Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting in the Mood for Love: Chinta Ria at Westfield Sydney

I feel completely transported – to a place that’s unfamiliar but welcoming; a place that’s dark and moody but enticingly so; a place that feels worlds away from a shopping centre and where the mood is, affection-encouraging, to say the least.

Inside Chinta Ria... Mood for Love, Level 6, Westfield Sydney
The latest project by Chinta Ria finds me up at Westfield Sydney’s Level 6 yet again, and looking into a piece of Simon Goh’s mind. Styled as a more of a formal restaurant than Sassy’s Red on the Level 5 food court, Chinta Ria… Mood for Love is the latest of Goh’s Malaysian restaurant ventures in Sydney.

Chinta Ria... Mood for Love entrance
As soon as I walk past the guarding lions and through the imposing wooden doors, I know I’m in for an experience.

The moody ambience is set by the varied seating arrangements that see couples hidden in corners and groups behind ornate carved screens, while the eclectic selection of music tinkling in the background behind the noise of chatter plays accompaniment to the projections of period movie scenes onto a wall.

Candied spiced peanuts
Inspired by the 2000 Hong Kong film In the Mood for Love, Goh’s intention was to create a love den where romance could blossom over “exquisite Malaysian” food by head chef John Poh (formerly of Kualia and Neptune Palace).

The movie inspiration runs deep: from their very own short movie which is projected on the screen nightly to the menu formatted as a film screenplay – there is no shortage of theatrics from Goh.

As we peruse the scenes of the screenplay (with handwritten notes and edits throughout), we’re started on the best peanuts I’ve ever had. Candied but faintly spiced with chilli and kaffir lime leaf, these eye-opening peanuts set the mood right for the rest of the night.

The 'Nipple Bar'
Scene 10 of the menu/screenplay, called Teasin’ U, features cocktails designed by bar and cocktail veteran, Charlie Ainsbury (who has currently taken up residence at Eau de Vie). Inspired by the artwork in the quite large bar, Goh playfully calls it the ‘Nipple Bar’.

I would have loved to have been the person responsible for naming some parts of the menu, turning drinks and Malaysian food names into sometimes salacious labels that are as much fun to read as to consume (Hug Me Honey beef or Kiss Me Chick, anyone?).

Touch Lips cocktail
Hence, the Touch Lips cocktail, featuring peach liquor, amaretto, lemon, Angostura Bitters and ginger ale – a sweet, light, fizzy drink that impresses with the combination of peach and almond.

Sexy Genie cocktail
My Sexy Genie cocktail arrives in a coup glass as a mix of vodka, dry vermouth, lemon juice, fresh sugar cane juice and basil leaves.

It’s also on the lighter side of cocktails, which is probably an intentional leaning to best match the big and varied flavours of southeast Asian cuisine.

Satay beef (back) and chicken (front)
We’re having the degustation, otherwise known as Scene 12: Chef John Poh’s Sensual Delight Menu. At $55 per person, I’m incredibly impressed with the excellent value for eight shared dishes plus rice and a dessert platter.

The first few dishes arrive together but I turn my attention first to the satay chicken and beef sticks. One of each per diner, these are served with a creamy, nutty sauce that’s poured from a jug. The beef is meltingly tender while the chicken is fatty in a good and necessary way for grilling.

Otak otak
I’ve had various experiences of otak otak, a moussey spiced fish cake well known in Muar, Malaysia. In Australia, they’ve mostly been on the not so good side. At Chinta Ria… Mood for Love, the otak otak simply blew me away, and was potentially even better than what I sampled in Muar.

Steamed in banana leaf in an adorably miniscule bamboo steamer basket, the vibrantly curried mousse of Spanish mackerel was light yet bouncily firm and just exploded on the palate with fresh flavours of fish, a myriad of fragrant spices and a good chilli kick. The stuff of dreams, the otak otak alone is reason for return visits.

Chai tow koay
The chai tow koay is an interesting dish of soft and slightly glutinous radish cake, chopped up and stir fried with egg, sauces and bean sprouts. The charred edges of the pan fried radish cake are a delight; the savoury cake itself soaking up all the exciting flavours of the sauce.

Chilli scallops
A scallop on the half shell each arrives beneath a thick, orange-red chilli sauce that’s more on the sweet than hot side. The steamed scallop is cooked to perfection, with a silky smooth, barely cooked texture while the vibrant sauce plays a reserved supporting role, as it should.

Come Always cocktail
With the starter section of the degustation menu done (on the normal menu, Scene 1: Ticklin’ You), we sample more of the cocktail menu which also includes non-alcoholic mocktails.

The Come Always cocktail has an Italian bent, with Campari mixed with Angostura Bitters, tonic water and lemonade – again, a light drink to refresh the palate.

Kiss Kiss cocktail
The Kiss Kiss uses gin and elderflower cordial – a couple of my favourite poisons – along with lemon, soda water and orange slices. The end result is particularly citrusy; like an orange juice with added fizz and a bit of booze.

