Left to my own devices, I’m a little bit dangerous. A recent day trip to Melbourne for work led to some killer cocktails that night. After the workshop, I wandered around the city doing research and sweet-talked my way into a personal tour of a new community hub at emerging Southbank. Right now, there are less than 10,000 residents but within the next 10 years, the population projections are hovering around a growth to about 70,000 locals.
Forced to get up around 4am to make the earliest flight to Melbourne, by late afternoon I was flagging. I just wanted to go somewhere fun and easy for dinner. I’d last visited the city in January with my friend Spanner and I’d kinda-sorta-definitely insisted that we eat our way through the city. Our eating adventures included going to Movida Bar Next Door for tapas, before moving on to Movida proper for more dinner (where I had purest pear sorbet on Earth), Huxtable, Cookie and Birdman Eating. All of which I recommend although Huxtable and Movida were my favourites.
But the other night, I ended up at Chin Chin. This modern Thai restaurant/bar is open for walk-ins at any time. I arrived a little before 5pm when it was still mostly empty. But don’t be fooled, by about 6pm the place was full and there was a line outside. I wasn’t starving and could barely prop myself up at the bar so I only ended up ordering two things off the food menu.
A man sitting a few seats to my left was praising a new cocktail that the bartender had been trying out on him and when I glanced over, recommended that I have one too. With Sichuan pepper infused gin, kaffir lime syrup and red Lillet amongst its ingredients I knew I’d like it. A cocktail including the apertif Lillet Rouge should be a good start to any meal. You could really taste the numbing Sichuan pepper and it was a little tart.
The Chin Chin drinks menu lists each winemaker to acknowledge and support the individuals who create the wines in their cellar. Even the cocktails don’t have names but are listed by ingredients so the focus is on the flavours, rather than a silly name. I once refused to order a drink because it was called a Princess so I really appreciate that approach.
Alone, I really couldn’t order much from the food menu. It was all about the cocktails that night. The kind bartender (I didn’t catch his name unfortunately but he made all of my cocktails) said the crispy barrimundi and caramelised pork salad was one of the signature dishes. Although I go for spicy food, I decided to order it since was a bit lighter and not stodgy. The salad came out with very crispy and dry barramundi. The fish almost scraped the roof of my mouth and I’m not sure if it was meant to be like that. They promised crispy and I couldn’t deny that it was. In contrast, the pork was tender and fell apart as soon as the fork touched it. The Granny Smith apple and leaves were a welcome relief from the meat.
Asking for the bartender to surprise me with another drink, he concocted a lighter take on a margarita. Refreshing, it was sweetened with apricot brandy and the tequila was still present but didn’t smack you around the head like the usual margarita can. Bitters and kaffir lime syrup added more dimension too and as tequila isn’t my favourite spirit, I sometimes find margaritas a bit one-note. With more time to kill before my flight home, I decided on a third cocktail. But first, something to help soak up the alcohol! Roti, my warm and flaky friend helped me out.
Chin Chin’s mascot is this rabbit, which adorns the inside cover of the wine list, the staff aprons and the wall with this pink neon version. It was inspired by the year in which the restaurant opened. 2011 was the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. This table was next to the open kitchen.
My final cocktail was in lieu of dessert but it was quite sweet nonetheless. So fragrant, it was both floral and fruity. Blindfolded, you’d swear it was made of pure peach schnapps but was a far more complex mix of lavender syrup, peach liqueur, white rum and peach bitters. It was the perfect end to my Chin Chin sojourn.
Although I’m probably not very convincing, I truly do have interests other than food. I think.
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne
Open every day except Christmas. Walk-in with reservations only taken for one table of 10-12 people.
Phone: (03) 8663 2000