Chin Chin

125 Flinders Lane

Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 8663 2000
Open everyday 11am till late
Chin Chin feels like the most talked about restaurant this year. I first got wind of its coming in May, via twitter, where the foodie community buzzed about this “casual modern Thai diner” that’s about to open in the city. Shortly after, Broadsheet blared out an article about it, detailing how restauranteur Chris Lucas (Pearl, ex-Botanical) has opened an informal but stylish dining hall serving street-inspired Asian food with head chef Andrew Gimber (Rockpool, Jimmy Liks) at its helm. Since then, I quote @thatjessho, it’s become a “shit fight” to get a table every night. Lolol!!
I’m one of those food bloggers with a not-so-trendy wishlist of places to eat, although that has been changing lately… Twice in the past fortnight, I chose low-key Gurney Drive over Chin Chin for dinner. But after I read Billy’s epic food post on Chin Chin, and a tweet saying they serve ox-tripe salad, I simply HAD to visit!! I suspect Billy has been to Chin Chin nearly ten times by now, he loves the place that much! Even Lauren (who’s normally homebound minding three toddlers) has been there. OMG, I’m so late to the party!
Chin Chin started opening for lunch one week ago. All the previous blog posts at this venue revolved around dinnertime, with abysmally dark and blurry pictures. That.Just.Won’t.Do. I’m proud to announce that you’ll finally get crisp, bright pictures here! This shimmering lunchtime post oughta catapult my blog into absolute infamy and bling bling stardom. *Ahem ahem*… Thank you, Everybodeee!!! I love you all… yes, kisses… thanks again… **WorLd PeAcE!!**
Not all that keen to participate in “shit-fights” of any kind, I deftly arranged a late lunch here last Sunday where table real estate wouldn’t be any problem. So yes! To date I still haven’t been to Cumulus Inc or Hardware Societe, both legendary places in the CBD that every self-respecting food blogger must visit, and yet Chin Chin has somehow weasel’d its way in and pushed itself to the front of my radar. Must be the ox-tripe… (and the promise of good-looking staff…)
Speaking of radar, I searched for “Chin Chin” on my iPhone’s Googlemap on the day I ate there. The restaurant was so new that Googlemaps couldn’t find it, autocorrected my search, and dropped a pin on “China”. D_D
Inspired by the workingman’s mess halls in Bangkok, the fit-out in this venue feels open and bright, with high ceilings and tall windows lining one side of the space. Counter-seating, bar seating and easily rearrangeable tables and chairs adds to the flexibility of the space. During the day, light pours in from the windows and it feels like the perfect place for a relaxed catch-up over drinks and shared snacks with friends. The atmosphere is casual chic, colourful, with a mildly dignified air. It can be a bit noisy-echoey inside, but it wasn’t to the point of being annoying.
The floor staff mostly consisted of friendly, approachable and distractingly handsome men. Note to self: very important not to lean towards bias in this blog post just because of the agreeable ‘scenery’. When we were seated, our waiter good-naturedly explained how it’s a share plate concept here. You order a few to start with, and then more as you go along. It’s like modern Thai diner meets tapas bar.
Kingfish sashimi $14
w lime, chilli, coconut & Thai basil
I lunched here with Castletime, Fakegf, Ees and partner. Truth be told, I’m always skeptical when it comes to having sashimi in a non-Japanese way. But this little dish was a great way to start our meal. Not only was the fish pristinely fresh, but the whole combination actually worked! It had a lovely chilli kick and an incredibly tangy relish with real lime pieces perfectly balanced with a dab of coconut cream. Petite pieces of Thai basil and slivers of kaffir lime leaves added a sharp aromatic fragrance to the dish.
Crispy barramundi & green mango salad $24
w caramelised pork, chilli & lemongrass
The deep fried barramundi is hidden underneath all that leafage. On it’s own, Fakegf thought the fish tasted unabashedly salty while I found the golden pork belly exceedingly sweet. Ees liked the confident sweetness of the pork though. The dish works better if you eat everything at one go. Tangy salad with fried fish and crisp-sticky pork. Again, love the fragrance of the herbs. But at $24, I think it’s quite a small serve.
If you look closely, there are little bar hooks under the bar counter to hang your bags.
Salt & pepper crusted soft shell crab $22
w green papaya salad & nahm jim
I think this dish was popular all around the table. They do their deep-frying quite well here. The soft shell crab was nicely marinated, crisp and lovely. Castletime liked the papaya salad, it had a moderate amount of heat and a refreshing crunch. Many of the dishes here had that green and zingy nuoc cham-like sauce as accompaniment. I really liked its limey, herby and revitalising fragrance. It tasted like a classic dipping sauce with a contemporary twist.
Chin Chin’s roti bread $6
The jungle curry we had next came with a bowl of rice. This roti we ordered to go along with the curry was good, quite prata-like. That lonely piece on the plate didn’t last very long at all…
“Scud City” that’s real hot $27
Jungle curry w wild hare, pickled garlic & ginger
Nothing like a dish that throws a gauntlet at our spice tolerance. There’s always an element of faux macho bravura surrounding gay boys (and their female alternative-lifestyle-companions) ordering super spicy dishes and then trying their utmost not to break a sweat. Sadly, all of us started looking quite unglamorous and beady within 15 minutes. The jungle curry’s chilli-hotness really creeps up on you with this dish, I started fanning myself with my hand. I suspect the Portuguese-looking waiter with the heart-stopping accent thought I was turning red cos there’s too much of his sexiness walking so near our table. Lol, partly true, but let’s just blame the jungle curry, shall we?

