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Chin Chin puts punk on a plate

With millions of restaurants quite literally at diners’ fingertips, the hospitality stakes are high. So, how do you stand out in the crowd? Chin Chin shows us that a little attitude can go a long way.


November 7th, 2018

Personal disclaimer: I was stared down by a gimp in a gas mask during one of the best meals I have ever tasted. For many, such defiant ogling does wonders to kill an appetite. And for many more, digestion is the last thing on the mind when met with all the leather and whips of Tom Of Finland fame. But for thousands – myself included – a brief ‘qu’est ce que c’est?’ (what is it?) is immediately fastened to ‘menu please!’

And Chin Chin, one of the country’s most successful restaurant brands, wouldn’t have it any other way. This very quality – the clash – is not just a playlist staple, but the be-all and end-all of the Chin Chin ethos itself. It’s a world where portraits of gimps and dominatrices are hung like family portraits; a world where New Order’s brooding dark-wave synths stand in stark contrast to blush-toned furniture upholstered with duck feathers; where roof sarking is anywhere but the roof; and where a curry draws inspiration (and a name) from Soviet ballistic missiles.

“Chin Chin has always been a bit of a bad-boy-bad-girl – and is proud of it!” says interior architect George Livissianis. True to word, Chin Chin is more an attitude than a place, and since first opening doors in Melbourne in 2011 this attitude has triggered a watershed moment for Thai cuisine in Australia. Queues have not abated since.

Now the restaurant has a new set of digs in Sydney, located in the iconic Griffiths Teas flatiron. As the creative behind this pinkpunk blowout, Livissianis regales me with the trials and triumphs of designing spaces for a newly emerging hospitality culture where punters demand more than food from a menu.

“Having already established a following and a great asset in Melbourne, it’s clear that Chin Chin has an appeal that stretches beyond food or service, branching out into a cultural arena where it now creates entirely new bonds with consumers,” he says.

Livissianis speaks of Chin Chin in ways not dissimilar to directors speaking of their films. His attention to drama, narrative and detail play out through every facet: “It’s not just the dishes themselves, but the graphic treatment of the printed menus, the atmosphere of the room at lunch time as opposed to dinner, it’s the cartoon cookbook, the pink neon mascot, it’s the mirror-polished bar, the feathers and leathers. It’s about designing the conditions for a unique experience. And in this, the food is the hero.”

Earlier that morning, Chin Chin’s social media channels hinted at what I’d be in for: fetish wear and rabbits, drag queens and tattoos – an intensely choreographed Imaginarium – a party not a meal.

“As a designer, these influences are fantastic things to work with as part of a brief,” says Livissianis. “They influence every aspect of the procurement of furniture, surfaces, fixtures and beyond. For instance, that BDSM portrait is referenced through one of the chair’s mix of leathers, fabric, feathers and chrome.”

And like all good brands, Chin Chin has conquered the art of storytelling. Backed by the masters of stealing a scene with a good plot twist – restaurateurs Chris Lucas and John Kanis of The Lucas Group – one would expect nothing less. From the point of entry, the eye is coerced in various directions and the feet can’t help but follow.

From a dark and naughty cocktail bar of exposed brick, timber and a symphony of velvets you soon find yourself in a whitewashed and rosy dining room baring its heritage masonry veneer with prideful abandon. Follow Debbie Harry’s voice bouncing off the perforated chipboard panelling in the restaurant interior, down the stairs, and you arrive in Chin Chin’s intimate function space where you’ll find two fingers being given to typical curtains and a thumbs-up to yards of thermoseal roof insulation instead.

“I think that even just putting the ply chipboard or roof sarking on display makes it fairly clear that Chin Chin isn’t interested in trends. We’re instead invested in authenticity.” Perhaps that’s Chin Chin’s greatest lesson – when there’s anarchy in the UX, only the inauthentic are the damned.

Photography by Tom Ferguson.

Want to see exactly what was specified? Take a look at the dissections here.

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