On the trendy beach end there is Golden Fields and on the chic city end there is Chin Chin. Raving reviews viral on the Internet and customers flock to this ‘hawker’ style restaurant buzzling in Flinders Lane. Chin Chin’s marketing strategy is exemplified in the extensive information in its Urban Spoon entry but little on its homepage.
We could not bear the thought of missing out on the hottest restaurant, so we lined up for 1.5 hours from 5.45pm, with the persistence and devotion of real ‘foodies’. The memory went back to Mamasita when it was first opened at the start of the year. Walking past there the other day, the line still extended from the waiting area upstairs to the corner of the street.
Success factors of Chin Chin and Mamasita: Exotic cuisine. Cheap/moderate pricing. Funky urban crowd. A sharing menu with a lot of love from the chef. Popularity on Urban Spoon.
The first impression of Chin Chin was a cultural mesh-up. Warehouse setting from Europe. A giant neon rabbits from Japan. Table and chair setting inspired Singaporean ‘hawker centres’. I couldn’t quite remember but there was definitely something Chinese either on the waiters’ uniforms on on the windows of the kitchen.
It was loud and casual. I like to describe a restaurant by what kind of people I would bring to dine with. Among the South East Asian-/Thai-inspired restaurant in the city, I would say, Long Grain is for a first date, Ginger Boy is for friends that I haven’t seen for a while and Chin Chin is probably more suitable for a couple of close friends. It is the kind of place where you can yell at each other in a loud crowd without worrying about spitting saliva in each other’s plate. You can cut a pork belly into three pieces without worrying whose fork you are using.
The cocktail menu is very similar to Longgrain’s style. Or maybe a mix of Longgrain and Double Happiness. Leaving originality aside, it was well made, refreshing and a cheerful start to the meal.
Chin Chin Pork Roll-ups. According to our friends, this is a must-try. Having been to Vietnam, I certainly enjoyed rolling up my own meat and herbs. It is probably my personal taste but I would have liked it even more if the suckling pork came with a bit of fatty skin which would complement the sour sauce and raw herbs.
Salt and pepper crusted soft shell crab, with Nahm Jim. Nothing beats the crab flavour but the crust would have been crispier if the dish came straight from the frying pan to the table.
Steamed spanner crab and chicken salads with grapefruit and coconut. I am quite sure we had crab obsession that night.
Caramelised sticky pork with water cress and chilli vinegar. Another must-try. Sticky pork was as good as the famous ‘Wuxi Ribs’ from my hometown but we were slightly disappointed that the flavour was very similar to the other dishes, sweet, sour, chilly, heavy of lime and lemongrass, typical of Thai cuisine, of course.
Beef stir fried with fat noodles, almost like rice cakes.
Three layered pudding: sweet beans, pandan infused tapioca, caramel and coconut crushed ice. Now this is a creative re-invention of a classic street style Singaporean dessert. My high school years in Singapore were filled with memories of eating artificial coloured red bean ‘ice kachang’ in so-called hawker centres. Chin Chin’s ‘three-layered pudding’ is inspired by ‘ice kachang’, with more refined and subtle tastes, and obviously, a much smaller size. Just look at a traditional ‘ice kachang’ below you will get what I mean.
A simple verdict:
Would I come back again? YES
Would I come back again if I have to line up for half an hour? NO
Visiting a restaurant is like a date in some way, if your expectation is too high, only an impressive experience would satisfy you. That’s not a qualified reason for rejecting a second date is it?