Now almost the old lady of Asian fusion food in Melbourne, Chin Chin still delights with banging flavours, a live wire atmosphere and eclectic decor, all in the heart of thriving Flinders Lane.
Location: 125 Flinders Ln, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Ph: (03) 8663 2000
Now I know that the hospitality industry has been through an incredibly tough time due the Lockdowns, but surely I’m not the only person who is chuffed that table reservations are still the norm, post pandemic. Yes, as someone who has queued outside Chin Chin for an hour on a chilly weekday night due to the venue’s ‘First Come, First Served’ policy, being able to hop online and book at table is a major silver-lining.
Especially as, since the day it first opened more than 13 years ago, Chin Chin has always been incredibly popular.
Many eateries have tried to emulate the magical mix of fashionable vibe, raucous noise levels, great drinks and delicious dishes. Dishes that hop-scotch around Asian, picking the tastiest snacks from Vietnam, the richest curries from Thailand and the irresistible breads of Malaysia. And although Chin Chin is in a lot of ways the blueprint for a dozen smart venues that have followed in her wake, few have managed to do what she does anywhere near as well.
Are you familiar with Filipino food? For wonderful dishes from the island archipelago, visit Serai Kitchen
There is a lot more to Chin Chin than simply a dining room.
Set on iconic Flinders Lane corner block in a lovely old building, it’s a stellar space in a fab location – in more ways than one.
You come through the arched entrance vestibule into a high-ceiling, open dining area. Japanese manga-style art adorns the walls. Further along on the left is a stunner of a well-stocked bar. On the other side of the room, large windows set in exposed brick walls allow in light and look out over a very Melbourne laneway.
There’s a banquette running the length of the windows. Simple wooden tables and chairs fill the rest of the room. All of them usually occupied by happy, diners – chatting and eating in equal measure.
The buzz in the room is palpable – whether you visit at lunchtime or late at night.
But this isn’t Chin Chin’s only facet.
The team have long been involved in various art events, hosted within their building. Which brings us neatly to the main restaurant’s moody little sister – GoGo Bar.
This fabulous late-night drinking den lies under the floorboards of her better known sibling. This is the place to come for hip DJ sets, kicking cocktails and an ever evolving array of art works decorating her distressed walls.
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Upstairs, there are event spaces for a range of occasions. And yes, the team down in the kitchen can whip up a fabulous spread of food and drinks for your guests as well.
And did we mention the sound system? Yep, the soundtrack to your food is just as important as the meal itself, at Chin Chin. Expect classic upbeat tracks, played loud enough that you’ll be tempted to sing along. It all adds to the lively hubbub that this eatery appears to foster so easily.
For more of the Best Asian Fusion Restaurants in Melbourne, see here.
GoGo Bar Update
All of the venues within the Lucas Group stable of restaurants are currently doing a Cocktail Hour on Thursdays from 4-6pm. And that includes Chin Chin’s feisty sibling, GoGo.
What does that entail? A curated selection of $9.50 Cocktails and a handful of Snacks to match. That means tipples like the Jiggly Caliente – Tequila, Raspberry, Sansho, Yuzushu, Agave, Chilli & Lime – and a Black Pepper-Cured Beef Miang for $12.50.
Suddenly, the thought of post-work drinks on a Thursday evening has become even more appealing!
Another Lucas spot doing Cocktail Hour is the ultra glam Society Restaurant – Lillian Brasserie. Read our review of this stunning dining spot, here.
Executive Chef Benjamin Cooper isn’t afraid of the big hitting flavours of Thai cuisine, nor is he worried about nicking the best bits of other Asian cuisines and pulling them together into a gloriously cohesive menu.
The result is very likeable food that naturally lends itself to sharing.
The a la carte menu is split into a number of manageable sub sections – Salads + A Bit More, Curries and so on. The kitchen also oversees 3 Feed Me options, for those who want to sit back and let have the food miraculously appear. These are The Classics ($88 pp), the Chef’s Banquet ($110 pp) and the Chef’s Celebration Feast ($130 pp).
For more Asian fusion flare, see our review of Coda Melbourne
Surely Kingfish Sashimi ($33.5) is up there with Lobster Rolls as one of most ubiquitous entrees in Melbourne?
Fortunately, the version at Chin Chin is about as good as they get.
The opaque slabs of Ocean-fresh fish are utterly irresistible when doused in a spritely Lime, Chilli , Coconut and Thai Basil dressing. Plus the plate looks delicately gorgeous when it arrives tableside.
Chin Chin’s Pork “Roll Ups” are the stuff of legend, and rightly so. They materialise with commendable speed as soon as we’ve dispatched the Kingfish – Yes, the service at this venue is as efficient and charming as you could wish.
