Chin Chin on Flinders Lane, where I promptly started preceedings off with a Lychee cocktail (from a dizzying array of drinks choices housed in a book with the words XXX R18+ Adults Only playfully inscribed on the cover in Gaffa tape) - made with Gin and Prosecco and served with a whole frozen lychee smothered in crushed rose petals, something to look forward to at the end of your drink.
Watched over by a neon bunny, I tried my best to order from an extensive menu in order to suit the requirements and sensitivies of our large group of 10. In other words, I didn't entirely get to sample the sorts of dishes I would normally go for (meaning ingredients and/or combinations I am unfamiliar with).
We started with a number of "Little Somethings".
First off was the Kingfish Sashimi served with Lime, Chilli, Coconut & Thai Basil. A little heavy handed with the lime juice, but the sashimi itself was succulent and tender with a more than pleasant herby hit from the Thai Basil.
Given the rest of the available choices in this section, you may want to hold off on the Kingfish Sashimi which lets face it you're hardly likely to be uncognizant of. But you definitely should order the Spicy Corn and Coriander Fritters. Its served with Iceburg lettuce cups, each with a sliver of ginger at the bottom (hate to be the kitchen hand that has to select the cups and assemble the pile!!) and an absolutely TDF Chilli Jam. You wrap each fritter in the iceberg, slosh on the chilli jam and munch - number one, peops, number one!!
And of course, we had to have the Chilli Salt chicken wings that came to the table covered in chilli slices and coriander with a squeeze of lemon on the side. They weren't kidding about the salt! But how could you abandon the humble fried chicken wing? How could you turn your back on all that crunchy, fatty deliciousness. KFC lovers were emerging from the closet left right and centre. Chin Chin's version is fairly straightforward, but the soya sauce, chilli, sugar and lime dipping sauce accompanying these beautiful morsels help cut through the saltiness to enhance the juicy white flesh underneath the crunch.
We also had the Wok Fried Salt and Pepper squid served with that quintessential Thai dipping sauce, Nuoc Chum. I know its almost passe, but this is a must have. Perfectly executed.
Our final starter was the DIY Fresh Spring Rolls. Ok lets just take a step back for a minute and let me break it down for you. I think there were quite a few nervous nellies amongst our party who were secretly climbing the walls thinking "what the hell is this place?" "And you call this food?" "I don't even understand the menu!" So the words Spring and Rolls were like beacons of light and a sudden gush of wind to miners trapped underground.
However, when the DIY spring rolls finally arrived a-table, I could feel the side-eyes and the "hold up bitches". Coz this was no cigar shaped roll of crispy fried goodness, no this was soft peking duck style skins and cut vegetables arranged in little piles ready for you to do your own folding!! Brilliant!! (well at least for some of us at that table ... oh god Licio & Rach!! I really miss you at times like these). In addition to the cucumber, pickled radish, carrot and bean shoots, there were also tampon (sorry! - best way to describe this) shaped pieces of golden freshly fried bean curd. The accompanying peanut sauce was delicious. Not too sweet and not too salty.
More drinks ensued including a number of alarmingly expensive bottles of champagne (we have no monetary provisions for trifle matters like salary increases and bonuses, but in the immortal (sic) words of Beyonce - "we like to party"!!). Then it was time for the mains.
Again, not really what I would have selected from the menu but this was the "United Colours of Benneton" of grazing. First up was L's choice of the Wild Salmon wrapped in Banana leaf in a red curry sauce. This was everything you would want in a Banana leaf wrapped grilled fish with the added bonus of being wonderfully scented with tiny slivers of kafir lime leaf chiffonade.
Heading up the vego components we had the Dry Curry "Pad Ped' with Stir fried vegetables and spice crusted organic Tofu. I only had a couple of mouthfuls of this so its hard for me to fully review it, but what I had tasted competent.
