It’s the riot of aromas that strikes you first. Cilantro, chili, lime, basil, something elusively savory. They dance out of the wide and open kitchen toward you, mingling with the tunes of Toto and Tina Turner.
Which is to say, eating at Chin Chin—a funky and sprawling nondenominationally Asian restaurant in Sydney’s trendy Surry Hills neighborhood—smacks of sensory overload, the whitewashed walls and ceiling leaving your focus on the food.
The bold cacophony continues on the menu, particularly the salads. Caramelized sticky pork with sour herbs and chili vinegar. Cherry tomatoes with Chinese olive vinaigrette, chili oil, tamarind and Thai basil. Green papaya with chilies, peanuts and tamarind dressing.
This is not how most of us salad. These aren’t just bold, they’re brash, attention-seeking and demanding. Flavors and textures swirl and compete and balance, making every bite pop with contrast.
Easily my favorite dish from the robust and rollicking menu was the coconut chicken salad with cashews and nam jim, a dressing inspired by a bracing Thai dipping sauce. It was like no chicken salad I’d ever tasted, usually a flavorless mess of sweetness and singular textures.
In this salad, shredded chicken—first poached in coconut milk infused with turmeric, galangal and lemon grass—and grated coconut are tossed with a tangle of mint and cilantro so copious they become the salad greens. Shallots offer sharp notes, as well as sweetness and crunch.
Chin Chin head chef Ralph So walked me through the nam jim, a daunting assembly of cilantro, chilies, sugar, fish sauce, lemon and lime juices, caramelized garlic, vinegar and salt. The effect is bright, savory and rich with punches of heat balanced by the freshness of herbs.
At Milk Street, we wanted to streamline. A rotisserie chicken made quick work of the protein, and a liberal hand with the dressing—as well as giving the shredded chicken time to absorb it—made poaching in flavored liquid unnecessary. After a bit of trial and error, we winnowed the dressing down to the essentials—chilies, garlic, lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. The finished flavor was bright, sharp, savory and sweet, and in just 10 minutes it infused and moistened the chicken.
For the greens, shredded cabbage and a full 4 cups of fresh basil and cilantro added freshness and crunch. For even more texture, we toasted the coconut to crisp it and bring out sweet, nutty flavors.
The result is refreshing, bold and deeply satisfying. As Ms. Turner would say, simply the best.