Tag Archives: Ben Cooper

your game plan for Chin Chin

Look, I don’t care how much you love or hate no-bookings policies, I’m just here to offer you these two meagre kernels of advice.

First, if you want to actually dine at Chin Chin, then yes, turn up early and be prepared to wait. Once you’re through the door, the bar is actually rather nice to be seated at.

Second, when you do actually start to get your food, bolt all your plates down. Nothing says “we want you get the hell out of here so we can shovel more people in” more than wait staff who try to take your communal plates with half their contents untouched and the diners very obviously in medias res of said dish. Pout.

Don’t take my word or Tristan’s: on the occasion I visited Chin Chin, I was suitably armed with fellow Melbourne foodie chums Andrew & Sam.

Tristan and I were uncharacteristically early despite my sprained ankle limp (sadly occurring a few days after Bloomsday and thus nullifying all Gerty McDowell jokes) and Chin Chin won’t seat you till all diners are present. This gave us an opportunity to admire our surroundings and share a bigger-than-a-stubby BeerLao: let not the miniature beer steins fool you.

Soon enough, our expected companions joined us and we all began to navigate the menus like the fatties we were – it was pretty difficult to decide what to choose! It’s great that everything is designed to be shared. I did sneak in a text to Billy who had dined here the week before but sadly Sam’s dietary requirements and preferences meant we didn’t get to act upon many of them. This did make for hilarity as we all heartily debated whether or not boar was really the brethren of pig and that if desired, we could indeed pretend it was related to cows.

It seemed funny at the time: Andrew often has that effect upon you.

Before the boar debate started, we ordered the kingfish sashimi with lime, chilli, coconut and Thai basil. What ho, do I smell Ben Cooper under the helm…? Does this mean he’s no longer doing St Ali nights? *lip quiver* The flavour palate does seem awfully familiar… What a note to start on: I could quite happily have eaten three servings of this and left for my provincial part of town feeling like I’d dined like a king.

Before launching into the fish and meat dishes proper, we shared a hot and sour duck liver salad with mint, coriander, lime and ground rice. Looking at some more recent photos of the menu, would appear that this item is no longer available. What, no suck (sic) liver salad?!?! What a shame as it was offally good… *ducks* Ah well, duck liver salad, long may you live in our not-for-consumption hearts.

It has to be said that ordering at Chin Chin is ridiculously difficult: there is a myriad of dishes that all have something tantalising in them and given the amount we all ended up ordering, we should have gone with their ‘feed me’ option which you need a minimum of two persons for. For 7 dishes, you pay $55, for 9 dishes, $66. However, we did not ask if this can take into account dietary requirements so you’d best ask before choosing this option.

After agonising deliberation, one of the seafood dishes we decided upon was the wild barramundi wrapped in banana leaves with coconut red curry, lime and Thai basil: notice a very similar flavour profile to the starter we ordered. I’m not normally barramundi’s prime cheerleader but this was irresistible.

Aside from Sam, the general consensus was that we had to order the wild boar stir fried with red curry paste, snakebeans, ginger and basil. The wait staff seemed to think so too, as this was the dish they tried to forcibly remove from us three times. Yes, despite us still very much scoffing it down greedily.

Because Sam couldn’t have the wild boar, she ordered the massaman curry of coconut braised Hopkins River beef brisket with pink fur apple potatoes and crispy shallots. The boar-eaters did, however, sneak a taste.

To continue with the medieval-style eating habits, we also ordered the Indian style barbecued goat with cucumber and mint raita. The goat was tender and made for a satisfying carnivorous experience.

We weren’t quite finished: the blokes were curious to try the son-in-law eggs with chilli jam and thus a serve was ordered.

Though there are no photographs, for liquid refreshment, we got both the punches offered on the menu (sadly, I was not able to discreetly snap a shot of their descriptions on the menu). One carafe had a massive crack in it and when we pointed this out to the wait staff, they very kindly supplied us with a complimentary full carafe! My favourite one was the first one which had a lot of Vietnamese mint in it and the table’s consensus was that it was the winning drink too.

