The Australian - Wish Magazine - - FOOD -

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.”


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