Food worth talking about
If you could somehow tap the energy bouncing around the walls inside Chinwag Eathai, you could light the city with it – well perhaps Victoria St anyway. It’s that kind of place. You don’t go to relax.
The exit at 8pm was crazy. Like some kind of tidal effect, the 8pm-onwards crowd poured in and pooled expectantly in the reception/bar area. It was bump, ‘‘excuse me’’, bump, ‘‘excuse me’’ bump all the way out as we struggled to the entranceway neon dragon, then into the cool Christchurch evening.
But it was fun. After a long, tough day, it’s surprising how another burst of energy can lift and lighten everything. I think that sums up Chinwag nicely.
Chinwag reopened earlier this year. It’s a Thai restaurant that follows owner Tony Astle’s formula of a decent dollop of authenticity, but still leaves the dishes Kiwi-friendly. And you can gee them up yourself using the fish sauce and sriracha chilli sauce bottles at every table.
Service was friendly and positive, but a little chaotic because of the rush. There were longish delays and a follow-up glass of wine ordered never made it in time. The open-air kitchen in the middle of the restaurant adds to the atmosphere. Lovely smoky smells drift over from the streetfood section where meat and skewers are getting grilled.
You get a lot of choices under headings snack shack, street grill, salad, crispy crunchy, curry shop, noodles/wok, sweet.
One useful tip we were given was to find the ‘‘whole gurnard with chilli sauce and basil’’ in the crispy crunchy section and regard everything after as mainsized and before that more startersized.
It’s funny how much the playful names can sway your choice, especially when you want to try everything and of course can’t. We ended up plotting a sweetish path through the menu.
The Galloping Horses starter brought minced pork, chicken and prawn patties served on a sweet slice of pineapple. The pineapple dominated but a few drops of table sauce helped.
Salted Beef Wok Fried with Sugar & Shallots was a taste and texture treat. Cured beef is cooked, shredded and deep-fried. You get this gloriously tangled bird’s nest of brown, crunchy sweet and salty beef, sprinkled with fried garlic slices and shallots.
A chicken massaman curry was generous. Two legs and two thighs, swimming with potatoes, onion, boiled egg in a sweetishspicy reddish-brown sauce topped by a bayleaf garnish that suggests its Indian influences. It was hearty, buzzing and moreish.
Desserts are always a little awkward with Asian food. Chinwag has just four options, which feels sensible. A sticky rice dish of cubes of mango dotted through was sweet and coconutty, but you suspect the real Chinwag fan would rather spend the money on another cocktail.
Bumpy: Bursting with energy and authenticity.