Chin Chin – A Magical Meal in Melbourne

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This week I’m on a whirlwind work trip to Melbourne, Australia.  After spending 28 hours in transit (in coach) to get here,  battling a 16 hour time difference jet lag, the start of a cold, and managing 15+ hour work days, I’m exhausted.  Mind you, I recognize that many people would love to have these problems, so I’m grateful at the same time.

As my meetings wound down and I returned to my hotel, I knew that once I went up to my room I wouldn’t be venturing out again.  So I mustered the energy and I went straight to dinner.  Thinking I was going to be stuck with the senior citizen early bird special, what I found was perhaps the best meal I’ve had in over a year!

Chin Chin & Go Go is a restaurant and bar in downtown Melbourne just off the tony address of Russell and Collins where my hotel the Grand Hyatt is located.  With virtually every haute couture label in existence within a stones throw away, I was pleasantly surprised to wander down Flinders Lane and find this little gem. 

Cool, funky, and focused on food, I knew as soon as I walked in I was in for a treat.  I settled into a small table and was immediately impressed with the cocktail list.  Innovative and interesting concoctions aplenty, with descriptions that made my mouth water.

Chin Chin Barramundi

Barramundi and Carmelized Pork Belly

I ordered a side and a main dish, both of which ranked among the best things I’ve put in my mouth in a VERY long time.  The main was crispy barramundi with green apple salad, and carmelized pork belly with peanuts, chili, and lemongrass.  It comes with two mounds of food – the fish and salad on one side and pork with chili on the other.  I was told to mix the two together, and what resulted was nothing short of magic.  The barramundi was perfectly light, accented by the tart, tangy sweetness of apples and what seemed like a sauce with a touch of vinegar.  When combined with the deep, rich carmelized flavor of the pork, the heat of the chili, and texture of the peanuts and salad, it all came together in a way that was perfection. 

Son in Law Eggs with Chili

Son in Law Eggs with Chili

The barramundi & pork dish would have been enough to make me sing all by itself.  Fortunately, I also had also ordered the son-in-law eggs with chili – more out of curiosity than anything.  What arrived was pure bliss…think soft boiled egg, battered with the most impossibly light coating, gently fried in such a way that there was not even a hint of oil, shared on a plate with sliced chili, fresh basil, and a tangy, dark sauce that complimented it perfectly.  The softness of the egg combined with the heat and flavor from the chilis and sauce again demonstrated the genius of the chef.  I found myself thinking, where has this dish been all my life? 

Sadly, the next thought was – oh, in Melbourne, Australia….far, far away.  Not exactly somewhere I can visit anytime I like.  However, with another 6 days here, I have no doubt I will have to return to Chin Chin – I simply won’t be able to stay away!

According to their website,  “Chin Chin Restaurant is open 11am till late, 7 days a week and focusses on South-East Asian cuisine with Benjamin Cooper as its executive chef.  We’re modelled on the hawker dining halls of Asia with a shared-eating concept and therefore have a walk-in only policy except for one table of 10-12.  We aim to serve you the freshest ingredients and all our sauces, pastes and relishes are made in-house.  We are open every day of the year except for Xmas day.  Our wine list has an all-Australian focus and every quarter we feature a local winemaker.”

Pok Pok Perfection – Take 2!

Pok Pok

En route to an important meeting, I stopped in at Pok Pok, the Portland, OR restaurant I fell in love with last year.  Since my first visit and last post, owner and chef Andy Ricker has risen among the ranks in the chef world.  He’s widely recognized as a champion of authentic Thai food and won the James Beard award for best Northwest Chef 2011.  Well deserved, but none-the-less no small feat for a restaurant that started as a living room endeavor. 

Andy Ricker

When I last visited I was blown away by the authenticity, explosions of flavor, and scope of options – drinking vinegars and whiskey flights to crispy broken crepes (just like you’ll find in Thailand at street vendor carts).  In fact, I was so enamoured with the experience I wrote to Andy asking for advice on my upcoming trip to Thailand.  I will forever be grateful for the direction he gave me…He sent me to Baanrai Yarmyin in Chaing Mai, where I had the best meal of my life – no joke! 

Ike's Vietnamese Wings

During this visit, I was plagued with a dreadful cold and jet lag but I knew Ike’s Vietnamese Wings and a steaming bowl of Khao Soi Kai would perk me up.  Ike’s wings did not disappoint – they were as outstanding as I had remembered.  Tangy, carmelized and crunchy yet moist inside.  If you go, be sure to order them spicy and bring tissues.  The Khao Soi Kai (a traditional Chaing Mai, Thailand noodle curry soup) was not quite spicy enough, but wonderful with it’s gentle curry flavor and stewed chicken.

Khao Soi Kai

Pok Pok is good enough to make me want to move to Portland!  Run, don’t walk…get here quick!