The second vegetarian dish was the Yellow Pumpkin Curry. I don't really do pumpkin, but I actually enjoyed this. And surprisingly it wasn't too rich. I might just try and track this recipe down. Or at least attempt a yellow curry paste from scratch and cook pumpkin and tofu in it.
Completing the circle of curries was the Masaman Curry of Coconut Braised Hopkins River Beef brisket, served with Pink Fur Apple Potatoes (your guess is as good as mine) and Crispy shallots. In one word - Delectable. The beef was super tender and the Masaman itself was well balanced. Again, if I was with my usual dining "kakis", this would not be my choice from the Curry options ... that would have to be the "Scud City" Jungle Curry.
To cut all that coconut richness, we ordered a Salad of Organic Silken Tofu with Thai Basil and a hot,sweet bitter dressing. Didn't really taste the bitter, but by this stage I think I was beginning to get slightly tofu-d out! There are much more interesting salad options (steamed spanner crab and chicken, cuttlefish and glass noodle, hot and sour duck liver to name a few) but I wasn't prepared to push the envelope too far.
To bulk up the protein, we ordered the Caramelised Sticky Pork, which funnily enough, could have been alot stickier. The flavour was there, but the meat itself was dry. In fact, I'd almost forgotten to actually blog about this until I was checking through my photos and found a pic of it there. Avoid.
The highlight, ironically, was the choice of one of the fussiest amongst us who asked for the Chin Chin special rice served with Crab, Pineapple, Chicken and Coriander. I had to double check the Crab bit with her, but as it turned out, this simple dish was the most memorable for me.
For sides we had Roti and (I couldn't really go past this) the Son in Law eggs. I always have time for Son in Law eggs. These were good, although if pushed I would say the eggs at Easy Tiger are far superior.
I don't quite know how we managed this but we did have dessert. And really, even if you have to tickle the old epiglottis like a pro to make some room, you simply must order the Palm Sugar Ice Cream Sundae with salted honeycomb and lime syrup. HEA-ven!! Its frozen palm sugar ... hello! what more could you want!
We also ordered a platter of sweet things to share which had a a White chocolate with a lime and coriander filling (surprisingly tasty), a cinnamon and ginger spice cake (the standout on the plate) and Pandan pudding, which didn't really gel on the first mouthful and paled in comparison with the other 2.
And at A's insistence we had the Three Colour Pudding - layers of sweet beans with pandan infused tapioca, caramel and coconut crushed ice ... basically a fancy Ice Chendol ... and I'd rather have the heartland (a nod to fatbooo) version in my hometown, Singapore.
We had to vacate our reserved big table (you can book if you are 10 or more in your party - there's only one table this size, so you will have to be organised) for the next booking so we took our drinks downstairs to the Gogo bar.
The Gogo bar is a cavernous space that just screams piano black!! It has an LA feel to it, and so do most of the Clientele. The only difference is true to Melbourne form, one of its entrances is via an alleyway. The drinks are expensive. So perhaps its a venue option best reserved for a charity date who you want to ketok (pardon my singlish).
We finished our night of muted debauchery with the lovely (I can't believe she's back!!) RS at the Everleigh on Gertrude Street, above the now defunct palace of mediocrity, Dante's. I honestly thought, given its hipster speakeasy references, we would be knocking the waxed facial hair, suspenders and brogues, and jaunty caps aside to get at the bar ... but everything was surprisingly muted and if a little lacklustre. However, for old timers like myself, there's something comforting about sitting back and being able to converse without having to strain forward and lip read. And I like the idea of allowing the bartender to design a cocktail ($18 a pop - so maybe not the place to go to get sloshed) based on your choice of flavours and spirits.
Here's my final word, assuming you have made it so far after such a long and tedious post: Chin Chin is a fun place with an amazing get up and prime location, but there are better offerings of this kind of modernist Thai/Vietnamese/Malaysian shtick to be had out there. I'm still more of a Long Grain and borderline Ginger Boy fan.
But you should check it out for yourself and see what the fuss is all about ... after all that is the Melbourne thing to do!