I’ve been to a fair few Chinese restaurants in my time…but hardly any which are as modern and luxe as Waitan, which is up an escalator on Sussex Street and a world away from the bustle of Chinatown.
The usual live seafood tanks which are a fixture at most Chinese restaurants are tucked away at the back of the restaurant near the open kitchen. Instead, the spacious dining area has an ambience of contemporary class, thanks to the soft lighting emanating from the chic red lanterns hanging above the tables.
We’re a bit overwhelmed by the extensive menu, so we just start with some cocktails while we mull over the options for food. I enjoy my bubbly Beijing Bellini, which is a standard mix of lychee with sparkling wine, while DK is intrigued by the Mandarin and Jasmine Luxe cocktail which is a strong concoction of mandarin infused with the floral scent of jasmine and shaken with gin and lemon juice, although the citrus notes were not very apparent in the drink.
Beijing Bellini, $17 and Mandarin and Jasmine Luxe, $16
Moving onto the appetisers, we have a selection of cold starters – in stark contrast to the cold starters we’re used to seeing at Chinese restaurants, Waitan has made an effort with the presentation of these dishes which makes them just that bit more appealing. The Waitan Preserved Radish is plated up in a pretty tumbler, with crunchy sticks of radish which get quite addictive after awhile, especially since there’s some interesting caramel and honey undertones to the radish from the preservation process.
Waitan Preserved Radish, $10.80
We’re fascinated by the Black Fungi, which doesn’t sound very appetising, but in Chinese it is called “wood ear” and it has a chewy and slippery texture which isn’t that bad. The twist in this case is that the fungi has been marinated with onion and wasabi oil which has been infused into the fungi. Luckily the wasabi isn’t that strong; while there is a strong kick at first, it settles down after awhile.
Black Fungi, $12.80
The fusion element of Waitan’s menu is showcased in our final cold starter of Duck Breast with Preserved Egg Yolk Terrine. The egg yolk is encased within the thin slivers of duck breast, but it is blander than the other starters we have had so far and certainly not as impressive as the Peking Duck we are about to have as part of our main course.
Duck Breast, Preserved Egg Yolk Terrine $18.80
For mains we tuck into half of a Peking Duck served two ways – first the classic Peking Duck Breast with Skin with Pancakes, traditional black bean sauce, sliced leek and cucumbers. Waitan has invested in a specialist Peking Duck oven operated by a Peking Duck master with over 30 years of experience and it shows in the crispy duck skin and tender meat, without all the glistening fat that usually accompanies this guilty pleasure. There’s plenty of pancakes to go around for 2 people and we get to feast on Peking Duck to our heart’s content.
Peking Duck, $48 for half duck
The second course of the Peking Duck is the duck “sang choy bow” featuring neatly cut cups of iceberg lettuce which are a familiar sight in Chinese restaurants. The filling for these lettuce cups is a moreish mix of sauteed chopped duck with bamboo shoots and water chestnut. Again there’s plenty of this part of the meal to share between 2 people – the Peking Duck is definitely designed for larger groups to share.
Peking Duck, second course – “sang choy bow”
The surprise star dish of the night comes up next and it is the Singapore Style Chilli Prawns with Grissini. The new head chef at Waitan is Singaporean and this dish lets his prowess shine. The addictive chilli tomato sauce coats the large shelled prawns and while it’s messy to de-shell the prawns, the grissini bread sticks on the side give you a way to enjoy the sauce without the mess. The grissini are actually slender sticks of Chinese “man tou” buns (the ones which are usually served with congee) which have been fried so that they are brown and crispy on the outside, but soft and kind of sweet on the inside. It’s a wonderful fusion accompaniment to the dish and soaks up the tasty sauce very well so that it doesn’t go to waste!
Singapore Style Chilli Prawns with Grissini, $38.90
We were very full already by this stage of the meal, but we couldn’t go past their Dessert Tasting Plate which featured yet more fusion rather than your standard “tong sui” Chinese desserts (sweet soups). Instead, think cute Green Tea Macaroons (ours were a little stale unfortunately), a pretty and delicious Lemon Curd Pavlova with a melange of textures (crunchy and soft all at the same time) and a delectable Mango Cream with Sago which turned our notions of Chinese dessert on its head. The Mango Cream was a chilled, smooth blend of the quinessential summer fruit with little bubbles of sago mixed in and was paired with a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream.
Dessert Tasting Plate, $26.80 (serves 2-3)
The ambitious vision of team behind Waitan is to fill the niche for upmarket Chinese dining in Sydney, a trend which appears to have started with Mr Wong and continued with the arrival of China Republic roughly around the same time as Waitan late last year. We think that this vision has shone through in the expensive fit out of the restaurant, which is split into 4 distinct areas over 2 levels. On the first level, there’s the dining area to the left of the entrance, where we ate tonight and also the bar area to the right of the entrance, with cabana lounges in the adjoining room for a more relaxed and novel way to enjoy your drinks.
Private dining room
Private dining room with the largest table seating up to 30 people
On the second level, there’s the private dining rooms (with karaoke in some of them!) which have different themes and decor (including the biggest table I’ve ever seen in my life…it seats 30 people) and also a members only club lounge for parties and even more premium private dining rooms. It’s a lot to take in and its clear that Waitan can cater for all sorts of functions – but tonight we’re content with our interesting experience with the a la carte dining in the main dining area. It’s certainly a pricey meal, but Waitan has nailed its own brief of upmarket Chinese dining in sumptuous surroundings.
Excuse Me Waiter dined as guests of Waitan
Address: 1/405-411 Sussex St, Haymarket NSW 2000
Ph: (02) 8210 1000