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Published October 27th 2013
The Chinese culinary experience has come a long way since I remember from my early childhood days. From humble beginnings, Chinese restaurants were scattered around Sydney, run by Chinese immigrants, like my parents once were, as a means for introducing something different to the Australian palate as much as it was to make ends meet. 'Waitan' the waterfront area in central Shanghai, also reminds me of the setting for the famous Godfather of the Far East 1980s Hong Kong television series, and its theme song.
Today, we now see upmarket CBD establishments that connect historical with modern to ensure stories of Chinese history are never forgotten. Think of Spice Temple, Mr Wong's, China Lane, and China Doll. Waitan, just opened last week in the heart of Chinatown, portrays a similar exotic illusion to these contemporary Asian restaurants in Sydney.
The establishment feels like an epitome of the original burgeoning nightlife of 1930s early Republican Shanghai where people flock to get rich fast, and Chinese tycoons and gangsters mingled with beautiful women to indulge in life's guilty pleasures. The atmosphere is dark and mysterious, spawned by deity like statues and lit by rows of rich red lanterns. You are escorted to your table by a female wait staff in a black low cut dress, a far cry from the modest traditional qipao dress. I started to worry for my young cousins who accompanied me but then thought they probably have seen less tame clad characters on computer games. Clearly, their father wasn't complaining.
Dark and mysterious atmosphere, spawned by deity like statues and lit by rows of rich red lanterns
The Asian Tapas plate starter consisted of: smokey flavoured dim sum (my favourite); black squid ink har gow (or shrimp dumplings); crispy thin stick spring rolls in what resembled an empty jam jar; cheese filled croquette. My fellow diners preferred the spring rolls as it was done differently with fish cake like filling instead of the traditional Chinese style mince pork and cabbage spring rolls.
We ordered five Cantonese style main dishes, which came out progressively. The dishes were not overly large in size.
The roasted pork belly was served first. The pork belly, with more meat to fat ratio, was diced into slices marinated with chilli and black vinegar. Cholesterol concerns aside, it had a delicious slightly fatty savoury taste. The seasonally crispy Chinese broccoli and wok fried oyster mushroom dish was fresh, tasty and suitable for vegetarians.
With the name 'woodfired chicken', I expected a taste resembling the 'woodfire' in woodfire pizzas but the woodfire chicken with five spices had the same taste as the crispy skin fried chicken you get at traditional Cantonese Chinese restaurants but without the prawn crackers. The chicken in Waitan however was high quality, juicy and meatier than the usual 'skin and bones' crispy chicken I was used to, which definitely was a good change.
Everyone scoffed the wok seared scallops with asparagus and XO sauce. They had a fresh, melt in the mouth taste and my favourite mains for the evening. We originally ordered four dishes but soon realised we could do with another. So we ordered the Wagyu beef horfun rice noodles, bean shoots and shallots. The dish was little on the greasy side to what I'm use to but it was tasty.
Desserts were the highlight of the night as they were exotic and well presented. We ordered the entire dessert menu to share. We had black sticky rice with mango sorbet, miso baked cheesecake with black sesame ice cream, black bean fudge brownie sundae with red bean ice cream, and green tea panacotta with coconut ice. The baked cheesecake and the black sticky rice desserts were equally my favourites and despite bursting at the seams, we all managed to force them down.
Black Sticky Rice with Mango Sorbet, Miso Baked Cheesecake with Black Sesame Ice Cream, Black Bean Fudge Brownie Sundae with Red Bean Ice Cream, and Green Tea Panacotta with Coconut Ice
The service was excellent. The wait staff were attentive but not intrusive.
It is probably on the pricey side for the type of mains we ordered but it is great for the Chinese fine dining experience, the atmosphere, the high quality food, especially of course, the desserts.
Our mains ranged from $18 to $45, but can go higher if you ordering the Wagyu beef dishes. Desserts were around $12-15.
The high quality, low quantity type food seems to be pitched more for smaller groups like couples or business partners. However, if you have a big eating family with unlimited budget then it is a great place to try for that Chinese fine dining experience.