The second-generation owner of Golden Century (GC), the Cantonese institution famous for its unforgiving fluorescent lighting, lobster tanks and XO pippies, has announced he and his team will open a third restaurant, at the new Darling Exchange building in Darling Square. And while it’s still a long while off – planned for completion in mid-2019 – when a restaurant that’s been a pillar of Cantonese dining, unchanged for almost 30 years, announces it’s expanding, you sit up and listen.
Billy Wong, who is also behind The Century at The Star, will head up the yet-to-be-named contemporary restaurant and is promising fusion Chinese food targeted at a younger demographic of diners.
“GC has been around for years – next year is our 30th anniversary,” Wong tells Broadsheet. “It’s a huge credit to mum and dad – the work they’ve put in over the years. There is a legacy they’ve built and a reputation around the brand that didn’t happen overnight. That goes to the team as well – a lot of people working in the restaurant for decades, that to me are uncles and family. When the opportunity came up to open a new restaurant, the idea was [about] taking the old and making it new. It’s the next generation of the legacy and the story.”
But it was the building itself that first caught Wong’s attention; the six-storey circular Darling Exchange, designed by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, will house a futuristic library, rooftop bar and the Maker's Dozen, a group of 12 other food and drink retailers located on the ground floor. Slated to open mid-next year, it’s part the NSW Government and Lendlease’s $3.4 billion plan to revitalise Darling Harbour. “If you walk past you can see the building taking shape. You look up in awe and say, ‘Wow’,” says Wong. “[Kuma] has designed state-of-the-art buildings all over the world, it just amazes you. I was really happy to be associated with it.”
If Golden Century is the wise, conservative parent, the newcomer is the cheeky, free-spirited child ready to make a name for itself. And perhaps this mirrors Wong’s experience – he’s poised to create something new. “We wouldn’t change much at GC because people call it iconic. We want it to have the same familiar feel every time you go, like going home or meeting old friends. The new restaurant is where we can be more playful with dishes and the space, to welcome a new generation of diners,” says Wong.
Wong says the food will be bold and bright but can’t divulge much on the specifics of the dishes just yet. “Don’t be surprised if we introduce elements from different provincial cuisines all around China. That’s taking the next step, introducing a more contemporary take on Chinese food,” he says, adding the 26-page wine list from GC will be refined and there will be a focus on matching dishes to the vino.
It was in 1979 Eric and Linda Wong opened their first seafood restaurant in Hong Kong, before migrating to Australia and opening GC. Years later there’s still long queues and people cram in for plates of seafood plucked from the live tank, no matter what hour it is.
When asked whether the supermarket-style lighting would be carried across from GC, Wong laughs. “I’m glad you brought that up. I think we’ll have to ask family and friends for feedback on that one.”
The yet-to-be-named Chinese-fusion restaurant is slated to open in the Darling Exchange in mid-2019.