Chin Chin has been open little more than a month and attracted much blog attention, nearly all of it positive, in that time. Twitter chatter with Ed Charles and Jess Ho convinced us that they'd cater (fish sauce and shrimp paste free!) to us vegos and we checked it out on Friday night. There are no bookings permitted for groups of less than eight, and we were hardly surprised that even at 6pm Chin Chin was packed out. Jess herself was on the door and squeezed us onto the 'chef's table', a high bench overlooking the kitchen. She knew our drill and helpfully pointed out the meat-free dishes across the menu - a small proportion of the total and a bit tofu-heavy, but more than two can consume in a single evening.
We were in the mood for cocktails and there are nine originals on offer (each $15). Mine (pictured right) was a sweet, very floral and ice-heavy mix with Thai basil, pink grapefruit, rose water, vodka and lychee. Michael had a zippy mix of tamarind syrup and fresh mandarin with tequila, orange curacao and a Szechuan salt rim.
Jess had recommended the salad of organic silken tofu, Thai basil and a hot sweet bitter dressing ($16). I'm not sure that I picked up much heat or bitterness but liked it nonetheless - the fried tofu pieces soaked up the dressing, there were lots of light fresh veges and a modest portion of rice noodles.
As we finished off the salad, out came our rice ($3), roti ($6) and dry curry of stir fried vegetables, spice crusted organic tofu, kaffir lime leaf and Thai basil ($13). Unfortunately, by the time we were ready to eat it five minutes later, the roti was already cold and tough. (It was still pretty great for mopping up the last of the curry sauce). The curry was lovely - thick and spicy - though I didn't pick up the kaffir lime tang that I was looking forward to.
Strangely the last of our dishes to arrive was the "little something" we ordered - spicy corn and coriander fritters with iceberg lettuce and chilli jam ($8). They were worth waiting for! Each lettuce leave held a sliver of fresh ginger, and there was mint to add to the parcel as well. Usually I'd prefer more corn and less batter, but as part of a watery lettuce wrap the soft batter-heavy fritters really worked. A brilliant bar snack.
While glancing over the dessert menu I spied the palm sugar ice cream sundae with salted honeycomb and lime syrup ($12) that so pleased Em. Thai food always has me craving ice cream for afters so I was all over this. Like Fatbooo I found it crazy-sugary-sweet. The lime syrup offered a bit of respite but not quite so much as I would've liked. I was glad to try it but'll look further down the dessert list next time.
My second favourite thing after those corn fritters was receiving the bill - the food portion was less than $60 for the two of us, including dessert, and I'd expected it would cost us a lot more. While Chin Chin was in Friday night bar mode, we received excellent service - Michael had a little panic that our curry contained stray meat and our waiter patiently checked it out and cheerfully reassured us that it was oyster mushroom. (Michael tipped more than usual given his graciousness.) I didn't enquire about vegan options but most of the veg food looks suitable including a couple of the desserts!
City bars are rarely our scene but we'll happily make an exception for Chin Chin's friendly energy, cocktails and corn fritters.
Almost everyone loves Chin Chin! The Big V even wrote a poem about it. The restaurant's also been covered by Tomato, melbourniangirl, half-eaten, essjayeats, "...it pleases us", donisbaked, Black Garlic, the guilty stomach, my seasonal table, wine nomad, let's get fat together, jeroxie, I'm so hungreeeeeeeeee and foodie about town. Only Kaz's Food For Thought was disappointed.
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne CBD
veg snacks and mains $8-16, desserts $9-12
Accessibility: The entry is wide and flat; space between tables is mixed. All service is at the table and there's a 'disabled'-labelled toilet.