FOLLOW YOUR EARS
YOU’VE HEARD OF CHIN CHIN IN MELBOURNE, AND NOW THE HIT RESTAURANT HAS COME TO SYDNEY’S SURRY HILLS.
If you spotted a bunch of people queueing on a Melbourne inner-city laneway on any old weeknight, chances are it meant you were getting close to Chin Chin. The Thai-inspired restaurant has been a hit since the first day it opened on Flinders Lane in 2011. Now if you spot a similar a line, you could actually be in Surry Hills, after owner Chris Lucas and executive chef Ben Cooper crossed the border to bring their dining institution to the Emerald City.
“Chris looked for years and they were up in Sydney every second weekend,” Cooper tells WISH. “He wasn’t prepared to do it until the right space came along.” And along it came. Lucas found a building – on the corner of Commonwealth Street and Wentworth Avenue – the 100-year-old former home of Griffiths Teas that had lain empty since 1975 when it was purchased by the reclusive Wakil family.
Now in their 80s, the couple finally sold the building to the Cornerstone property group, which is turning it into apartments as well as selling a few floors to Lucas for Chin Chin.
“We are incredibly fortunate not just to have my dream kitchen ... but the opportunity to cook in a building with history as rich as this is an amazing thing,” says Cooper, who will oversee the food in the Melbourne and Sydney restaurants while chef Graeme Hunt does the day-to-day in Sydney. “There are not many multi-level brick buildings left in Sydney or Melbourne and Chin Chin is in two of them.”
Lucas hired the famed Sydney restaurant interior designer George Livissianis to renovate the space and turn it into a 160-seat restaurant, cocktail bar, said dream kitchen (rumoured to be worth $1 million alone) and function space downstairs. The space is light-filled and pared back but still includes the famous Chin Chin neon rabbit ears that greet you as you walk in. When it comes to food, it is not just what is on offer in Melbourne; the menu is tailored to Sydney, with lighter fare and more seafood.
“We knew from the very beginning that just replicating the menu wouldn’t sit,” says Cooper, who trained under Kylie Kwong and Neil Perry. “We also have two new pieces of equipment here that I wanted for a long, long time and finally have, which is a rotisserie and a charcoal pit. The rotisserie is a stunning piece of equipment and the results are unbelievable.”
Cooper, who is a Buddhist (he converted when we was 13 after deciding Catholicism was not his thing), says his and Chris’s aim at Chin Chin has always been to treat guests like they were visiting their homes. “It is almost like every day is a celebration,” he says of their approach. “That is what it comes down to for me. I cook for people because I like to make them happy. I think that is one of the greatest gifts of being a chef, the opportunity for people to create memories.”