The bustling Sydney suburb of Surry Hills has become even livelier in recent times with the arrival of Chin Chin Sydney, a restaurant which has been enjoying a hugely popular first few months of business since opening in late 2017.
The stylish Sydney set have welcomed this neon-signed, impeccably-styled Melbourne native with open arms, which is made clear by the queues of people out front waiting to put their names down for a table.
The historic Griffiths Tea Building, where the restaurant is located, has always appealed to Chin Chin’s owner Chris Lucas from his years living in Sydney in the 80s. The striking building is situated on a unique triangular footprint on the corner of Wentworth Avenue. Lucas says, “it reminds me of the Flatiron Buildings in New York.”
The brick building which was originally designed by Kent, Budden & Greenwell architects in 1915, was used as a tea warehouse and a garment factory before becoming unoccupied in 1971. Vacant for over 30 years, the heritage building is now home not only to Chin Chin Sydney, but also to 38 apartments. Both the restaurant and the residences retain a number of the original features of the building.
The Chin Chin Experience
The first thing you notice when you arrive at the door of Chin Chin Sydney is an enormous pink neon bunny. It beckons you in from the streets of Surry Hills to sample a selection of flavour-loaded food and picturesque cocktails. Once inside the restaurant’s glass doors, the main dining area opens up on your right. Here you will find some diners perched at the marble bar enjoying wines from the region and sharing snacks.
Other patrons gather around wooden tables selecting spicy morsels from the plates in front of them. Should you decide to take a left turn when you walk through the door, you will find yourself in Gogo Bar; a darker, moodier section of the establishment. The basement, which was used for cocoa production in the building’s past, is now home to Chii Town, the restaurant’s function space.
The interior of Chin Chin Sydney was designed by award winning Interior Architect George Livissianis, who founded his Paddington-based design practice in 2007. Since then, George has worked on a number of Sydney’s best restaurant interiors, including The Apollo, Billy Kwong, Cho Cho San, The Dolphin Hotel and Shortgrain. George has a light touch and prefers natural materials, his style is refined but relaxed.
The brief Chris Lucas gave to Livissianis was to not try to recreate the Melbourne restaurant, (which was designed in 2011 by Projects of Imagination), but rather to make full use of the incredible building in which the new kid on this Sydney block would be occupying.
The design was to be very much about the building, while still staying true to the Chin Chin brand. The result is refined, while still maintaining the restaurant’s youthful cheeky feel. The main restaurant has stone finishes, and uses reclaimed timber from pylons removed from the building for the tables and floorboards.
There are plentiful windows that let light stream in during the day, while at night the city light’s add an urban playfulness to the space. Throughout the restaurant the distressed walls have been largely unaltered from their original state, adding to the industrial vibe of the space.
In contrast, Gogo bar is darker, and has a more cosy, sophisticated feel, while Chii Town has a stunning pressed metal ceiling and an urbane cool cement floor. In each of the three different spaces of the restaurant there is a unique Thonet bentwood chair used; blond wood & plastic-covered brown and white duck down cushion in the main restaurant, black wood & plastic-covered black duck down in Gogo Bar and pink wood & pale pink velvet in Chii Town.
While the venue’s extensive menu does have many of the classics from the Melbourne original, it has, Lucas says, been “put through a Sydney filter.” The venue’s larger size enabled there to be a more extensive kitchen installed, which includes a custom-built charcoal pit and a rotisserie. As a result, the menu includes such mouth-watering dishes as Barbeque King Ora Salmon, Balinese Roast Duck and Rotisserie Pork Belly with Fennel.
The Chin Chin food moto is “a quintessentially Australian take on Asian Food”, with executive chef Benjamin Cooper stating “we don’t see ourselves as purely a Thai restaurant. We’re an Australian restaurant cooking Asian food.”
The dishes are delectable and moreish, with delicious, intensely flavoured dishes that are perfect for sharing, including Silken Tofu with Gai Laan, Mushroom & Eggplant Chips, Stir-fried Egg Noodles with Bug Tail, Chopped Prawn & Chilli Hellfire Oil, and Twice Cook Beef Short Rib with Shaved Coconut Salad.
If you are after a drink to go with your meal, then you are in luck here. There are 5 wines on tap, plus more than 100 bottles to choose from, and the bar also features an extensive spirit list and beer selection, including the Chin Chin-owned Shiki Lager.
Then of course there are the cocktails, which include the almost-too-pretty-to-drink Sunflower (we said almost…) with shiraz gin and dragonfruit, the Watermelon; a modern twist on a margarita with tequila and coriander salt, and the Pearl Barley; made with pearl barley reduction and ginger.
Like it’s Melbourne sibling, Chin Chin Sydney is attracting crowds in the droves so don’t expect to be seated straight away. If you are coaxed in off the street by the pink neon bunny, the friendly staff at the door will take your name and number and send you a handy text message when your table is ready. With the impressive, original design and fit-out, exciting menu and delectable cocktails, we think it is definitely worth the wait!
We hope you enjoyed this article. We would like to thank our guest contributor Julia Chapman for her work on this article.
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Photography by Tom Ferguson.