When Chinta Ria first came onto the scene back in the 90’s it introduced Malaysian cuisine to the mainstream at its prime waterfront location above Cockle Bay. The development in which it sits was the flavour of its time when at around the same time mega club Home opened its doors and alfresco bar Pontoon (beneath Chinta Ria) was all the rage. Sydney hadn’t had anything quite like it but jump to the 21st century and we’re more interested in the intimate bars and anything that isn’t connected to the tourist trap that is Darling Harbour.
Running strong since way back when, Chinta Ria is still dishing up its Malay grub to the hoards and unlike many comings and goings in the vicinity, it hasn’t changed a bit. When true fans of the cuisine loiter about the likes of Mamak and Kopitiam Cafe, many still return to The Temple of Love where you’re greeted by an over-sized jolly Buddha with a stomach big enough to accommodate numerous rubbing hands yearning for a stroke of luck. Is the food here authentic? Not particularly, but I have had stuff very much like it in Malaysia, so it isn’t way off the mark.
When I lived in Pyrmont I came here fairly often and spent many an afternoon under the trees on the terrace with friends sipping vino whilst chowing down on some kind of curry with flaky roti. Almost six years later we return and order the same golden browns (7.7) I remember from the last visit – wontons filled with chicken, water chestnut, black seaweed and spring onions. I wasn’t dumpling crazy then as I am now so I’ve got to say they’re nothing more than a rapid crispy snack that’s a bridge to the next dish. Beer snacks. Speaking of which, where’s my lucky beer (6.5)?
The pisces toast (9.4) is a bit of a take on the classic prawn toast; minced ling fillet on bread slices sprinkled with curry spices, pepper, salt and sugar, then snap fried to toasty oiliness. Each bite releases a film of oil onto the tongue but somehow, being a fan of this kind of thing, I quite like it. Only a prawn toast devotee would understand. Gotta love the curly parsley garnish. All that’s missing is a twist of orange.
Paying $29 for a Malaysian dish in Haymarket may give you three plates of food but here you get just one – ayam jo-get (29). Diced chicken fillet sautéed with turmeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime and a splodge of lime juice. It’s fresh, it’s aromatic but it isn’t fabulous. Toby’s pepper bird (28) is a few notches on the improvement scale – pan-fried chicken fillet marinated in lemongrass, chilli and garlic – but the use of breast is a tad on the arid-side. Loving the zingy flavour, especially washed down with a chilled Lucky Beer.
With such a light lunch I clearly had room for something sweet and just couldn’t pass-up the sago pudding (6). This was the definite highlight of the meal with its firm moulded mound of pearls ankle-deep in coconut cream and showered with sticky gula melaka (palm sugar syrup). After tossing that useless sprig of mint to the side I dove right in. Love this stuff.