavour.
The sweet pork salad was delicious, but dominated by mint and the pork was dry. .
I am a sucker for a satay, so I really enjoyed this dish. Given how much roast pumpkin ($16.50) there was, it needed more sauce, or some bread or rice to accompany it.
You can’t shy away from the vivid chilli oil oozing around a plate of dry beef rendang with cumin, coriander and toasted coconut.
The beef short rib ($34.50) is in my top three favourite dishes I’ve had at Chin Chin. I didn’t need the accompanying sweet fish sauce and young coconut salad, but they weren’t bad.
My favourite dish on the current menu is the Massaman curry, which consists of a superb, rich sauce carrying kipfler potatoes and unusually high-quality, falling apart, coconut-braised beef ($28.50).
Their famous jungle curry ($21.50) has now become a yellow curry of steamed fish, tomato, turmeric and cardamom ($26.50) which you won’t regret ordering.
The best dish I’ve ever had at Chin Chin, and one of my favourite noodles dishes in Sydney, is their egg noodles with garlic, chives, hellfire chilli oil and bug tails. They no longer serve the bug tail version, and I’ve tried the prawn version currently on the menu ($29.50), which isn’t anywhere near as good.
The son-in-law eggs are another shocking dish they’ve inexplicably killed off the menu, mainly because of their sticky bed of dry tamarind chilli duck ($18.50).
A ‘chilli plate’ used to set you back a mere $7.50, but they must have had too many complaints about what it does to your stomach the next day. She gone.
In other side dishes, there’s roti and rice. The rice is perfect and the roti is decent.
Overall, Chin Chin is a crowd-pleasing, success formula of a curry house.