Chao Chow is the latest venture in co-owner Tong Guo’s expanding empire of eateries – which include Japanese barbecue restaurant Hibiki Yakiniku on Gouger Street, the Kintaro sushi chain and bubble tea brand Hitea.
It is scheduled to open mid-October at 43-45 Gouger Street, the former premises of San Churro Chocolatier.
“Chao is Chinese and it means trendy and chow in English means eat, right? So, we want this place to be a trendy eating place – like more casual dining,” Guo says.
“We want our food concept to be the fashion… we will keep updating our menu depending on the trends in China.”
As well as a rotation of popular Chinese food, Guo says Chao Chow will sell two core dishes: hot pots and “barbecue sticks”.
“The whole idea of the hot pot is that it’s fresh, it’s highly customisable and it’s really fast [to make].”
Instead of a traditional hot pot cooked at the dining table, Chao Chow’s dish will be self-serve. Customers will able to make their own hot pots by selecting ingredients from a wall of fresh vegetables and proteins such as beef, pork and seafood.
Guo says meals will be charged in terms of weight, with a minimum 300g order. Once the food has been weighed, a pork broth will be added.
“That will be our standard broth but then you can choose your spiciness,” he says.
“We might also do a few more flavour options as well, like laksa or tom yum or a tomato sauce – which is sour, because not everyone is a fan of a spicy broth. So we’re going to cater for everyone, not just the Chinese.”
Guo says the “barbecue sticks” are similar to kebabs.
“All of the ingredients are cut up into tiny bits. We have a huge variety. There are more than 50 different things that you can choose from, but it’ll be the same thing on one stick.”
While the drinks menu isn’t fully developed, Guo says it will most likely feature bubble tea, soft drinks and Chinese herbal teas. There will also be a bar, which he hopes will attract more young patrons.
“At the moment we don’t have a casual bar on Gouger Street… the pub across the road, it’s old-school. This one will be very trendy, very hipster, very cool.
“The majority of Chinese students live in the city… [and] they like to hang out on Gouger Street and in Chinatown because they feel more of a sense of belonging.”
Like in Guo’s other outlets, the Chao Chow fitout was devised by Mike Darvill from Faculty Design and is unique. The intention is that this will be a drawcard in itself – particularly the selfie wall, which features about 30 Kaws dolls.
Created by former Disney illustrator Brian Donnelly, Kaws dolls began as limited-edition vinyl toys. They gained popularity in Japan during the 1990s and have since become collectors’ items, with the most sought-after of the toys selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The dolls are going to be high up on the wall and they’re going to be highlighted,” Darvill says.
“There’s also going to be an Instagram zone, where you can stand in front of them.
“The lighting is basically all circular and there’s massive lighting features… It’s almost like a neon-chandelier idea.
“There’s a lot of white tiles going on and it’s almost like the store is sectioned in half a bit. So you’ve got a lot of white tiles on one side and a lot of white-washed timber on the other side and then all of these bright futuristic neons in there.”
Chao Chow will seat 100 people across a main floor, mezzanine and outdoor eating area. There is also a basement space, which Guo hopes to transform into a nightclub next year.
The restaurant is expected to launch around mid-October, and will be open from 11am until midnight, seven days a week.
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