Few restaurant openings in Sydney have had as much hype surrounding them as The Lucas Group's new Sydney outpost of its Melbourne mainstay Chin Chin. Owner Chris Lucas is considered such a master of industry spin, marketing and branding that his concepts are almost always elevated into cult territory. So the question has been: will this translate to the Sydney market?
In today's restaurant scene — which is, arguably, largely influenced by the success of the Melbourne restaurant's model — there's nothing unusual about the components that make up the Chin Chin concept: loud music, industrial design, strong branding, and punchy, super fast Asian fare. But the queue of people snaking down Commonwealth Street on a weeknight suggest otherwise.
The food model is undoubtedly a smart one. Supported by a huge production kitchen downstairs, the well-oiled 'show kitchen' pumps out snappy Asian dishes at lightning speed, particularly if you order the 'feed me' menu at $69.50 per person. Order a few beers and you'll likely get your pulled pork 'roll-ups' — that is, pancakes with slaw and plum sauce ($16.50) — before your lukewarm beers arrive. They're ordinary — the pork is dry, a bit on the nose and flavourless. The kingfish sashimi ($23.50) is similarly underwhelming, needing more acid to make it a standout dish.
Like most menus of this size, there are hits and misses in every section. The iceberg lettuce salad ($13.50) is too spicy for our palates and the roti ($5.50) too fried, but the egg noodles with bug and prawn meat ($29.50) are more on the money. This dish has a nice balanced dose of chilli, and it doesn't last long on our table. The rotisserie and curry dishes are more reliable, and almost everything is around the $20 mark, which feels like a revelation in our city. Order one or two of these.
The Griffiths Teas Building that the restaurant sits in has great bones and lots of natural light, booth seating and pale timber tones with splashes of Chin Chin's signature neon. The adjoining bar GoGo — where you'll probably have to kill time while you wait for a table — is a contrast to the restaurant with more mood and black velvet booths.
The Asian-style cocktail offering and approachable wine list (with good glasses from just $11) mean that, when you do get a seat, you can have a fun, boozy time without blowing hundreds of dollars. And if this is what you're going in for — and you don't mind having to yell at the person sitting next to you or potentially overdosing on chilli — you'll leave satisfied. But if you've been privy to the hype, you may not be so willing to let even a few disappointing dishes slide. The problem with hype is expectation, and if you head to Chin Chin Sydney — a restaurant that's still very fresh — with a fistful of it, you might be a little disappointed.
Images: Leticia Almeida and Tom Ferguson.