Opening a 400-seat yum cha and seafood restaurant in the venue where Golden Century delighted diners for 32 years is gutsy, but mother and son team Sun Wei and William Wu are up for it.
“This is an iconic location in Chinatown, no doubt,” Wu tells Broadsheet. “But since Covid, it’s been very quiet – restaurants like Marigold and Golden Century have closed. We want to start a new chapter for Chinatown and bring it back to what it used to be.”
Sun’s first step in rejuvenating the area was opening Royal Pavilion on Sussex Street, a restaurant made up solely of private dining rooms. Royal Palace Seafood follows, bringing the beloved two-level Cantonese diner back to life – with an additional 175-seat function space on a third level, too. The fish tanks are full of lobster, mud crab, coral trout and pippies; the barbeque section is hard at work roasting Peking duck, char siu and whole suckling pig; and the yum cha trolleys are rolling through the aisles.
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“We have an à la carte menu of classic seafood dishes and barbeque during lunch, dinner and supper, which runs until 3am. For example, we do lobster in the wok, stir fried with ginger and shallots, which is the most classic way to bring out all the flavours,” says Wu. “Our signature lobster dish is Three Treasures of Lobster, where we use all the components. The tail meat is stir-fried, the legs and claws get a salt and pepper treatment, and on top we use the really flavourful lobster brain mixed with egg.”
Mud crab boiled in congee is a comforting dish paired with youtiao (lengths of savoury fried dough) and toppings of peanuts, spring onions, pickled vegetables and lettuce. Peking duck is served with pancakes, and a party of 20 to 30 might pre-order the suckling pig and eat it across multiple courses. “We would serve the crispy skin first, then the sliced pork meat; you could make pork congee or have pork with e-fu noodles. It’s really important to use the whole animal and have minimal waste,” says Sun.
XO pippies are also back, served in a house-made XO sauce that Wu says makes all the difference. “Every Cantonese restaurant can get the same pippies in Sydney. What makes it unique is each restaurant’s XO.” Royal Palace’s has a balanced heat through the complex, textural sauce.
Yum cha is a mix of familiar and rare. “A lot of yum cha places skip out on traditional Cantonese dishes,” Sun says. “We want to create something you could get in Hong Kong, like cheung fun, which is a multi-textured roll of crisp prawn spring rolls wrapped in fine, chewy rice noodles. We also play with modern ingredients, like our black truffle prawn dumpling. These aren’t that complex, but they’re time-consuming to make, and it’s hard to find yum cha places that will spend the time and effort to bring back traditional flavours.”
The fit-out is refreshed and modern, featuring artworks by Sun’s parents who are Chinese calligraphers. Gathering around the familiar white-clothed, round tables and spinning the lazy Susan to pinch another morsel of steamed coral trout or refill a cup with Jasmine tea is a lovely way to celebrate the heritage of the area. Sun says that’s the idea. “We want to give everyone a chance to explore and understand more about Chinese culture.”