Despite having to queue and ward wait staff off our still full plates, Chin Chin is an effortlessly swanky place to enjoy good food that uses various Asiatic corners for inspiration. The menu seems to change quite often (it is different enough now to what it was when we dined there in mid-June) and has invariably assured that I shall be revisiting, in the hope of catching dishes I didn’t get to experience the first time, fingers crossed that they will still be on the menu. Next time, I’ll have room for dessert too, dammit!

Now onward and outward to Cam’s 3D Amazeballs party!

Welcome to Amazeballs 3D!

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments

 more mix masters

Some time ago, St Ali offered a very special degustation and each course was to be paired with a cocktail creation from the folks from Richmond bar Der Raum. I think I enjoyed this dinner much more than the last one I attended because the seating seemed less cramped and given that there were cocktails, we were more spoilt! I’ve not yet been to Der Raum but figured this was a great way to see what they were about too.

The kitchen and counters were a-buzz with orchestrated chaos. From this chaos burst forth the first course – a single Molting Bay oyster with Thai spiced tomato water accompanied by an amuse bouche. Oysters and coffee to my mind (and palate) is not an obvious pairing but to be honest, I love oysters so I’ll eat them with just about anything. Two was not enough (yes, there was one in the cocktail). All over too quickly, if you ask me. Consider my bouche much amused and poised for more yummies.

 oysters & amuse bouche

The second cocktail was a variation on the mint julep – called ‘Sip, Sip Julep’, it had cognac, Vietnamese mint, Rwandan Karengera infused maple. The coffee and cognac here replaced the traditional ingredient of bourbon. You can also see that there’s Viet mint to garnish. I don’t care how uncool it was, I ate mine. This drink was deeply refreshing and I frequently slurped at it to try and get as much of the precious alcoholic mixture as possible.

 sip, sip, julep

To eat, we had Japanese pumpkin with shaved iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes, crushed peanuts and nuoc cham. I like that iceberg was used because let’s face it, it’s not exactly the most fashionable of lettuce leaves. My mum uses it and her culinary repertory is firmly stuck in the 80s (sorry Mum, you know I’ll eat your Filipino dishes anytime!). I feel that aesthetically it let down the dish a little, but taste-wise, not a complaint. It was a vegetarian dish – if only all vegetarian dishes could be this ace.

 japanese pumpkin

The next drink conjured up memories of my childhood, because of the sugarcane. I spent the first eight years of my life in England, though my parents are from fairly tropical climes (Guyana and the Philippines). One day, my father came home with sugarcane for us to try. In England. Thinking back on this experience, it does seem quite the mindfuck, if you will pardon the profanity. Sugarcane in England in the Thatcherite 80s (yes, I am that old).

Chewing on the palate cleansing sugarcane in this ‘Sugarcane Swizzle’ with pandan and chilli-infused rum, cinnamon, pressed lime and Sumatran natural Mandheling bitters took me back to my concrete Greater London backyard. Amazing how powerful scent and taste is for our memories. Sipping on this paper-wrapped concoction made me feel very much the faux-hobo but don’t be fooled: it’s a classy drink.

 sugarcane swizzle

This drink was served with the morsel-sized king prawn and crispy pork belly with sweet fish sauce, Szechuan chill and Thai aromats. I had to look up ‘aromats’…bad foodie (still learning!). I think perhaps this course was a little over-ambitious. The pork belly cubes weren’t so pleasing in texture though they were tasty. Perhaps it would have been better to serve two king prawns and do away with the pork belly? Just my personal preference.

 king prawn

Thus the flirting is over – now we get to the real meat of the dinner, so to speak. The fourth course was a roast duck breast with wilted tatsoi, sherry glaze and green chilli foam. As a side, there were kipfler potatoes. This was probably my least favourite course of the entire dinner – was it due to duck fatigue from St Ali’s previous #duckfest? It looked gorgeous but to my tongue, felt like the least imaginative.

 roast duck breast

 kipfler (potato) chips

To accompany, we were served a ‘New York Minute’ – my notes inform me that this is based on Der Raum’s iconic 1864 Manhattan which I’ve yet to try… anyway, this creation was Brazilian Macausas cold drip filtered tequila, Antica Formula, Luxardo and whisky barrel bitters. I could have downed a gallon of this stuff happily. Again, probably wasn’t cool, but I crunched on the single coffee bean floating in the cocktail.

