I have been to Australia many times and have always been pleased to find that it is a nation of foodies. There is a certain amount of subtle rivalry between which is the foodier (a word, I’m certain) city, Sydney or Melbourne. However, as I found myself in Melbourne this time, I decided to see what it had to offer. My first meal out was at ChinChin, after a slew of recommendation from people whose opinions I tend to trust. It also helped that it happened to be walking distance from my hotel. On the walk there I tried to work out what Melbourne reminds me of and then it hit me; central Melbourne has the same vibe as somewhere like Shoreditch or Hoxton in London. A sort of “young, so-trendy-it-hurts” thing. Which, as I was holiday, I absolutely loved.
What I found at ChinChin (after being told over the phone to just “turn up”), also reminded me of London. A huge queue. However, after what was only a short wait of an hour and a bit, where I partook of some very very clever cocktails, which made the wait more enjoyable than I possibly could have expected, I was in. And boy was it ever worth the wait.
Our server, who throughout the night was the epitome of the perfect waiter, took us to our seats by the kitchen where we discussed the pros and cons of the “feed me menu”. This is where, for $66 you just say “bring it on” and the food starts coming. It was worth every single penny. Our waiter had the time to have a proper chat with us, asking us about where we had eaten before, our likes and dislikes and very quickly gauged his audience. Throughout the night he was friendly, personable but never intrusive and I can’t sing his praises enough. But before I fall into bromance territory, let me talk about the food at ChinChin.
The menu is interesting reading, as you cant find it on-line, except in blurry pics taken my bloggers and the like. Their website just delivers a Nintendo quote and leaves you guessing. But the pan-asian stuff we saw on the menu, filled me with anxiety. I’ve been to a lot of the part of the world and eaten alot of its cuisine, so anywhere doing Chinese/Thai/Malay/Vietnamese has me worried. Will they be a jack of all trades and a master of none. I needn’t have worried. Due to the fact we had 12 courses, I will only talk about the highlights.
The Kingfish sashimi was an amazing way to start the meal. Meaty but delicate fish, complimented by the fresh acidity you always associate with great Asian street food. The plate was clean before the waiter had managed to make it back to the kitchen. A very, very clever way to get the gastronomic juices flowing. As the meal progressed, more and more dishes arrived, always perfectly timed, so you never felt rushed but always were just ready for another morsel. The portion size just write for the size of the group. Following our sashimi came the crab cakes, a clever choice by our waiter as its something I simply never would have ordered, thinking them a bit dry and boring. Instead, I got tiny mouthfuls of flavoursome pork and crab, seasoned and proportioned in such a way that the crab wasn’t overshadowed. The rich duck egg and tamarind added just enough depth to the dish that it lead almost seamlessly into the more central portion of the meal. During this there were three major highlights. The twice braised beef, the rendang and the goat. Yes, goat. I’m actually a huge fan of well cooked goat, a beautiful and flavoursome meat if done right and this was the perfect example of a chef who knew his produce. The rich, slow cooked goat was held aloft by the minty raita it was served with and, on the advice of the waiter, we mixed it all together with the rice to form tiny spoonfuls of tasty pleasure. This well balanced dish was followed by two heavy hitters, the beef and the rendang. The beef alone was rich, almost to the point of being too rich, but the acidic prik nahm pla managed to cut through the richness such that an equilibrium was reached. The meat fell of the bone and this was very much a crowd pleaser, we simply felt it was poor form to ask for seconds during a tasting menu. The rendang was one of my personal favourites and this is for the simply reason that I think its often done very badly. People try to make it posh or clever or something it isn’t. What this was was an authentic heap of rich meat in a dry, flavoursome and perfectly spiced sauce. What I consider “asian comfort food”.
After a number more courses we eventually decided it was time for dessert. A boy, were we glad we did. Now, in the UK (I can’t speak for my Aussie mates), sago is the nightmare school lunch pudding. Like frog spawn, but somehow even less appetizing. Yet our waiter managed to convince us, via a tale of Yorkshire parents and his own experiences of sago, that we should give it a go. I’m very glad we did. Hints the sweetcorn ice cream mingled with a coconut sago to create one of those things of beauty, the savoury/sweet dessert. A great idea after a rich meal, as it is light and effortless eating, rather than some heavier puddings.
There were, all in all, more than a dozen dishes eaten that even and I cant talk about them all because I’m writing an article, not a book. But I have to say, as an inhabitant of London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, as well as being quite well travelled, I reckon this is probably one of the best Asian meals I have ever eaten. Ever. Add in flawless service, moreish cocktails and a $66 a head bill and basically I never wanted to leave.
ChinChin – London needs you!