Address: 393-399 Sussex St, SydneyNSW 2000
Tel: (02) 9212 3901
Trading hours: 12pm to 4am
If there was one restaurant to sum up the genre of 'Chinese' food in the heart of Sydney's Chinatown, there is none other that matches the rich history and tradition of Golden Century.
The theme of Golden Century is fresh, live seafood, served Cantonese style (fragrant, stirfried) as exhibited by the array of live tanks in the entrance and front wall of the restaurant.
Above: One of those green-lipped abalone was going to be sacrificed for my dinner...
I recall distinctly having a distinctly unforgettable dish here - that is, the Sliced Live Green-Lip Abalone in Steam-boat. I love this dish because it is something you couldn't replicate at home - and can feel good about leaving to the experts.
Below: Tissue-thin slices of live abalone, sitting on a bed of lettuce. I note that fresh seafood doesn't have that stinky, saltwater, sewerage smell.
The waiter brings out a butane gas-powered cooktop with a clear peppery broth. The broth is brought to boil, and then the cooking begins.
Slices are cooked 2-3 at a time, tossed through the broth for about 30 seconds then served.
Below: the result - a light 'seafood' ham. The meat has a fresh, light sweetness with a hint of saltiness (like a cured ham). Abalone has an unmatched flavour to anything else in the world.
The raw lettuce is then cooked in the broth, and served to us in soup. I like the broth - I suspect its wonton soup though with some pepper through it. At this point I was ready to go home because this dish just hit the nail on the head and I was more than content.
But there was more food:
Below: Season special - Sticky rice with preserved meat. Sticky rice is like the opposite of risotto - the rice particles remain separate and quite 'al dente' to the taste bud (kind of chewy). You can tell a skilled Cantonese chef where oil just coats the ingredients to give it a radiant glean & fragrant taste. I love thinly sliced & chopped scrambled egg as a garnish - great technique.
Below: Yam (Taro) with pork spare rib hot pot - this was not a winner. I have had this dish more traditionally with a vinegary, sticky soy base marinade but this was cooked with coconut milk and lemongrass - a very strange combination. The coconut milk started separating and the use of frozen yam did not help the cause.
Above & below: Live Morwong (fish) served 2 ways - stir fried above, and steamed below. There is nothing like live fish - the texture & flavour is almost completely different. Fresh fish has a natural sweetness and no stinky fishy smell.
The stirfried version has been lightly starched to maintain the structure of the fillet pieces and are melt-in-your-mouth, with a light gingery flavour.
The steamed version below were all the offcuts - fins, bones and other. I didn't try these but I believe people like to suck on these offcuts as a savoury, morish treat.
Above: Dessert time! This was complimentary - peanut dessert porridge which I thought was the wrong texture (I like mine more grainy but this one tasted like it once had sago balls which melted during the course of cooking into the dessert) - too gelatinous. I did enjoy those fried egg wonton skins and sesame balls - not too sweet, and just a lovely after-dinner accompaniment.
If you want to go to Golden Century to order Sweet & Sour pork or Honey Chicken - don't insult the menu and pay $7 at your local takeaway shop instead. Do a bit of research and look at the chef's recommendation on the website as there are some other treats like XO pippies, roast duck and others.
I've seen some $11,800 bottles of red wine dating back to 1920 on the menu, so you can really spend up big here.
As Sydney's only Chinese restaurant with a chef hat, this is not a bad place that has lived up to all the hype.