Located in Sydney's Chinatown, Golden Century Seafood Restaurant is a Hong Kong-style restaurant that's popular with tourists and even more popular with locals. This institution of Cantonese cooking in Sydney reminds me fondly of Ming Palace on the Gold Coast but much busier, louder and larger with two levels of seating. Like its Hong Kong counterparts, it provides supper to the late shift populace and nocturnal party goers.
This restaurant is designed for lovers of tank-to-wok seafood, including its signboard of market prices and tank after tank of mud crabs, lobsters, prawns, pipies, abalones, scallops, barramundis, perches, parrot fishes and coral trouts.
Every other minute, a waiter is fishing live seafood out of the tank and into the kitchen. Certainly live seafood comes at a premium price but you can be absolutely certain that you're getting the freshest taste possible.
Choosing what to eat for both Chinese and non-Chinese customers can be a challenge when faced with a listing of dishes in a menu several pages thick. It helps a little if you speak and read some Mandarin or Cantonese. Having lunched, dinnered and suppered at Golden Century Seafood Restaurant several times a year for the past seven years, I don't find the meat and vegetables dishes to be exceptional or spectacular including the suckling pig. The best dishes out of the kitchen are still from the tanks. If you're armed with a group of hungry friends or family members and rolls of cash, here are six best live seafood dishes to sample based on what's features most regularly on everyone's table.
Starting with the least costly of the live seafood bounty is the live pippies. They are excellent in quality and plentiful in Sydney compared to Melbourne. You know they just been in the tank because all are wide-opened, revealing white and succulent flesh.
The XO sauce, invented in Hong Kong in the 1980s and made from a mix of dried scallop and shrimp, chilli and garlic, is ideal in masking the slight briny taste of the pippies while accentuating its sweetness. This dish at Golden Century Seafood Restaurant is certainly one of the best sellers with order after order of XO Pippies filling tables from opening till close at 4am.
Though way pricier than pippies, the abalone continues to be another popular live seafood dish and a personal favourite at Golden Century Seafood Restaurant. I'm not talking about the baby abalones at Nam Loong Chinese Restaurant in Melbourne but the large one kilogram versions.
These big ticket items are best sampled in a sliced hotpot or steamboat style to retain and appreciate the best flavour of this expensive mollusc. They de-shell the large abalone and present it in thin slices on top of pieces of Chinese lettuce; think abalone sashimi. The dish is accompanied by a slightly sweet dipping sauce of soy and freshly cut spring onions and chillies and a pot of superor stock with which to cook the abalone slices in.
I usually partake in a couple of raw abalone slices to enjoy the subtle sweet and crunchy freshness before the captain or waiter comes along to cook and serve the abalone. Once cooked, the abalone takes on a sweeter but chewier texture that is accentuated by the Hong Kong-style dipping sauce.
The great thing about this dish is you actually get seafood and soup in one. When the abalone has been consumed, the Chinese cabbage is then cooked in what has now become an abalone-infused superior broth.
Another favourite of most tables in Golden Century Seafood Restaurant is the live Australian Rock Lobster. Thinly sliced and eaten raw in a lobster sashimi style is gaining popularity due to the absolute freshness of the live marine crustacean.
My favourite remains the tried and true Hong Kong-styled lobster with bite-size chucks of lobster in shell stir-fried with ginger and spring onions in a superior stock, with enough sauce to accompany egg noodles. The light and tasty sauce wraps around the chewy chucks of flesh and does not complicate the sweetness of the live lobster.
Fried fish done well at seafood eateries like Windsor Seafoods is great but if you want to taste the real fresh flavour of fish, the next best thing to Japanese sashimi-tyle preparation is the Hong Kong-style steaming. Steaming seems simple but time it wrong and you end up with rough textures and flat flavours. The kitchen at Golden Century Seafood Restaurant does an excellent job. The steaming is just right so the fish is cooked but remains soft and tender. One of my personal favourite is the not-so-expensive-yet-delicious parrot fish steamed with spring onion and ginger in the slightly sweetened soy sauce.
5) Tasmanian Giant Crab Cooked Two Ways
Visitors from Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong can usually be found making a beeline for the Tasmanian giant crab at Golden Century Seafood Restaurant. Usually weighing between five to seven kilograms, each has enough flesh to produce two separate dishes and requires the combined gastronomic strength of six to eight diners. The price tag is also a whopper at an average of $140 per kilogram. If you're flying solo or dining with the musketeers, then the snow crab is a more practical choice.
6) Salt and Pepper Snow Crab
The snow crab or crystal crab offers the most-flesh-for-dollar compared to the other crabs. In addition, the white meat is full, firm, succulent and sweet, which makes it a growing favourite among crab eating customers. Golden Century Seafood Restaurant offers a variety of cooking styles but my favourite remains the dry-fry salt and pepper snow crab version.
Although the cost of a live seafood feast comes at a premium, you can enjoy your meal knowing that you're getting what you pay for.
At Golden Century Seafood Restaurant, your orders will always be presented to you for approval of freshness, weight and price before they head off to the kitchen. To close your seafood feast on a sweet note, the restaurant provides a small selection of Cantonese biscuits and soup-desert on the house.
The tasty live seafood generates a strong following, which equates to long queues and waits for tables even if you have a reservation. Being friends with the owners don't help very much either.