You have to be crazy to eat at Crazy Wings so that's what I've been told. The food has been reputed to be sloppy and the service poor. However it is still does brisk trade and is a popular late night eating joint. I decided to finally check this northern Chinese eatery on Russell Street and its food for myself.
The Crazy Wings restaurant is a small and busy place with customers of all ethnic backgrounds seated from the entrance through to the back section at 6pm on a weekday. Young mainland Chinese staff were busy transporting skewers of food from the open barbeque kitchen to tables. I spied the various grilled items and they look hurriedly burnt and unappetising including the infamous chicken wings.
I asked about the self cook all-you-can-eat option at AUD22 and was directed past customers to a hidden stairs at the back of the restaurant leading to the second level. The friendly waiter set up the charcoal grilling station which included an ingenious mechanism to self turn and cook the skewers.
The all-you-can-eat option turned out to be an excellent choice with a less crowded premise and more attentive service. There was a wide array of "Chuan'r" including various marinated cow, pig and chicken offal, beef, pork belly, chicken wings, vegetables and cumin lamb.
There were also some typically northern Chinese cold dishes of tofu skin, peanuts, chicken feet and gizzard, and a desert section of at least 8 choices. Sweet plum and orange cordial drink and serviettes were aplenty.
The sudden whiff of cumin and lamb smoke from the kitchen triggered a state of recall. For readers who haven't traveled to Beijing in China, Crazy Wings is a copy-and-paste Beijing skewer food joint but in a covered restaurant environment here in Melbourne. It tries to be as close to the original as possible, with the charcoal smoke, grilled smells, sloppy environment, northern Chinese accent, indifferent service but delicious "Chuan'r" or "chuan".
What folks refer to as small pieces of meat roasted on skewers in Crazy Wings are known as "Chuan'r" in China. Think kebab or yakitori but not the skewer street food in Hong Kong. "Chuan'r" is actually a Chinese muslim cuisine of the Uyghur people that originated in the Xinjiang province and became a popular street food in Beijing and Tianjin. Roasted over charcoal or electric heat, "Chuan'r" was traditionally lamb meat [yáng ròu chuàn, 羊肉串] but modern appetites have includes the use of beef, pork, chicken, offal and seafood. I couldn't travel around the streets of Beijing without meeting the red neon "Chuan'r" sign [串] that rallies the hungry Beijingers.
cumin lamb, squid, pig's intestines and honeyed chicken wings cooking
Easy to grill and eat, the self-cook option turned out to a whole lot of fun. "Chuan'r" is a slow cooking food that requires time to sizzle over charcoal heat. This way I could control the cooking process for a tastier result. With no time limit, I could sit from 6pm till close to enjoy my "Chuan'r" and a taste of northern China in Lionel's Melbourne.
Crazy Wings serves the kind of informal northern Chinese food that you can roll up your sleeves and get gnawing with a bunch of friends late into the night. Just remember to choose the buffet option, arrive early, pack the wet wipes, dress down, ignore everything else around you and just enjoy the journey. You'll be leaving with a satiated smile on your face and the Crazy Wing's parfum of smoked meat No. 5.