But back to the “Roll Ups”. The protein is paired with a Bean Sprout and Herb Salad and a wee bowl of sticky Plum Sauce. The child in all of us at our table delights in getting their hands in and putting together their own dinner. Honestly, how smart is this from the kitchen? Diners feel genuine joy from the fun of DIY food prep and the chefs have one less thing to toil over. Brilliant!
Love Asian flavours? Then see our guide to the Best Vietnamese Restaurants in Melbourne
Along with the Spring Rolls we get the Corn Fritters ($24.5). Also very hands on, these are golden dough balls, dotted with corn, which you rip and wrap in a Lettuce Cup along with Chilli Jam, Ginger and Mint. They are a good contrast to the Spring Rolls.
Salads + A Bit More
Surf and turf has never tasted better than the Crispy Barramundi & Green Apple Salad, Caramelised Pork, Peanuts & Chilli ($39.5) we eat next. The zip of the citrusy dressing and herbaceous Salad cut the richness of the fatty Pork. Meanwhile, the crunch on the Barra gives another layer of texture.
But the real genius is serving this with the Braised Wagyu Beef Pad Seuw from the Stir Fry, Rice & Noodles part of the menu.
The meat is soft, unctuous and deeply umami whilst the noodles are pillowy rolls of sauce-sucking comfort. When eaten with the peppy, crunchy Barramundi Salad, you get a fantastic contrast of textures, flavours and temperatures from mouthful to mouthful.
Another great spot to try exciting Asian food is Straight Outta Saigon – read our review here.
I’d be disappointed to finish a Thai-leaning meal without a curry. And I love that the team as Chin Chin have the verve to nip over to India and bring us a totally satisfying Butter Chicken Curry ($34.5) with Yoghurt and Green Chillis. After all, this dining spot may have clear affiliations to Thailand, but it’s definitely more pan-Asian at its soul.
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Rich, soupy and studded with chunks of charcoal patterned chicken, it’s a great finisher. On the side, we have Jasmine Rice ($7.5) and wonderfully al dente Stir Fried Green Beans ($19.5) laced with Coconut, Burnt Chilli & Cashew Sambal. Technically, I’m done, but I still fight my son for the last piece of Cashew in the bowl. I know. I’m a glutton.
For more of the Best Indian Restaurants in Melbourne, click here.
Which brings us neatly to…
After the heat, zip and zest of the previous courses, our dessert is a blissfully cool, smooth delight.
It comes in the form of a chalk-white, Coconut Panna Cotta which more than passes the wobble-test. There’s the citrus punch of Passionfruit, steered towards Japan with the addition of Shiso. Icy Granita gives contrast and another layer of interest comes from dried Pineapple shards. It’s a dessert that makes me smile. The Coconut and Pineapple combo stirring echoes of Malibu and Pineapple concoctions from my teens.
I’m happy to report that the drinks are generally a notch above the usual casual eatery standard.
Firstly, The Lucas Group of restaurants – of which Chin Chin is a member – actually have their own range of beers under their Shiki Brand. And as you would expect, they go beautifully with the Asian fusion fare at Chin Chin.
But their specialisation doesn’t just stop at beer. The Group also has a wine expert on-hand, which results with a decent range of both local and international bottles.
Lastly, the Cocktails are seriously good. The Asian-theme is maintained in mixes like the Kintaro ($23) – Whisky, Yuzu, Fennel, Peach, Cognac, Lemon & Whites. Personally, I’m a fan of the refreshing Leo’s Domain ($23) – Tequila, Apricot, Ginger, Mezcal, Lemongrass, Coconut Agave & Lime.
It’s hard to say exactly what it is that makes Chin Chin such an iconic Melbourne dining experience.
Maybe its the infectious, good-times energy rolling through the whole building. Perhaps it’s the quick and efficient service and professionalism of the excellent staff. Of course, it could be the superbly tasty, cleverly balanced menu that encourages sharing and invites conversation. Or is it simply great drinks and a celebratory vibe?
Whatever it is, Chin Chin does it with ease.
Many have tried to copy her winning formula, but after all this time, no one does it better than the original.
For drama, atmosphere and stellar cocktails, see our review of Eau De Vie Melbourne
Good to Know
Chin Chin Melbourne is open from 11am until late with a rolling service.
Moreover, it rustles up its winning dishes 7 days a week. Just be aware of a 10% surcharge on Sundays.
Cooking with Cooper
Another great addition to the Chin Chin Melbourne repertoire is their Cooking with Cooper programme.
These are a serious of cooking classes, led by Executive Chef – Ben Cooper.
At present, in the calendar there’s:
August: How To Chin Chin Your Sunday Roast & September: Spice Up The BBQ
Check this link for the full details, but basically, it’s a masterclass on prepping and cooking followed by tucking into the results of your endeavours.
What more could you want?!