Headin’ down into Chii Town - the private dining rooms below Chin Chin - is more like entering a warehouse party than a restaurant.
Lit only by the green glow of exits signs and lurid pink neon, we walk down a grungy, stripped-back stairwell and corridor with exposed ceiling fixtures.
They open out into a large basement, with cracks of natural light from high windows that peek up onto Wentworth Avenue.
Along with more than a hundred of Sydney’s top chefs, and media personalities like Simon Marnie, I joined the Porkstar team here for a bespoke pork feast. Chef Benjamin Cooper and the Chin Chin team were kind enough to adapt their successful pan-Asian menu to specifically highlight the pig. Kicking off with bowls of pork crackle with spiced cashews, we necked Endeavour Vintage Beer Co. beers as the room rapidly filled up around us.
Slippery pork wontons in chilli soy sauce proved popular at our table of chefs, including former Sepia sous chef, Rhys Connell, journalists and the Chief Executive Officer of Australian Pork Limited, Andrew Spencer.
Bowls of nam prik ong – a Northern Thai dip made with dried chillis, minced pork and tomatoes – eaten with lotus chips and greens were too hot for some at our table, though my dining companion hoed in undaunted.
Mildly flavoured medicinal Thai-style pork bone broth were well-placed to sooth everybody's burning lips.
With seven different curries on Chin Chin’s regular menu, it’s unsurprising that my favourite dish was a curry. Cooper’s fragrant gaeng hang lay is based on a curry that originates in Northern Thailand near the Burmese border. The thick red chilli gravy has little bursts of orange turmeric, sweet onions and tender, falling apart pork meat, and would appeal to anyone who loves rendang or massaman.
Showing pork’s versatility, we move onto grilled pork ribeye steaks, kept whole under a nicely balanced black bean sauce that allowed the pig to shine through.
The meal was rounded out with greens – broccolini with sesame and peanut sauce topped with pork scratchings, pickled cucumber and spicy pineapple som tum with black fungus, garlic chives topped with just enough pork floss to keep things thematic.
Known for his palate-shocking big pan-Asian flavours, Cooper produced the boldest pork-themed dessert I’ve eaten at a Porkstar function (and I’ve been to a lot - the program is already in its fourteen year). In a little glass bowl, each guest was presented with candied pork belly topped with coconut sorbet, lashings of Asian caramel, peanuts and shiso cress – sounds crazy but it worked.
This dinner certainly provided enough reason for me to head back and review Chin Chin’s regular menu, so stay tuned…
69 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9281 3322