[Penang] British-Chinese cuisine at Chin's, Church Street Pier

There’s Chinese food, and there is “Chinese” food. Chinese cooking has always adapted itself wherever the Chinese diaspora settled around the world, giving rise to indigenised, localised Chinese cuisine unique to that particular host country which one could never find elsewhere, think mushu pork, chop suey and chow mein in the US, Manchurian chicken and Hakka noodles in India, jajangmyeon in Korea, long soup and short soup in Australia, the Four Heavenly Kings spicy vegetable stir-fry (四大天王) in Malaysia and, in the case of the United Kingdom, the quintesssentially British-Chinese crispy aromatic duck.

Chin’s Chinese restaurant, run by the father-and-son duo, Dave & Sam Chin, started off in Fulham, London, back 1987, but returned to its Penang roots in 2010. It’s unique among all the Chinese restaurants in Penang for continuing to offer British-Chinese cuisine, distinct from Penang’s Hokkien, Hainanese and Cantonese Chinese restaurants.

Chin’s is located at Church Street Pier on Weld Quay, George Town’s waterfront where the luxury cruise ships come in to berth, and where a busy ferry service ply the waters of the Penang Channel, linking George Town to Butterworth across the waters.

Weld Quay is terribly busy during the day as it’s next to the banking district, the government offices and the courts of law. After 6pm, the place quietens down significantly as businesses close down and the office workers leave.

The 122-year-old Church Street Pier where Chin’s is located:

Chin’s Restaurant in the foreground, with a view of the town of Butterworth across the Penang Channel in the background.
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Our dinner here last night:

  1. An appetiser platter consisting of “Gele Mountain” Hot Chicken (batter-fried chicken cubes, tossed with groundnuts & Szechuan peppercorns, served in a pastry cup), Citrus Wintergourd (slender batons of wintergourd marinated in orange-lemon juice), Sesame Prawns on Toast (a retro 70s/80s classic of minced prawn-meat sandwiched in bread, coated with egg & sesame seeds and deep-fried), and Spinach Leaves with Mustard (my fave starter: Beijing-style poached spinach leaves and soybeans dressed in mustard).

  2. Szechuan Flamed Codfish Soup - the flaming bit was pretty gimmicky, but the clear consomme packed quite a punch as dried chilis were added to the soup. The soup also had a sourish spike from pickled Szechuanese mustard vegetables.

The menu then offered two options for the 3rd course, and we ordered one of each:
3a) Foie gras with laurel blossom was perfectly cooked, served atop a raft of baked green apple slices.

3b) Braised abalone with shitake mushroom - I love this dish, slow-cooked whole abalone (usually at least 8 hours or more to achieve that textural softness) in a thick, unctuous sauce of light soysauce and oyster sauce.

  1. Chin’s Crispy Aromatic Duck - our piece de resistance for the evening is a dish which is found all over London’s classic Chinatown restaurants, but virtually impossible to get outside the United Kingdom: the British-Chinese crispy aromatic duck.

This dish is a somewhat robust send-up of a Peking duck, but instead of the Peking duck’s labourious preparation technique, the British crispy aromatic duck simply involved first steaming a marinated duck, then deep-frying it. The crispy duck then needs to be shredded (usually done tableside by the wait-staff), before being served with the usual accompaniments as for a Peking duck: small floury pancakes, hoi sin beansauce, scallions and cucumbers., which the diner will re-assemble him/herself.

  1. House Special Lobster on Noodles - another London Chinatown classic, but done with a lighter hand here at Chin’s: braised noodles with lobster, scallions and ginger.

  1. The dessert was so simple, yet captured the rusticity of British-Chinese fare perfectly: Black Sesame Seed Ice-cream, with Crispy Pudding. The black sesame ice-cream had higher water to cream/milk content than I’d have preferred, but the flavour was spot-on.
    The “crispy pudding” turned out to be crisp, batter-coated and deep-fried custard cubes - what old London Chinatown restaurants like Mayflower call “fried milk” - a rare treat from the 70s/80s era. I simply loved the nostalgic memories associated with that particular treat, rather than the taste of the fried custard itself.

Overall, an enjoyable dining experience. The restaurant decor itself was very eclectic: Chinese rosewood furniture with in-laid mother of pearl, Andy Warhol-esque paintings on the walls, chandeliers and Italian statues. Framed pictures of famous past customers sat on the cabinets, from 80s tennis star, Martina Navratilova to actress, Uma Thurman, and Irish singer, Chris de Burgh.

Address
Chin’s Stylish Chinese Cuisine restaurant
Tanjong City Marina, Church Street Pier
8A Pengkalan Weld, 10300 Georgetown
Tel: +604-261 2611
Opening hours: 6pm-10.45pm daily

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This post comes straight from “Harters Learns Something New”, Chapter 457.

I had never realised, until your post, that the crispy duck that we have in the UK was an Anglicised version. I’d always thought it was simply Peking duck by another name. I just lurrrvvve crispy duck but usually have to forego it, as Mrs H is not a lover of duck in any form.

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Yup, the crispy aromatic duck is just about as Anglicised as chicken tikka masala .

The only resemblance it has to Peking duck are the accompaniments which come with the duck: the little pancakes to wrap the meat with, the sweet “hoi sin” bean sauce, the scallions and cucumber. But, in place of the Peking duck’s shiny, lacquer-like mahogany sheen, you get instead a brown, deep-fried duck.

The Peking duck, as it is roasted, will also have succulent meat under the skin, whereas the crispy aromatic duck has drier meat which needed to be shredded to make it more palatable.

Peking duck:
Peking-Duck-L-768x336

Crispy aromatic duck:

When Royal China from Queensway, London, opened a branch at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore back in 2008, it had Singaporeans all excited as it’s the first and only place in Singapore to serve London-style crispy aromatic duck! I remembered dining there on the first week it opened, just to see if they managed to replicate the dish like we remembered it in London. They did. :joy:

Likewise, when Four Seasons Roast Duck restaurant from Queensway, London, opened a branch in Bangkok’s posh Siam Paragon mall a few years ago, it also offered the “very British” crispy aromatic duck! Bangkokians who tasted the dish in London actually went and ordered the same dish at Four Seasons Bangkok out of sheer curiousity.

Who could’ve guessed something so rustic and robust could appeal to Asian diners who actually identified it as a rather exotic “British-Chinese” dish.

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