Beef rendang
The refreshing drinks are entirely appropriate for the first of the more substantial dishes: a chunky slow braised beef rendang. The thick sauce of cooked-down coconut milk and spices is a treat with steamed rice while the tender beef hunks are best eaten piping hot.

Pearly butter prawns
I’ve never really seen prawns like the pearly butter prawns, deep fried after a butter milk and cereal-like coating. The large tail-on prawns are sumptuously firm while the chilli and crispy fried basil garnishes add to both appearances and taste.

Squeeze Me Squiddy
Right up there for one of my favourite dish names, the deep fried squid – or Squeeze Me Squiddy – were lightly flour dusted and tossed with turmeric and chilli. With a nice bit of bite to the texture of the squid, I only wished for a heavier helping of chilli and turmeric all round.

Monk's Mushrooms
Co-starring for favourite dish of the night was unexpectedly the Monk’s Mushrooms; a side dish of mixed gourmet mushrooms, including oyster and Swiss brown, in a homely and comforting ginger sauce.

With strong Cantonese flavours to the sauce, the fungi were upped a notch with the addition of deep fried enoki mushrooms as a delicious and clever garnish.

Sensual Dessert Platter
Eight savoury courses later, one can imagine that we were pretty stuffed. I mean, we’re talking full banquet here and some of the dishes aren’t exactly small either.

So the thought of a dessert platter to end the night was just a tad frightening, though I was more assured when it arrived sans chocolate, cream, cake and other rich, filling sweets. The dessert tasting plate features four items from Scene 5: Are You In… Sweet Heart???

Pandan sago
A moulded sago pudding sits in a puddle of coconut milk, sweetened with squiggles of gula melaka, palm sugar syrup. The soft green sago pearls of pandan flavour are very subtle, so this is best eaten with a bit of everything in one mouthful.

On Me On Me All Day
Ondeh ondeh is the real name but Chinta Ria… Mood for Love calls this On Me On Me All Day, so I’m already smiling as I try the glutinous pandan balls filled with a hit of palm sugar syrup. The dumpling balls are rolled in desiccated coconut and resemble a sweet snack from many an Asian culture.

Kueh Rolled Me Green (front) and durian panna cotta (back, in glass)
Having never before tried kueh dadar, the green pandan crepes of this dessert were a childish delight – but this also turned out to be my favourite of the lot. Filled with coconut and palm sugar, these soft rolls had just the right amount of sweetness to allow me to get through the other desserts too.

A sniff of the panna cotta reveals only a subtle aroma of the stinky, hard-to-like tropical Asian fruit durian, so I tentatively took a small spoon to taste. And it’s not so bad. Indeed, the durian flavour is almost an afterthought – it’s there but not quite at the fore, which makes it much easier for me to consume without ill feeling.

With the final scrape clean of the glass, I felt more in the mood for unbuttoning than love, but having completely forgetten that I was in a shopping centre. With the closed wooden doors, I felt like I was in some hidden den with other equally secretive couples and groups.

The intimate settings trumped the sometimes high noise levels, but it never got uncomfortable. If anything, we were a little too comfortable with the Sensual Delight Menu and cocktails. It was extremely satisfying, leaving me wanting more for next time – which there certainly will be – I can’t wait for the next time I’m in the mood for love.

Food, booze and shoes dined courtesy of Chinta Ria… Mood For Love – thanks for a beautiful evening, Simon.

Chinta Ria... Mood for Love on Urbanspoon


OohLookBel said...

It's very atmospheric there, isn't it? I had similar dishes when I ate there last week, and they were all fabulous. Can't wait to return.

Hotly Spiced said...

The Beef Rendang and the Satays look amazing. Would love some right about NOW!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

It looks very nice in there and quite romantic indeed!

john@heneedsfood said...

It's such a gorgeous space by the look of it. Can't wait to give it a go when I'm back in town. Love your photo's

joey@FoodiePop said...

Lovely, and the degustation looks not bad value! I wonder if watching the film beforehand makes it any more atmospheric?

rockahenry said...

lol romance aye?

maybe i'll start a restaurant based on infernal affairs. there'll be an evil looking side that only serves healthy food options and a clean looking side that only serves deep fried.

food does look good though!

sugarpuffi said...

wow love the look of the sexy genie!

Vivian - vxdollface said...

The cocktails must be good if the menu is designed by Charlie!

Tina said...

Hi Bel - Very much so, such a lovely space!

Hi Hotly Spiced - They were some very good satay, so tender!

Hi Lorraine - Perfect for dat nights, I think!

Hi John - Thanks! It's full of character, just like Simon Goh!

Hi joey - They were showing stills on the projections when I was there. I'll have to make sure I see the movie next time :)

Hi rockahenry - Ha, I like your idea! I'll be on the clean side ;)

Hi sugarpuffi - Yeah, that was probably my favourite of the lot.

Hi Vivian - His reputation precedes him... ;)


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