Simon Goh opened Chinta Ria: Temple of Love in Cockle Bay Wharf in 1997. Over the next 18 years, until its closure in 2015, the restaurant – and its three-metre-tall buddha watching over diners as they ate – imprinted itself firmly in Sydney’s dining scene. While the buddha may have been absent from a dining room for the past five years, Goh has graced plenty of them, opening Chinta Ria: Mood For Love in Westfield Sydney in 2011 (it closed last year) and Chinta Kechil in Double Bay in 2014.
But just when he thought that running Chinta Kechil was enough to keep him busy, he was offered the chance to open yet another spin-off of the concept, as part of the much-hyped Darling Square precinct in Haymarket. And this time he’s brought back that giant laughing buddha – though it takes up far more of the intimate new restaurant’s floor space than it did in its original, much larger home.
“The primary reason why I’m doing what I’m doing is because the people who followed Chinta Ria are now parents and I want to create this sense of nostalgia for them,” Goh tells Broadsheet. “This Chinta will also be kind of a retrospective of all the years I’ve been in business.”
The menu has plenty of Malaysian home-style comfort foods such as curry laksa, Hainan chicken, char kway teow, rendang beef, gado-gado and chilli crab. There’s also Royal Prawns, involving a crisp noodle ball and king prawns dressed in a ginger and shallot gravy.
Signature dishes from the original Chinta Ria menu have also made a comeback, including Satchmo’s Squid (named after Louis Armstrong, whose nickname was Satchmo), a whole squid lightly battered then sautéed in a sweet tamarind sauce; and King Toh beef made with beef strips stir-fried in a “special” sauce with onion and carrots.
Goh say diners can request off-the-menu dishes in advance, too. “I don’t want to make the menu too complicated. I want a menu that is easy to read, and if you so happen to like something, you can tell us and my chef can cook it up for you,” he says. “We have young chefs and they are very innovative. We don’t want to put everything on the menu … it’s better to be more spontaneous.”
The restaurateur has worked with Melbourne-based Wayne Finschi (who designed the original Chinta Ria) to shape the interior into something that’s “nostalgic, earthy, and funky”.
An open kitchen gives diners full view of the cooks’ line, and the dining room is decorated in bold black and red, with porcelain vases decorating the counter and lanterns hanging in the front window.