The first time I heard about Chin Chin, a newish Thai inspired modern Asian restaurant near Melbourne’s Chinatown, was a reviewer article in the GW (Good Weekend) magazine of The Saturday Age newspaper. It was a good review. But, then I decided to google search to read more reviews from others who have been there. There were some mix reviews. Most liked it. Some didn’t. There were quite a bit of comments on the lack of service and attentiveness of the staff. Loud music. Lots of noise, almost deafening. Lots of yang energy in the restaurant. Most happening place. Long waiting time. The list goes on. You can read other reviewers’ comments here, Chin Chin Reviews.
I had to see for myself why all the fuzz about Chin Chin. Twice I have tried to get in on my last visit, but failed to get a table. Last night, which was a Thursday night, I went there with my nephew who lives in Melbourne. We got there at 8:45 pm, hoping the restaurant would have quieten down with some free tables. We were wrong! As we arrived, the place was busy and jam packed like a nightclub! There were customers at the bar, some were waiting for their table. We were told we had to wait 30 minutes for a table. I thought that was not too bad. So we waited. We didn’t have to wait long – about 10 minutes.
Contrary to what some of the reviewers had to say, I found the place friendly and staff quite attentive and helpful. Maybe it was because we went late when most customers already had their meals on their tables. There were sufficient staff working when I was there. The waiting time for our food was right. Anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes. We were allowed to sit, read the menu without being rushed to take our order. It was a very interesting menu. Casual, not too formal. The menu was a printed piece of paper placed on the table, like a table mat. On the top side were some cute caricature images of Chin Chin. Flipped over and it was the food menu. The drink menu was brought separately, with interesting cocktails. I ordered a rambutan liquor cocktail. My nephew had shaved coconut ice non-alcoholic drink.
Since my nephew shouted my dinner, I let him order the food. We had the crusted soft shell crab with Thai salad, barramundi and pork belly served with green apple mint salad, and a massaman curry with two bowls of steamed rice. The total bill came to slightly under $100, which was reasonable for this type of restaurant.
Initially I perceived the serving size would be small since the dishes started from $10 and nothing was over $30 (I think). But, when the food arrived, I found the serving size generously proportioned and sufficient to share among the two of us. In my opinion, it was well priced for a modern style Asian restaurant in a big city like Melbourne.
Chin Chin is a walk in restaurant, with no reservation. Think of it as a modern western interpretation of an Asian street style coffee shop, with all the noises, smell of food in the air and lots of drinks in a western world.
The food. We both agreed that our favorite was the barramundi and pork dish. It was tasty and had different layer of textures and flavors. The mint and apple salad was refreshing. It was minty, sweet and sourish with generous squeezed of fresh lime juice. This dish had everything that reminded me of Thailand.
The Massaman Curry was cooked for a long time. We had to wait slightly longer for this dish to arrive. It was worth the wait. The meat was tender and melted in my mouth. The curry was thick, creamy and nutty. The flavour was a bit strong, probably with a tint too much cloves in their spice paste. The two guys at our next table were eyeing our massaman and wished they had ordered the same curry dish. By the way, the tables are all very close to each other. You get to see what they are eating and even ask them if you wish to be friendly and chatty, like the table next to us.
Our least favorite was the soft shell crab. It was a bit bland and not crusty enough on the outer layer of the crab. I would preferred a bit more spice on the crab for added flavour. The accompanied side Thai salad was a bit bland for my liking as well. It was, I believed, meant to be salty, sweet and spicy at the same time, with the crunchiness of fresh vegetables and nuts.
Chin Chin is exciting. It is fun. A place to meet with friends and have a great night out. It is not a place for people who are looking for a nice, quiet meal or who feel uncomfortable to sit less than a foot away from the next table. It is like going to a nightclub or bar with all the loud noise and vibe. Except it is better. It comes with good food and drinks, without the smokiness and drunks typically associated with a nightclub and bar. It is opened until late as well.