They’ve clocked over 8,000 votes on Urbanspoon and still manage to maintain a decent score. We’ve heard they turn over 800 seats each day, all while knocking their patrons’ taste-bud-socks off. Then the bit that tipped us over the line, when a couple of our highly respected fellow foodie friends said, “What!? You haven’t been to Chin Chin yet? Being into Indian and Thai, you will love it!” Okay, it’s time to head to the CBD, Chin Chin here we come…
You’ve got to love Melbourne; a place that’s full of uber-trendy eateries squeezed into dicey alleyways full of garbage bins, graffiti, and shouts from cabbies and truck drivers trying to vie for the coveted loading zone spot. And that’s where we find Chin Chin, amid the hustle and bustle (on the Fitzroy Gardens end) of Flinders Lane.
Through two sets of doors, we were, well, not really greeted, but rather stared at by one of the hosts as we entered. He was a tall hip sort of fellow, who looked more quietly annoyed than pleased that we walked in. Hey, I know we’re not all inner city fashion-concious people (we are bears after all) but we were sorta presentable, I think. Nonetheless our host showed us the menu at our request, and quickly zipped us over to our seats once we nodded our compliance to eat in. In all fairness to the service here, it got infinitely and incredibly better once our server took over.
Once seated we had a chance to look around at our new home for the next hour or so. It was somewhat like a glorified cafe, with a pink neon bunny rabbit in one corner, part of the kitchen jutting out of another (and allowing for bar-type kitchen-side seating), a long bar stretched across the opposite wall, and a sea of mostly empty tables.
|Pikes Oak Beers|
Yeah, you read right. Empty tables. We may be bears, but we’re not freakin’ silly! We weren’t going to wait three hours (as has been previously reported by other fellow Urbanspooners) for a chance to eat here, so we came for an early lunch on a Monday. Wham-bam-thank-you-we’ll-be-seated-right-away-ma’am.
I started with a Pinot Gris ($9/glass) which was eh-okay, and hubby bear ordered a Pikes Oak Beer ($9.50) – which he says was absolutely great. So much so, we’ve sourced where to buy them locally (King & Godfrey in Carlton and McCoppins in Fitzroy). Our server was extremely helpful, funny and friendly – all those things which seemed to be lacking at the front door – came in abundance at the table 😉 He was able to decipher the menu for me so I could ensure what I ate was vegetarian, what a nice boy. His momma raised him right.
So, entrees to get started: Corn Fritters ($16) were different, interesting….nah, I’m just going to say it. They were pretty meh. The four balls of extremely brown, under-flavoured fritters were only saved once wrapped with mint and dipped heartily into the tamarind based sauce.
Now, on the complete opposite hand, we tried the Green Beans ($14) which packed a real punch in your mouth! Crunchy green beans in a soy-rich rendition of a sauce, with bits of fried shallots and peanuts: YUMBO! This was truly bowl-licking goodness. What fritters?
In hindsight, we realize we should have ordered two vastly different mains to enhance our eating experience, but being lovers of curries – we both ordered curries. Oh, we’re so predictable! ha! Hubby bear ordered the Massaman Curry ($26), of which the soft beef just fell apart by simply looking at it. Topped with fried shallots, peanuts and a drizzle of yogurt, it had all the trappings of a stand-out delicious curry. It only fell short because it was too sweet for hubby’s liking. This dish does typically have sweet notes to it, but Chin Chin’s rendition was just that little bit too sweet.
My Yellow Curry ($19) was perfect though, bursting with a variety of savory and spicy flavours. Roasted pumpkin, eggplant, and (my not-so-favourite veg) okra floated around alongside a big piece of cinnamon and star anise. And now that I think about it, broken bits of the star anise must of been what I continually found myself pulling out of my mouth; you know, when you bite and go “uh-oh, that’s not edible” (for example, like when you hit a cardamon pod, no matter how much you chew, you just can’t swallow it! ha!) Overall, the ingredients and flavour were delicious in this dish. A point of confusion did ensue, albeit briefly, when my server brought out a nuc man (fish sauce) dish with my curry. It had cubes of cucumber and slices of chili – its presence on the table surely must have been in error because (other than the fritters at the start) – it didn’t really seem to go with anything else in front of us.
Rice came with our mains (meaning, we didn’t have to order rice separately which was a lovely surprise) and the glorious Roti Bread ($4) came out a bit later (after reminding our server that we were nearly half-way done eating and no bread on the table)! I say glorious because it was perfectly cooked: a huge square piece of flaky hot roti folded twice; it easily satisfied both of us.
|Yellow Curry, Rice and Mystery Sauce|
Overall, we were both impressed, but definitely not blown away (which was what we expected). Don’t get me wrong, we’re both happy we ate there, and will add our vote to the ever-growing pile on Chin Chin’s Urbanspoon page, but we won’t rush back just yet (too many other amazing places to try now that we’ve walked through the offshoots and other laneways around Flinders Lane!).
Maybe our (clearly in the minority) lack of excitement was because we’ve frequented so many Indian and Thai restaurants that none of the flavours were really all that new to us? Perhaps because we’ve eaten in some pretty trendy spots and found the fit-out wasn’t all that exciting or revolutionary? Or perhaps all the hubbub has been well warranted because we just didn’t realize the fashionable and slick city dwellers were finally, after many years, presented with a decent Asian eatery that was fit to be seen in? I’ll leave it up to you to decide 🙂