Golden Century is the Studio 54 of supper clubs. A crazy mix-up of royalty, politicians, celebrities, hospitality workers and beautiful strangers in various states of disarray, all mashed together in pursuit of the best possible time at a restaurant that barely sleeps.
Rihanna and Lady Gaga have been known to enjoy post-gig pipis dressed in XO sauce. Post-9/11, George Bush snr was here surrounded by bodyguards eating Peking duck ("He knows how to order properly," says owner Linda Wong).
And then there was Rachel Hunter-era Rod Stewart standing out the front waiting for his car, chatting to passers-by. The sheer democracy of the place – the Queen of Morocco has dined there surrounded by lion dancers while downstairs late-night soaks ate sweet and sour pork and smashed Chinese beers – has always been its charm.
Owners Eric and Linda Wong opened Golden Century on its current site in 1990. Since then generations of Sydneysiders have visited for menu fixtures including the indeterminable "mixed bits", Peking duck, live seafood and the very late-night congee. It's a place where chefs and restaurateurs come to relax post-service among the human soup that is late-night Sydney.
It wasn't always like this though. When the Wongs first moved to Australia and took over the business in its original location in May 1989, Golden Century was a tiny little supper inn a few doors down from the multi-level late-night behemoth it is today. Two weeks before opening, the pair had arrived from Hong Kong with two small children, a bit of English and no driver's licence between them.
"At that moment, everything was new," says Eric. "Our English was poor, we didn't really understand the market, it was really hard."
And when the couple first decided to create a full-blown, Hong Kong-style seafood restaurant there were a lot of naysayers. "Our co-workers at the time thought the tanks were a waste of space. But we were confident," says Eric.
They also ran into issues with fishermen unwilling to risk transporting live seafood. Luckily for the Wongs, Botany Bay at the time was filled with smaller fishing vessels whose owners did take a punt. So they started receiving midnight deliveries of prawns and fish, alive and flipping. That was the start of late-night dining at Golden Century. It was then that customers knew to expect fresh squid, straight from the boat. "Even I still get excited about it," says Eric.
Quite early on Tetsuya Wakuda and Neil Perry started visiting the restaurant. Over the years it has become a multi-generational rite of passage for young chefs to eat here with their mentors.
"What I find really interesting is how it's transformed over time," says Eric and Linda's son, Billy. "So when Neil or Tets would bring in their team, there'd be head chefs, sous chefs, the guys who are just entering the industry and they'd all just sort of sit together. And then those guys would move up the ranks and start branching off, opening up their own restaurants."
And so it is that tonight two generations of gun Sydney chefs will gather at the legendary restaurant, meeting up at midnight for a feast celebrating the wrap-up of Good Food Month. Ticket holders will join Wakuda, Perry, Peter Gilmore, Dan Hong, Mitch Orr and Morgan McGlone, who'll eat and share favourite war stories from the restaurant that's fed Sydney hospitality greats for nearly three decades. David Chang will be there in spirit, with his favourite dish on the menu. He's even been kind enough to program the playlist.
Disco naps all round.
Good Food Month presented by Citi is filled with events in October. Head to goodfoodmonth.com for more.
Golden Century Midnight Feast menu
Steamed live prawns, Neil Perry (Eleven Bridge)
"Steamed live prawns is my fave there, so sweet and natural."
Live abalone shaved and cooked at the table, Peter Gilmore (Quay)
"No one does it better."
Wok-fried snow crab with garlic butter on thin egg noodles, Dan Hong (Mr Wong)
"After a busy night's service, I always order this when I come here for supper with lots of hungry chefs."
XO Pippies, David Chang (Momofuku)
"Not a real stretch of the imagination for anyone in Sydney. Because I genuinely think it's the best dish in the world."
Braised beef brisket, tendon and turnip hotpot, Morgan McGlone (Belles Hot Chicken, Harpoon Harry)
"This has been my go-to dish since 1998, introduced to me by my friend Dave Gumbleton. It always reminds me of him when I order it."
Roasted pigeon, Mitch Orr (ACME)
"Unbeatable. With the bonus of being able to hide the pigeon's head in someone's bag for them to find a week later."
Steamed parrot fish with ginger and shallots, Tetsuya Wakuda (Tetsuya's)
"This is a classic Cantonese dish which I order every time I dine at GCs; no one does it better."