Oh how things are changing for the suburb of Canley. Originally populated with Vietnamese/Chinese restaurants, these days there are more “trendy” restaurants popping up, particularly in Canley Heights. One of these restaurants is Chi Chi, a hip Asian restaurant featuring a well-stocked bar. The menu draws inspiration from Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Malaysian and Laotian dishes.
It’s so intense! What does it mean?!
The decor is really funky for Canley Heights. With double rainbow neon lights to welcome you into the restaurant, pink mesh panda panels to separate the bar from the main dining area and a cute mural filled with pandas spanning one entire wall of the restaurant, you’d be forgiven to think that you’re dining in another hipster restaurant in the inner west.
As mentioned, the restaurant is divided into 2 sections for you to enjoy the food; the bar and the main dining area which looks like it seats about 50+. Ladies, you’ll be pleased to know there are bag hooks provided at the bar so there is no need to worry about leaving your bag on the floor as you wine and dine. There is also another smaller dining section of the restaurant which seats about 10, it is here where you’ll get to see all the action from the kitchen.
As we were dining as a large group, it was recommended that we got the 8 course set menu for $38/person. However, there were items on the menu that we really wanted to try that wouldn’t be served in the set menu so we opt to order à la carte instead. In the end, it worked out to be roughly $40/person with 9 courses to share, a couple of beers, a cocktail, 3 desserts and several coffees. So I’m glad that I choose to steer away from the set menu.
To start we have the smoked trout on betel leaf ($3.90 each). These tiny morsels are to be eaten in one go; leaf and all. What you get in one mouthful is the taste of succulent pieces of trout, crispy fried shallots and a fiery hit from the roasted chilli but there was no signs of smokiness at all. A nice and refreshing way to start the meal.
I was pretty excited when I saw son-in-law eggs ($5.50) on the menu as not that many places serve them. The first time I had them was at Gingerboy in Melbourne, and they were served whole with gooey yolk innards. At Chi Chi, you get 2 eggs per serve, cooked and deep-fried to medium boiled and slightly crispy, cut in half and topped with house-made xo sauce. Another delightful dish to start our meal. I know it would be hard, considering the way it’s served, but if only the yolk was runnier…
When we sat down at our table, the smell of deep-fried salt and pepper goodness filled the air. One of my sisters wanted soft shell crab so salt and pepper soft shell crab ($15.80) it was. This dish is also prepared with squid or tofu. Lightly battered and fried to a crisp yet containing the succulent sweet crab flesh, this dish was wonderful with just the right amount of S&P.
There is no passing up crunchy school prawns ($12.60). It might seem weird to some people but trust me, you have to eat the prawn whole (including the head and tail – the head’s the best bit!). The shell is pretty thin so you shouldn’t notice it too much, and besides, all the flavouring and crispy batter is on the shell, if you peel it off, you lose all the flavour and texture.
With a squeeze of lemon over the prawns and a mix of the chilli mayo to evenly combine it; these school prawns are ready to be devoured. I could seriously polish off an entire bowl (or two) of these moreish school prawns if I could have my way. They are crispy without drying the prawn meat out. The perfect snack!
Malay-style saté chicken skewers ($16 for 12 skewers) was the last dish to come out for our starters. Tender pieces of chicken served with house-made chunky-style satay sauce and big chunks of cucumber, you can’t go wrong with a simple dish like this.
Les’ clay pot rice ($16.80) is piled with prawns, chicken, chinese sausage, lily buds and topped with a fried egg. The rice beneath soaks in all the delicious soy sauce. A part of me was wishing for a delicious golden crust of rice to be found on the bottom of the pot but alas, it wasn’t there. It could’ve been that we dug into the dish too soon and didn’t wait for it to form, though I’d be curious to know if would eventually form if we had waited.
Possibly the less impressive dish that we had on the night. The Massaman curry ($19.80) was supposed to be mild-med in heat, I know I have a very high tolerance for spicy food, but I didn’t get the slightest tickle of heat from this curry at all. We all found it to be on the sweet side as well. I think the most enjoyable part of this dish was the beef, it was so tender, you could cut it with a spoon!
Another favourite dish of mine was Chi Chi’s braised pork belly with green papaya salad ($18.20). Like a Laotian green papaya salad, but better! Crispy cubes of pork belly lay hidden underneath a mound of shredded green papaya, mint and fried shallots. There is a bit of tang from the fish sauce, heat and sweetness but everything was well-balanced. Not necessarily a bad thing but there was a larger ratio of pork belly to green papaya, and I secretly wanted more green papaya to go with the pork belly.
There needed to be some vegetable dishes to balance everything out so wok-tossed greens (broccoli, snap peas & gai lan) ($8) and stir fried mixed mushrooms ($12.90) were ordered. The greens were cooked perfectly, with a bit of bite to them. Plump shiitake and wood ear mushrooms were hidden among a sea of slippery enoki mushrooms. I think the sauce for both dishes were quiet similar; laden with Chinese wine and garlic oil, and thickened.
Although our bellies were quite full, some of us felt the need to order some desserts. The dessert section is cheekily named “Happy-ending” and a handful (no pun intended) of Asian-inspired desserts are on offer.
I can’t resist pannacotta ($10.20). Even if the waitress couldn’t exactly tell me the flavour of it (“it’s custard…”), I still had to order it. Thankfully I did because it was luscious, creamy and speckled with vanilla bean seeds. Despite the slightest hint of burnt sugar, the honeycomb was a nice addition to the dish as well; you could tell that it’s freshly made as it breaks easily and almost melts when you eat it.
The kaffir lime brûlée ($10.90) sadly lacked the kaffir lime flavour that my sister was hoping for in this dish. But regardless of flavour, the texture of the crème brûlée was spot on silky smooth and toffee delectably shattering. The accompanying coconut sorbet was refreshing and smooth minus the little bits of desiccated coconut scattered throughout it.
Upon presentation of the fried banana sesame roll ($9.20), it was not what I had imagined the dish to be. I thought it would be like the Vietnamese version, chuối chiên, where the banana is coated in batter but instead the banana is rolled in a thin sheet of pastry and fried until crispy and golden. Don’t get me wrong, swimming in a pool of house-made caramel sauce and served alongside a generous scoop of creamy salted nut ice cream, what’s not to dislike about it?
Coffees were also had with our desserts and I was pleased that there was no sight of bitterness to the coffee at all. I was even lucky to score a swan coffee-art in mine.
Considering they have only been open for about 5 weeks, they seem to be doing very well for themselves. We dined early on a Friday night but soon enough the place filled up by 8pm. I’ve never really been a fan of restaurants that don’t take bookings as I can become very impatient, especially with my family in tow. So I was quiet happy to find that Chi Chi take bookings. Overall, staff were generally very helpful and delightful. We all enjoyed our meal here, it’s a nice change to the regular scenes of Canley Heights. It’s still a little pricy for the area (normally you would get away with paying about $20/person) but the food is good and worth paying for. I’ll definitely return, especially for those school prawns and pork belly papaya salad!