Secret ingredient emerges from city's best late diner

Jonathan Swan
Putting the excellent in XO Pippies … Golden Century's head chef, Hung Leung, right, with the chef who replaces ...
Putting the excellent in XO Pippies … Golden Century's head chef, Hung Leung, right, with the chef who replaces him on his day off, Wing Wong. Photo: Edwina Pickles

HUNG LEUNG does not have a TV show. He has never written a cookbook or branded his name on a set of barbecue tongs.

Even the famous chefs who dine nightly on Leung's salt and pepper squid do not know who cooked it.

Smiling shyly as he juggled squid in a wok, Leung said through a translator he was ''very happy'' that Golden Century had been judged Sydney's best late night dining by a group of famous chefs. It took Leung five bemused minutes to accept that a journalist wanted to interview him.

The 70-year-old, who grew up on a farm in southern China and learnt his hot sauce recipes as a teenage kitchen hand in Hong Kong, has been head chef at Haymarket's Golden Century since 1990.

But unlike many of his competitors Leung has avoided the cult of the ''celebrity chef''; he is a mystery even to his diners.

''I've never even thought to ask who the [Golden Century] chef was,'' said Rockpool's Neil Perry, one of the chefs who recommended the Chinese restaurant in a new book called Where Chefs Eat, which publishes restaurant recommendations from more than 400 chefs around the world.

Other Sydney restaurants rated highly by chefs include Tetsuya's in the category ''worth the travel'', Rockpool Bar and Grill for ''high end'' and dumpling restaurant Din Tai Fung for ''bargain''.

Perry said there was something refreshing about a restaurant that kept its chefs anonymous and its guest list open. Golden Century's early morning crowd is a mix of ''hospitality, hookers, bikies, drug dealers'', he said.

Luke Mangan is another prominent chef who praised Leung's cooking without having met him. ''But you know what, sometimes in restaurants it doesn't matter who the chef is.''


Quay's executive chef, Peter Gilmore, said Chinese restaurants in Australia are less likely to promote their chefs than Western restaurants.

''In those large Chinese restaurants the restaurateur seems to be the face of the restaurant more so than the chef … The notion of the chef at the forefront of the restaurant seems to be more a Western tradition, and a recent one at that.''

The owner of Golden Century, Eric Wong, said his chefs prefer to stay as far from the media as possible because they are shy and speak no English.

When he asked several of the cooks in the back of the kitchen to pose for Fairfax Media's photographer, they continued chopping broccoli, pretending not to hear him.

They seemed as bemused as Leung about the attention. ''I don't know why they chose us,'' another chef said.

Asked what he valued so much about his chefs and especially his head chef, the boss paused.

''You can find his working area is very clean,'' Mr Wong said.

''Number two, he just work and less complain, and not ask too much. Three, when is very busy he is always calm.''