342 New South Head Road Double Bay, New South Wales 202802 9327 8888
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 11.30am-9pm|
|Features||Cheap Eats, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
Simon Goh has always thought big. A one-time jazz DJ, he built the Chinta Ria restaurant empire in Melbourne and Sydney out of his love for the street food of his Malaysian childhood. Now, he's thinking small.
The new Chinta Kechil (''kechil'' even means small) in Double Bay is teeny-weeny, with just 16 seats at benches and small tables. Frankly, it would work better if only small, skinny people ate there, and not medium-to-large people such as myself.
It's so sweet, though; like a charming, homely 1960s night-market stall with pink-green floral tiles, pandan-leaf packages tied up with string, potted orchids and a lovely fat Buddha smiling benignly over all. Photographs of 30 different noodle, soup and rice dishes hang by wire hooks in front of the steamy kitchen; bottles of sauce line up against charred pine walls; and wire-framed lanterns swing overhead, their red hessian shades stained by red wine.
The photos make it easy to order - and hard to stop ordering more than you need. How to do both chicken curry laksa ($13.80) and char kway teow ($13.80) noodles? Vegetarian curry puffs (5.80) and flaky roti bread ($4.80) with satay sauce? Nasi lemak deluxe ($13.80) is an ideal working lunch, the mound of coconut rice surrounded by a comforting chicken curry, spicy sambal, hard-boiled egg, salty fried ikan bilis and crunchy peanuts. Seafood laksa ($15.80) is a meal in a bowl, chunky with prawns, fish and superior fish cake in a mild but spice-balanced broth. You get to choose between thick hokkien or thin rice vermicelli - don't. Ask for both instead.
It's hard to complain about the service, because there isn't any. You pay up front, have to help yourself to water, chopsticks, chilli sauce and even tissues from a box. Drinks are standard cafe fare, nothing special, and a licence is pending.
So it's more an eat-and-go or takeaway kind of place, but the spicy comfort food (not an oxymoron) comes fresh, hot and fast without any fuss. And you could always linger over nicely chewy sago pearls with coconut cream and palm sugar ($5.80) that aren't sugarbowl-sweet.
Take a mate, so you can share a few things. And until a new upstairs space offers more tables later in the year, choose someone that doesn't take up too much space. As Simon says, small is the new big.
Do … help yourself to spoons and sauces.
Don't … take a crowd.
Dish … Nasi lemak deluxe, $13.80.
Vibe … Retro-fitted night-market food stall.