Long-known as cheap and cheerful, Sydney's Chinese restaurants have gone high-end, with multimillion dollar venues opening in the past two weeks promising top-notch feasts in palatial surroundings.
Waitan, the $10 million foodies' playground in Chinatown, and China Republic, a $7 million venture on George Street, have taken the Chinese dining experience to a luxury level, offering world-class wine lists and private dining options.
Such is the attraction of Waitan, it has sold eight $10,000 memberships. Holders of the pass have access to VIP rooms, the chance to purchase a $50,000 six-litre bottle of cognac and valet parking. To take it to another level of exclusivity, Waitan will soon offer $20,000 and $30,000 memberships.
Waitan goes through 50 ducks a night, but plans to cap it at 70 to avoid mass production that could compromise quality.
''The time was right, with Mr Wong and Spice Temple doing well,'' said Andrew Tjioe, head of Singapore-based hospitality group, Tung Lok, part-owner of Waitan. ''Americans want Americanised food, London want Londonised, but Australians are more open. We can bring authentic Chinese tastes.''
Both restaurants have gone to extreme lengths to deliver peking duck with perfectly crisp skin and melt-in the-mouth flesh. "Ours is the best, it's the new standard for Sydney," said Mr Tjioe.
At Waitan, two specialists who trained under a Beijing duck master use a Chinese government-certified marinade and roast the birds in an oven built with imported bricks.
"We're the only ones with the imperial recipe in Australia. The dry powder was patented in China a long time ago," said chief operating officer Aaron Qing. "The ingredients are secret. We have to go to Beijing every two months to bring it here."
At the grand China Republic restaurant, where a four-metre terracotta warrior stands by the entrance, the peking duck preparation process is showcased in a glass-walled kitchen. A duck master and his three proteges use two ovens built by an Australian who carried out three years of research in China.
"The ovens can roast over 20 ducks an hour. That's more ducks at once than in any Sydney restaurant," said general manager Jason Ratcliffe, adding they hoped to pump out 100 succulent ducks a day.
The entry of the two restaurant giants has boosted business for supplier Pepe's, based in Windsor, which has doubled its production to 90,000 ducks a week in the past 10 years.
"We ensure there's no damage to the skin. The layer of fat that runs between the skin and meat is critical as well,'' said owner John Houston.
On trend with the Asian food buzz, John Szangolies, owner of The Argyle in The Rocks, has revamped the venue into an Asian restaurant offering hawker-style Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese Eats.