There is something uniquely comforting about the atmosphere within a Chinese restaurant. The clang of chopsticks echoing inside ceramic bowls, the musical chatter of Chinese mingled with English, the rush rush of waiters with plastic bags holding writhing live fish, and the fussing of Grandmas over children as they impatiently escape, scampering up to fish tanks with pointing fingers and giggles of glee.
Golden Century is about as close to a "glamour spot" as you can get in Sydney's Chinatown, but all the nuances of a Chinese restaurant are still present. Here, however, the hot towels come without plastic casings to pop and as the only restaurant in Haymarket to boast a SMH chef's hat, Golden Century has a reputation for top-quality seafood, most of which is available straight from the tank for your approval.
Friday and Saturday nights here are notoriously chaotic. Heeding the stories of 8pm bookings turning up and still having to wait an hour for their table, we made a 6pm booking for a Saturday night. Our arrival was met with a bookings communication breakdown, but having asserted that yes, we did have a booking, and yes, look, there it is, we were finally seated downstairs at a tiny table, more appropriate for a group of four than the group of eight we numbered.
However we were happy to be seated amidst the happy din of expectant diners. Even as we dined, I watched the constant queue of people outside who had already made bookings. They were fully booked tonight, I had overheard, and still eager hopefuls bounded up only to be turned away with disappointment. Those with bookings were still instructed to wait for their table and at one point I was sure there were at least two-dozen diners waiting anxiously with pining stomachs.
Pippies in XO Sauce $34/kg (market price variation)
with you zha gui (fried bread) $3.00 per baton
Apart from the lobster sashimi, the specialty dish at Golden Century would have to be their fresh pippies in XO sauce. Drenched in plenty of tasty sauce and covered in shallot shavings, an optional side of crispy you zha gui (fried bread) is perfect for mopping up any leftover juices.
We ordered 1.5kg of pippies which was sufficient for our table. We could definitely have eaten more of the fried bread though, in spite of the waiters suggestion that two batons would be plenty. We love our fried goods and I could have easily eaten double!
San choy bow $9.00 for 2 serves
We continued on with a serve of san choy bow, a crisp lettuce bowl housing a scoop of fried pork mince with garlic, shallots and slivers of water chestnut. Deep-fried vermicelli gave it crunch and the lettuce was refreshing whilst also keeping your fingers nice and clean.
Salt and pepper fried bean curd $13.80
Jiu yin dow fu, or salt and pepper fried bean curd has long been a favourite with our family. Unfortunately the favourite provider, the Old Marigold on Kent Street, closed five years ago and we have yet to discover a worthy replacement.
Fresh tofu is encased in a light batter before being deep-fried and tossed with deep fried garlic, chilli and shallots. The tofu was fresh and delicate but the batter was a little limp and prone to sogginess for our liking. But perhaps the danger of reminiscing has raised our levels of expectation too high.
Beef brisket and tendon with turnip hotpot $15.80
Yam and pork ribs hotpot $16.80
King prawns in shell and vermicelli hotpot $30.80
I've always loved a good hotpot but even I was a little taken aback when I realised we had ordered three hotpots for the table!
There was little doubt that the star of the trio was the king prawn hotpot. Both the beef brisket and the pork were disappointingly tough and devoid of melting heartwarming texture and flavours. Happily the king prawns were magnificent. Giant specimens cut in half, the heads full of flavour (yes, don't you suck prawn heads?), the flesh firm and tasty. A generous handful of vermicelli soaked up the prawny goodness, the soupy sauce thick and delightfully gelatinous.
Crispy skin chicken $14.80
A Chinese meal isn't complete without crispy skin chicken. A good one is a work of art. Boiled chickens are hung up to dry for at least 12 hours before being deep fried to a golden tan. The skin should be light and crispy, the flesh should be moist and juicy. A small dish of salt and pepper (and usually a sprinkling of msg) helps bring out the flavours and a squirt of lemon juice helps it stick. The prawn crackers always disappear with sudden rapidity, the blushing bridesmaids to the main event.
Baby abalone being weighed
Because I will always be a kid inside, I couldn't resist a look at the fish tanks myself. Rows of tanks lined one wall and whilst I giggled at the sight of a prawn launching itself upwards from the prawn moshpit, tiny legs waving furiously, busy waiters were constantly extracting fish, abalone, lobsters and crab using nets which resembled mini pool cleaners.
Seafood of choice is transferred to a plastic bag whereupon it is weighed and stickered for proof of integrity for customer approval. The hardcore diners will inspect the specimen, and having received the curt nod of approval (much like the first taste of wine to check it is not corked), the waiter whisks your dinner off to the kitchen to meet its maker.
Lobster $99/kg; lobster sashimi $119/kg
(market price variation)
King crab from $93/kg
(market price variation)
and yes, that's actually the back of the crab!
Our complimentary dessert platter featured slabs of pandan cake, crispy sesame balls and the ubiquitous wedges of supersweet navel oranges. The crispy balls were particularly delicious, freshly fried and smothered in sesame seeds.
I've always maintained the "When in Rome" theory when it comes to dining and I probably should have heeded my own advice here. Stick with the seafood. Or the fried food. And definitely order extra deep fried bread.
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Golden Century Seafood Restaurant
393-399 Sussex Street, Haymarket, Chinatown, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9212 3901
Open 7 days, 12pm-4am
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Golden Century (Jan 10), (Oct 07), (Nov 06), (Oct 05) and (Jul 04)
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10/25/2005 11:55:00 pm