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For more than three decades Golden Century Seafood Restaurant has been a magnet for food illuminati including chefs Neil Perry and Tetsuya Wakuda, but under the cloud of a lease impasse and extended lockdown the venue has now slid into administration.
A spokesman for the restaurant told Good Food the 20-year lease on its Sussex Street premises ends at the end of August.
"We've been trying to come to terms [with the landlord], but you have to ask is this the time to commit to a long-term agreement?" the spokesman says.
Rumblings about the future of Golden Century have been brewing for some time. Pre-lockdown it pruned its opening hours, the very late-night service that made it a rite of passage for the hospitality industry and adventurous Sydneysiders.
Chinatown has also been one of the hardest hit areas in COVID-era Sydney. The Golden Century brand has expanded over the years, with spin-off restaurant XOPP opening two years ago in Darling Square after older sibling The Century's success at The Star. Neither restaurant is involved in the administration.
In 2019, Golden Century splashed big dollars on a luxe 180-seat "wine bank" above the restaurant.
"The intention [then] was to be there long term, and we didn't know COVID would happen," the spokesman says of the bold play.
The venue was known for several signature dishes, including pipis sauteed in house-made XO sauce served with noodles.
Joint administrator Desmond Teng, from Chifley Advisory, said he's still investigating debts and will have a better idea in coming weeks, with a creditors' meeting scheduled for August 27.
Teng confirmed a number of staff had been let go and he is in the process of calculating employee entitlements.
High-profile figures from Rihanna to Lady Gaga and George Bush Snr dined at Golden Century. Sydney chef Neil Perry is one of many local regulars shocked by its current predicament.
"It's one of Sydney's really important restaurant institutions – always there, always open," he says. "Losing it would be like throwing out your favourite pair of sneakers ... I'm hoping they can find some way to get out of this."
What are the chances of Golden Century reopening on Sussex Street? "I honestly don't know," the spokesman says.
Teng adds: "I hope this [administration] is a wake-up call for the landlord and terms on a new lease can be reached."