One may be forgiven for having thought that Double Bay was well past its heyday. What was once a fashionable enclave of the rich and famous had more recently been in repose. However, some well-renowned restaurateurs such as Simon Goh have spiced things up and are leading the way for Double Bay’s rebirth as one of Sydney’s trendy food hubs.
Goh, the successful owner behind the Chinta Ria string of restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney, believes Double Bay has a promising future. So much so that he recently opened his latest enterprise, Chinta Kechil. It’s a refreshingly quirky Malay street eatery along the suburb’s main drag. “I think Double Bay has been a lost soul for a little while so we are trying to give it a bit of a rebirth”, he says, looking proudly around his vintage Asian cafe.
Goh has successfully created an enticing Malaysian market street experience. He uses memories from his childhood growing up in a small village in Malaysia in the 1960s to construct a setting of quaint Asia that is both warm and stylish. “This is a street cafe, it’s about going back to nostalgia. If I want to go back to nostalgia, I’ve got to go back to what I’ve been brought up with. So, I’ve got to make it very pure and simple”, says Goh. Warm timber finishes, a variety of Malaysian sauce bottles, stacks of bamboo steamers piled high and a sea of red lanterns hanging overhead all give an authentic simplicity to the tiny space.
As well as nostalgia, comfort is intrinsic to his culinary vision. “This is very much a comfort food menu where everything is laid out and easy to order” explains Goh. Hanging pictures of the menu food are labelled with their Malaysian names, reminiscent of the traditional signage at street hawker stalls in Kuala Lumpur or Penang.
The dish he feels most connected to is the savoury sticky rice ($6.80), as it reminds him of his childhood. New to the Chinta repertoire, this black sticky rice dish is a keeper with its unique and earthy taste, aromatic Chinese seasoning and a satisfyingly chewy texture. Also exclusive to Double Bay is the sweet and sour tamarind fish laksa ($13.80), a fragrant and traditional dish that Goh’s team have tweaked to suit the western palate.
Chinta aficionados will feel at home with finger food staples such as the vegetarian curry puffs ($5.80) and the irresistibly flaky roti bread ($4.80). The signature dish of steamy seafood laksa ($15.80) is the perfect winter warmer with its robust coconut broth, silky noodles and abundance of succulent prawns, calamari, tender chicken strips, fried tofu and flavoursome fishcakes.
One of the real highlights is the Nasi Lemak Deluxe ($13.80), a coconut rice dish served with a tender chicken curry and an array of mixed condiments, including a sweet and sour sambal, refreshing pickled vegetables, crunchy peanuts and salty fried anchovies. The complex combination of flavours and well-balanced chilli yields a pleasant tingling sensation that extends well beyond your last bite.
Completing the meal was a delectable dessert adapted from the popular Malaysian street food called kuih dadar. It is warm pandan pancake encasing an exquisitely moreish caramelised coconut and brown sugar filling.
Despite the old adage ‘Double Bay, double pay’, Chinta Kechil is excellent value. The Chinta Kechil experience succeeds in transporting your senses to a Malay street eatery both atmospherically and through the fragrant Malaysian cuisine that combines flavours from Malay, Indian and Chinese influences. If Double Bay is going to make a comeback as a worthy restaurant precinct, Chinta Kechil is one of those leading the way.
Widely recognised for his inventive dining concepts, Goh has plans to extend beyond the street style eatery into a downstairs restaurant. It will be a more elaborate dining experience resembling a vintage Asian jazz room, complete with live music. This phase of the expansion will be finished within the next four months. Watch this space; Chinta Kechil has only given us a taste of what’s to come.