Shop 6006, Level 6
188 Pitt St
Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 8072 8888
Two weeks after it opened, I was invited by a friend to Chinta Ria...Mood for Love, a much anticipated venture by the ebullient and engaging Simon Goh (whose Sassy’s Red is on the level below), with chef John Poh (below) formerly of Kuali, at the cooking helm.
The name of the restaurant is an obvious nod to Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood for Love", and a short film, commissioned by Simon, screens continuously in the main body of this small jewel of a restaurant, which is split between an intimate curtained-off space which can be used for a small group, and the larger area in which most diners sit.
What first struck me about MFL was the cleverness of the design. The traditionally styled entrance gives no pointers as to what is inside. I had been expecting a medium to large sized restaurant, and not the ambience that Simon and his designers have achieved.
This is not a restaurant for those who have a preference for highly lit dining experiences. It is pure escapism, a self-contained space in which the diner is welcomed, often by Simon himself, to his private space. So private, in fact, that some of the items decorating the interior come from his personal collection. The dimness of MFL, offset by candles on the tables, also means that my limited photography skills were further constrained, so I have made the decision to leave out the worst of them, and rely on the written word.
First up was the otak otak, redefined by Chef Poh into a delicate mackerel mousse in a steamer basket. Texturally very creamy, it had a small hit of chilli, and was one of my dining companion’s favourites that evening.
The chicken and beef mixed satay, served with a gutsy and stonking good peanut sauce, had the smokiness that you get from a good satay. The Chai tow kway (below), or pan-fried radish cake, is another popular street food in Malaysia and Singapore, and one of those dishes that you enjoy largely for the comfort level if it has a good wok heat, which this one did.
“Hug Me Honey” consisted of pan-fried tenderloin beef with honey, pepper and chilli sauce. Good quality beef, and a solid dish, though with my penchant for pepper, I’d have loved a bigger pepper kick.
I’d read a comment somewhere about the Butter Prawns, so I’d made this one request. Crunchy and very easy to eat, you can have half a dozen of these quickly without realising that you have done so.
“Quack! Quack! Kiam Chye” was perhaps the dish that we were most unsure about. Braised duck with preserved vegetables, it was the latter that we became quite addicted to, rather than the duck itself.
The vegetable component of the meal was expanded by “Monk’s Mushrooms”, a simple mix of a variety of fungi topped by crispy Enoki, and a successful example of something simple being simply very good.
The dish of the night was the crab curry. A Queensland mud crab cooked with Chef Poh’s own curry sauce, we had to order extra roti so that we didn’t waste the addictive sauce, and I made enquiries as to whether it could be ordered as a takeaway. With a small amount of heat but so many levels of depth and flavour, this is the best crab curry I’ve had in a very long time, and that I haven’t yet managed to get around to going back there just for the crab pains me.
Dessert-wise, we had the “Kueh Rolled Me Green:, kueh dadar i.e. coconut palm sugar rolls wrapped in a light pandan crepe, the ondeh ondeh, pandan balls filled with palm sugar syrup rolled in shredded coconut, the pandan sago, and the 'Durian Panna Cotta', which is bearable for folks like me who don’t like durian, but not my preferred option. I am keener on anything involving sago or coconut, so I polished off those ones.
There is a lunch menu available at MFL, which I plan to try, but the idea of having an entire crab for lunch appeals to me as well. Chinta Ria...Mood for Love manages to somehow balance fun with intimacy, and in spite having only been open for a couple of weeks when I visited, it already had the feel of having been comfortably established. I can't wait to return.