 new york minute

The last savoury course was an absolute winner even though by this time a lot of the diners were getting quite full. Seriously though, wouldn’t you make space for braised lamb shanks whose meat just falls off the bone? This was served with green beans, caramelised eggplant and smoked chilli and cashew nahm prik, and a bloody generous serving it was too.

 braised lamb shank

This classic-yet-jazzed-up dish was served with an extremely playful and daring drink – called ‘Coffee and Cigarettes’, it consisted of El Senorio Reposado, Colombian Tama Mountain cold drip and Cohiba infused agave nectar. Yes, it looks like an innocent espresso with an cigarette, but not quite. A few people around me struggled to finish this but not me – I wanted more! Yes, yes, we’ve already established I’m a lush (in case you couldn’t tell by my beer consumption). I didn’t smoke my cigarette and it’s on my desk, probably too stale to do anything with. Nice prop though.

 coffee & cigarettes

If you’ve stuck around this long (hopefully for the pretty pictures at least), then you’ll be pleased to know we’re at the end – dessert. Our last course was an apple and almond galette served with ‘Thor’s Affogato’. After having bumped into cocktail-making Thor at this dinner, I now know he was one of the folks sitting opposite me at St Ali’s duckfest. Anyway, minor starstruckedness: back to the affogato – a St Ali Champion espresso and maple ice cream with lashings of Amaro Nonino and Strega. Every bit as decadent as it sounds. The lack of sweetness in the galette was just perfect with this very alcoholic cocktail. I think it might have been too alcoholic for some, as I did notice people not having much of it, though to be fair, we were stuffed at this point.

 thor's affogato & apple and almond galette

Since I’ve started trying to be the best beer nerd I can be, I’ve neglected wine a little, and cocktails even more. This dinner definitely makes me want to visit Der Raum. I don’t really have anything new to add about St Ali – it doesn’t matter if you go for breakfast or lunch, or dinner (do note that nights have a completely different feel to St Ali in the daytime) as you’re always guaranteed to get great food. Also, cheers to Ben Cooper, the capable chef for coming out to say hello after the kitchen madness was done (though if you need to go to the loo, you can get a glimpse of what goes on in the kitchen – everything seems to run pretty damn smoothly).

St Ali on Urbanspoon Der Raum on Urbanspoon

(wondering about the post title? you might like to read this)

#duckfest at St Ali, squee!

Even though I’ve been to St Ali before and reviewed its delectable breakfast options before, it hasn’t been very long that they’ve been open for dinner. Understandably, the Melbourne food and coffee loving community was excited. St Ali are remarkably savvy – they’ve shown their support for the inaugural Eat Drink Blog conference in March this year, and at the time of writing this, I learnt that they are hosting a degustation with (alcoholic) mixmasters Der Raum.

Not too long ago, St Ali hosted another degustation dedicated to the duck and I got to attend. Upon welcome, diners were invited to browse the food blogger photography exhibition in St Ali East (you can find out more about it here at Tomato) and greeted with a glass of pinot gris. It was there that the first course of “duckfest” was also served – the humble Peking duck pancake. So often, I’ve had Peking duck pancakes and the pancakes have been unbalanced – too much hoisin, not fresh enough spring onion (which is a bitch to chew if not chopped up) and stodgy pancakes. Ugh. These were the most perfectly balanced ones I’d ever tried – the duck had the right amount of meat, skin and fat, the vegetable content provided a satisfying crunch to attest to its utmost freshness, and the pancake! Whisper-soft. Like eating air. Gush.

When we were ushered into St Ali proper so that the table dining experience could begin, it was communal seating. My partner and I were very fortunate to be seated opposite a Der Raum bartender and his partner – I cannot thank them enough for their patience as we photographed the dishes that were designed to be shared equally.

The first sit-down course on offer from duckfest masterminds St Ali head chef Benjamin Cooper and MuMu Grill head chef Craig Macindoe was the duck parfait with shiraz jelly and biodynamic rye bread.

 duck parfait with shiraz jelly

A lot of people on my table were put off by what is essentially pâté – but not me. Scrumptious. The shiraz jelly was the perfect contrast – wonderful texture, and not too sweet. Comparatively, more successful than Libertine’s similar such course at their Valentines’ Day dégustation.

