We’re familiar with Chin Chin the restaurant, but Chin Chin the art space is a new concept (to some of us, at least).

Holly Lucas, creative director at Lucas Restaurants (and daughter of founder/restaurateur Chris Lucas), is the engine behind the group’s art program, which pairs conceptual artists with dining at Chin Chin Melbourne and Sydney.

“These events [are about] creating bespoke experiences that aren’t bound by dining traditions,” Lucas says. “Chin Chin has always been known for pushing the boundaries of what traditional dining is and turning it on its head. The arts program has always been a part of our DNA.”

The tradition started during Chin Chin’s early days in Melbourne, with head-turning events such as 2013’s Nude Dining – which involved a female performer taking dinner at Chin Chin in the nick – and has continued on with regular year-round events, including a rotating bimonthly art program at neighbouring GoGo Bar. This year’s program brings events strange, surreal and energetic. Let’s take a look.

Popping-candy cocktails and neon-lit art

A collaboration with pop-art artist and designer Frida Las Vegas last June, Smoke and Mirrors transformed Chin Chin Sydney into a neon-lit 1980s Frida-land. The artist’s neon acrylic works were matched with Frida-inspired menu items such as Frida’s Fancy Pav (-lova, of course) and the Frida-tini (with popping candy, among other bizarre ingredients).

“We wanted to not just give [Frida’s] artwork a place to hang but also create a vibe like you were on a movie set,” says Lucas.

A real workout

Lucas says that Schvitz and Spritz, held last September at Chin Chin Sydney, was something she’d been dying to do for a long time: “I’d just been waiting for the right partner to come along to work with.” Lucas found this in the form of Shannon Dooley, who runs the colourful, lycra-friendly ’80s-inspired aerobics class Retrosweat.

“We moved all of the tables out of [Chin Chin’s] dining room, put Shannon up on a stage and lit the room pink. Everyone came dressed in full ’80s looks,” says Lucas.

As the name suggests, the “schvitz” (a 45-minute aerobics class that started at 10am and, by Lucas’s account, was somewhere between a “light schvitz” and a serious workout) was followed by a much-appreciated spritz: a post-workout cocktail brunch with DJs, food and specially designed spritzes.

Hyper Real

The group’s most recent events – collaborations with experiential artist ØFF€RÎNGS held in Sydney last April and Melbourne in October – were, as the name suggests, beyond normal definitions of the real.

“It was a coming together of creative minds, using Chin Chin as a platform for expression and experimental dining,” says Lucas.

The event saw participants, dressed in dystopian cyber-punk garb, given survival kits (with various utensils and provisions) and led to secret locations for a strange and immersive experience.

In the case of Melbourne, the location was Chin Chin’s new events space, installed above the restaurant proper. Diners made their way through an ’80s-inspired Akiko in Wonderland sci-fi maze, hosted by geisha cyborg and MC for the night, ØFF€RÎNGS. The artist led guests through five specially curated rooms featuring experimental performances and scavenger hunts for food (beetle leaf and salmon onigiri were to be found in a solarium bed, naturally).

Festivities continued in Melbourne with an afterparty that sold out in 48 hours.

Looking forward

Lucas says that the program is “ever evolving”, and she has ambitions to take it beyond Chin Chin’s walls. “My big dream is to do a Flinders Lane festival [around] art, music, culture and food,” she says.