The jungle curry was light and yet strongly intense without being creamy or heavy. And that’s what I liked about it, although it could’ve been a little less salty. Love all the fresh herbs, chillies, ginger pieces and other spices sitting everywhere. I slathered tons of curry and everything over my rice. This dish really warms up your belly, it reminds me of eating in Thailand where every dish is so punchy and boldly spicy. However, we thought that the hare was on the tough and gamey side. For some of us, (okay maybe only me) it made the jungle curry feel all the more ‘primitive’ and thus, authentic… *oomba oomba!*
Coconut-apple smoothie w cinnamon
To help cool our burning tongues a little, our waiter cleverly suggested this drink, with the option of a shot of vodka in it. My non-alcoholic version tasted okay, with more apple juice than coconut water in it’s flavour profile.
Pat Thai noodles $26
w king prawn, banana blossom & dried shrimp
This dish should really be called grilled king prawns with pad thai noodles. I felt that the wonderfully fresh king prawns, cooked to perfection, completely eclipsed the noodles. Not that the noodles were bad, Fakegf and I liked how it wasn’t overly sweet although Castletime wanted it sweeter. I liked the springy bite to the noodles but thought a bit of wok hei (charred taste) would’ve been a nice added touch.
Crunchy school prawns $9
w nahm prik pla gapi, herbs & crudites
My companions seemed to like this dish. Deep-fried mini prawns that you can eat whole, after dipping into a palm beach-style chilli sauce. The sauce has belachan (prawn paste) in it —> WIN. Personally, I concede that the deep-frying was good, but I didn’t take to the actual prawns, they tasted a little powdery inside and bits of shell got stuck in my mouth. On a side note, what in the world is a crudite?
Palm sugar ice cream sundae $12
w salted honeycomb & a lime syrup
You could call this a curiosity dessert. We were really really stuffed. I was impressed the waiter didn’t bat an eyelid when we ordered just the one dessert for the whole table. It was five people to a sundae, and he quickly laid on the table a dessert spoon and black napkin for each of us. I applaud that.
The palm sugar ice cream tasted more like coconut ice cream with a palm sugar mousse around it. I couldn’t really taste the salt in the yummy crunchy honeycombs. You really need to dig into this dessert with big scoops in order to get sundae, honeycomb and lime in one mouthful. Ees and Castletime quite liked this dessert. I personally found the dessert quite sweet, but in this case, the addition of lime syrup felt like a strange mix.
All the hype, sexiness and buzz aside, I will come back here simply because of the food. Chin Chin really has a modern take on Thai-inspired, Pan-Asian street food. But the winning formula here lies in how the actual food hasn’t been bastardised or dumbed down for ignorant palates. The essence of boldly spicy and aromatic street-food remains and echoes across the halls of this iconic eating space. Just like eating in Thailand, you walk out of this entire meal with fiery spices massaging your insides… tickling your belly in a way that makes you smile, reminding you of the good food you’ve eaten.
To have a pleasant time here without a long wait, I’d say avoid dinnertime hours especially on weekends. They don’t take reservations unless it’s a huge booking. The dining hall opens for lunch and closes well past midnight everyday. I can imagine myself popping back in for drinks and a snack after a night at the movies.
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