Chef Simon Goh’s Malaysian restaurant at Westfield Sydney gets its name, concept and style inspiration from the movie In the Mood for Love (2000), written and directed by Wong Kar-wai. The movie is romantic, sensual and seductive without nudity or sex scenes. Mrs Chan, played by gorgeous Maggie Cheung, has a husband who is often away on business trips. Her neighbour Mr Chow, played by handsome Tony Leung, is married to a wife who also often away from home. The two are drawn to one another and become friends. But then a day comes when they discover their spouses are having an affair…
I stumbled upon the movie one night while channel surfing and was instantly hooked. I went out that weekend and bought the DVD. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful, intense and sad love story, but every time I watch In the Mood for Love, I’m left in the mood for noodles, eaten with chopsticks out of a thermos, like Mr Chow and Mrs Chan do, sitting in a cramped Hong Kong apartment while the noise from their neighbours shuffling mahjong tiles resonates through the walls.
If you’ve never seen the film, it’s well worth a look. Trailer video below.
On my short stay in Sydney in March, I met my sister and her husband for dinner at Chinta Ria… Mood for Love. The restaurant was on my list back in November when I spent a delicious ten days eating my way around Sydney, but ten days was still not enough to get to every place on my list. When the March trip came up, I grabbed the chance.
My “list” for Sydney is ongoing and I keep adding to it on my Pinterest board To Eat List: Sydney as I’ve no doubt I will visit Sydney again. You may also be interested to check out my other Pinterest boards – which include macarons, bacon, to eat lists for Perth, Melbourne (still haven’t been!), Singapore (need more suggestions!) and articles about blogging and writing.
The restaurant is dimly lit with decor highlighting reds and blacks in a dining room with dark cosy corners. Scenes reminiscent of the movie are projected on the walls, constant moving pictures that convey a sense of allure, warmth and mystery. The ornate screens, projected scenes and coloured lamps cast shadows around the restaurant, creating a moody atmosphere. Since my partner is back home in Perth I’m not feeling romantic but it smells good in here and I’m in the mood to eat.
The dishes have interesting names, sometimes cryptic, often corny, no doubt written with a twinkle in chef Simon Goh’s eye.
If there’s fried chicken on the menu you can bet I’ll want to order it. En Che Kebin Chicken – village fried chicken (AU$10) arrives hot and popping fresh with a dish of chilli sauce for dipping.
We share a second starter, Otak O Tak – Spanish mackerel mousse (AU$13). My mother and late grandmother used to make this fragrant, spicy fish mousse, which they would steam in banana leaf parcels. I was not fond of the texture as a child but was always fascinated by the name of this dish the adults liked to eat so much – the phrase otak-otak means “brains” in Malay. Chinta Ria… Mood for Love’s version of this dish is served in a tiny bamboo steamer that’s lined with banana leaf. It’s got lots of fresh kaffir lime leaf in it and a surprising afterburn. Probably best eaten as a side dish for one or shared between two with plenty of rice to absorb the fiery flavours. Not for spicy food wusses – you have been warned.
We order steamed rice and a few dishes to share for main course. First, Quack! Quack! Kiam Chye – braised duck on the bone with preserved vegetables (AU$25). If you like pickles you’ll like the kiam chye, the preserved vegetables, and the sour-salty gravy, which I drink from the dish using my spoon. Dishes featuring kiam chye are not commonly found on Malaysian restaurant menus in Australia – well worth trying if you have the opportunity.
“Here’s your ‘Hug me Honey’!” a staff member announces, and a giggle escapes her lips as she delivers the panfried tenderloin beef with honey and chilli pepper sauce (AU$25). The slabs of beef are tender and sweet, with a lingering peppery bite. Just about every dish we’ve ordered is accented by heat. Aren’t spicy foods considered to be aphrodisiacs?
Our token vegetable dish among all the protein is Bella Chan Kang Kong – water convolvulus tossed in a chilli prawn paste (AU$15), a dish most of us Malaysians know fondly as “sambal kang kong”. The chilli fermented prawn paste, sambal belacan, has a pungent aroma that smells as heavenly to me as it smells stinky to Jac. If she were at this meal, I’d be happily eating her share. What about you – is sambal belacan stinky heaven or stinky hell?
For dessert, we share a tasting plate (AU$22), but one item in particular is my object of desire. As soon as I catch a whiff of the durian panna cotta I’m excited and literally on the edge of my seat, spoon poised to plunge.
Also on the plate are Kueh Rolled Me Green (kueh dadar, coconut palm sugar rolls wrapped in a light pandan crepe); On Me On Me All Day (ondeh ondeh – pandan balls filled with palm sugar syrup rolled in shredded coconut); wedges of cassava delight pudding and a bowl of pandan sago, in coconut milk (the last two with abnormally “normal” names). I have a taste of everything, but it’s the durian panna cotta that makes my heart beat faster.
Durian fans, the durian panna cotta is one for your Eat List. It’s a stunner, velvety smooth and lusciously creamy, made with real durian. Even before I’ve tasted it, just breathing in its scent is a heady pleasure. My sister and brother-in-law aren’t as crazy about durian as me, so it’s up to me polish off most of the panna cotta. I’m always… in the mood for durian.
The dish names are playful (with cheekier names on the cocktail/mocktail list) but the food is seriously good. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, the immersive ambience of Chinta Ria… Mood for Love will help coax you away from thoughts of the daily drudge.
As I put down my licked-clean durian spoon, I have a big smile on my face and a food baby in my belly much like the happy Buddha statue near the doorway. I don’t know about being in the mood for love, but if you’re in the mood for fun and a great feed, this is a delicious and delightful place to be.
Chinta Ria… Mood for Love
Level 6, Westfield Sydney shopping centre
100 Market St, Sydney 2000