Food worth talk­ing about

The Press - Zest - - Eat -

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.

Photo: DEAN KOZANIC/ FAIR­FAX NZ

Bumpy: Burst­ing with en­ergy and authenticity.

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