Sydney might have invented the dance known as ‘queuing for hours for a hot new restaurant’ but that aspirational jig was perfected by Melburnians when Chin Chin, the Modern Thai eatery on Flinders Lane, proved that the quickest route to popularity was a hot wok, a cache of chilis and a stocked bar.
Sure, we scoffed at the two-hour wait on a Sunday at 5.30pm when we were last in town, but now that Sydney has their very own Chin Chin in the restored Griffiths Tea Building near Central we’ll be taking a slice of humble pie while that 200 person waitlist counts down during their first Friday lunch service.
And it’s not like they didn’t plan for crowds. The big, open dining room seats 160 people, plus there’s spillover into the booths in the darker, more industrial GoGo bar. They’ve effectively taken a bellows to the smouldering love of South East Asian food that is at the core of Sydney dining.
There are many good things to report, including the fact that the pricing and servings sizes mean you will roll out of the place clutching your sides, with a couple of drinks under your belt, for well under $100 a head.
While your tongue is still fresh and untarnished eat a round of soft, cold, juicy spanner crab meat mixed with toasted coconut and a warming tropical curry sauce wrapped in betel leaves.
We are warned off the larb but encouraged towards the Issan chicken, marinated and grilled on the bone and bedazzled in a warm roast chilli. You can ratchet up the heat with a fresh, fruity onion and chilli nam prik or send it skywards with more dried chilli on the side. And if you really want to flagellate your tongue there's Sriracha on the table. Just how much penance do you owe?
You might expect the mussels to be something snack-sized, but you’d be dead wrong. It’s a platter of bivalves in a chilli jam, soy and tamarind sauce that weaves all over the great dividing range between sweet and savoury. They bulk it up with eggplant, okra and snake beans but even all that veg is no match for the shelackings of sauce on the plate. You’ll need at least one serve of roti to mop it up, maybe even two.
Why the crunchy fried bricks of tender pressed pork, topped in pickled veg, herbs and at sea in a biting vinegar sauce, is on the salads and vegetables menu is beyond us, but it’s excellent, so ponder the question while you eat.
The fact that you’re squeezed in pretty tightly (watch you don’t clip someone’s dinner as you squeeze through to the banquette seats) added to the tinny roar of excited voices bouncing off the walls means this is not a place for languid dining. It’s loud, buzzy and frenetic and you will be too after another round of Jim Barry’s eminently drinkable riesling on tap or a cocktail of rum, lemongrass, galangal, lime and green curry (imagine a spicy Daiquiri)
From the moment they open their doors, restaurants like Chin Chin are a scene. It’s the finely tuned combination of style, spice, booze and price that means yacht parties share tables with business lunches and crews of early-adopters. It’s where everyone wants to be eating, so we give humble thanks that at least you can book for lunch.