Next up, duck consommé. Whenever I see the word ‘consommé’, I’m reminded of the scene in Tampopo when the middle-aged Japanese businessmen all order it at a fancy French restaurant. Duckfest’s consommé was served in a shot glass. I found it a little salty and a bit of an umami overload, but very warming. It seemed very Asiatic in flavour, and not just because of the spring onion.

 duck consomme

Literally and figuratively, we get to the real meat of the meal, beginning with the crispy duck breast with deconstructed XO sauce. I’m not entirely sure how a sauce can be classified as ‘deconstructed’, but I’m guessing perhaps this one had less ingredients? In any case, it whet my appetite for more duck. I may have demolished it gracelessly due to enthusiasm.

 crispy duck breast with xo sauce

The next offering was duck san choi bow (with shredded duck leg), accompanied with freshly shucked oysters and kim chi. Oh my. It was pretty hard to share this! The duck was so delicately flavoured, and so tender, and the kim chi very addictive. Regarding oysters – you will never hear me utter a complaint against them. This was a very well received dish, even though the duck had a similar flavour profile to the consommé: the latter being more concentrated. It’d be wonderful if this were a regular main – somewhere, anywhere. It has me a little enchanted.

 duck 'san choi bow'

Alas, all good things must pass…onto better things, the roast duck breast with wilted tatsoi, poached pear and sherry glaze. Again, I found it a smidgen too salty but oh, how succulent the breast was. What a tasty tease.

 roast duck breast

The last savoury course was much anticipated given it is often thought of as a grotesque gustatory offering – turducken. It sounds so junk-food indulgent due to the fact that it contains so much meat. However, in Tudor times, it was customary at feasts to ‘invent’ imaginary animals as a spectacle no doubt to impress guests. This meant constructing a beast made of the meat of several existing animals. The immediate popular culture reference that might come to mind is Heston Blumenthal’s recreation of the Tudor feast. If you search appropriately on YouTube, the relevant clips will come up. A slight digression. So, turducken: it has its origins in aristocratic dining…


Accompanied by a gorgeous mixed leaf salad. There were also duck fat potatoes.

 mixed leaf salad

Our table seemed to have divided opinions on this dish, and it wasn’t gobbled up as enthusiastically as the other courses. It’s definitely a lot of meat to scoff down. I think I was just glad to have tried it. It wasn’t literally a turkey with a duck with a chicken inside of the duck, but rather a very refined meatloaf-terrine hybrid. We also had the added bonus of guinea fowl (keep up! turkey stuffed with duck, then stuffed with chicken, and lastly stuffed with guinea fowl). Quite the grotesque, fascinating culinary masterpiece.

If some of the diners had trouble processing the idea of turducken, it was immediately forgotten when dessert came out: duck egg caramel served with fresh papaya and pineapple pieces which were meant to be dipped into the caramel. A lot of the diners around me found the duck egg too rich and unsurprisingly, too ‘ducky’. My main concern was whether or not I was still allergic to duck eggs! As a child in the Philippines, I enjoyed egg flans made from duck eggs, which were larger than chicken eggs. I loved it, but my body rebelled and broke out in itchy hives. It’s challenging, but I’ll be damned if I leave any dessert unfinished! We were instructed that the fresh fruit was meant to be dipped into the caramel, and I feel that this didn’t quite work. Papaya, when ripe, is very slippery, so perhaps it needed to be served slightly green. The caramel didn’t adhere to the fruit, so the serving suggestion was rendered unsuccessful. Perhaps, rather than chunks, the fruit could have been cut up a little thinner so that the suggested method of enjoying the dessert could be achieved? I realise this seems nitpicky, but I gave up in frustration and ate my fruit and caramel separately.

 duck egg caramel

There was an extremely tempting wine list for the evening, but due to driving duties (sob!), I only had a single glass of the Delta Pinot Noir 2008 from New Zealand. I have however included the complete wine list below, much thanks to Ben Cooper.

MuMu headman Craig Macindoe has provided heaps of wonderful infomation on his blog about the origins of his produce for the evening. Reading through it was most certainly illuminating.

Having paid $65 a head for dinner for the evening was ridiculously good value. There will be the more expensive Der Raum one this week and if you’re able to go, you should be in for an absolute treat.

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