3 Lamborghinis Murcielagos, a club’s worth of tall, pretty models, a $10 million+ fitting, a $50,000 bottle of Hennessy – the only one of its kind in Australia, a master chef specialising in Peking duck flown in from Beijing and head chef John Rankin (pedigree Quay | Astral | Sean’s Kitchen), Australia’s largest dining table, and a $10,000 membership.
These are the key phrases that describe the restaurant opening of Waitan. In their own words “Waitan promises truly authentic Asian flavours influenced by cuisines from around the world, with an appropriately luxe dining experience to match”
No more words shall be wasted in this introduction. Curiosity piqued? Read on.
Date Last Visited: 30/10/13
Address: Level 1 & 2, 405 Sussex St, Sydney NSW
Recommended Dish(es): N/A
Make no mistake, this is a massive launch event. I thought Mr Wong, with its $4 million price tag was hefty, but Waitan smashes that by over 2.5x. Now, splurging money on outfitting says nothing about restaurant quality, but this was set to be big in more ways than one.
I’m Still Hungry was invited by Hill + Knowlton Strategies along with many other bloggers including Jen from My Interesting Finds, Matthew from Plan-MB, Jen (again!) from JenisHungry, Belle & Anderson from The Lamstock, Helen from Grab Your Fork, Rosana from The Food Book, Corinne from Gourmantic, Charn & Kath from The Food Diary by CK and so, so many more. Look out for their coverage on Waitan if they’ve been posted. In addition to us foodies, there was plenty of PR, writers for all sorts of newspapers and magazines, photographers, as well as former Masterchef AU contestants. Who knows what else I’ve missed…
That Usual Disclaimer Applies – Opinions are My Own
Anywho, let’s do this in pictures, because nobody likes reading a wall of text.
Before noticing the cars, I noticed the small sign which doesn’t differentiate itself in size to any other sign along the street. I hope it’s visible for future diners, because it isn’t immediately obvious to locate the place.
Well, that would be the case on any other day – but not today. Not with one…
But THREE Lambos parked in a line. Not to mention the models and the red carpet.
I didn’t expect this, but when you’ve spent > $10m on your restaurant, you’d better launch with a bang. Mission accomplished.
I stayed outside for a bit just taking it all in and finally decided to actually visit the restaurant proper when even the models began going in. I should have done that sooner, as I missed out on seeing the Peking duck getting cooked (as well as the first round of pancakes!)
The models from below now form the greeting party towards the 1st floor entrance. It would be pretty cool if this was permanent!
Immediately, I take in the luxury of the place. The 19th-20th century Shanghai-style decor begs to be filled with gentleman in tailored jackets and women in cheongsams. It’s luxe alright, and screams expensive but immaculately comfortable and pleasant.
Waitan has several dining areas and you’ve just seen two of them. They’re all comfortable and cushioned, and I’m sure on booking you can request where you would like to sit.
Did I mention how much I love the look? Call me superficial or the design irrelevant, but I find it very charming and it actually reminds me of high-end dining back in China. So yeah, it’s not fake.
The restaurant has two floors. The bottom is the primary dining level, while the second level houses 10 private dining rooms (VIP), several of them with their own kitchens. Literally private – may as well be in another restaurant. Total area? About 2500 square metres. Serious real estate.
I hope they don’t get these cushions stolen because they just beg for it. I don’t know how many different designs there are but I saw a huge variety.
These hark back to the bird cages found in Angel Place, and I find them quite attractive. But it’s more additions to the price tag for sure.
Welcome to the opium den. Well, not really.
Those history buffs will know about the Opium Wars in the mid-1800s, where a staggeringly high number of Chinese people literally just sat in these dens all day long and got high on the stuff. While I’m sure Waitan doesn’t encourage this practice, the styling cues come right out of one.
It’s very daring, and I must say, very attractive. Finally, a restaurant that actually has an amazing lounge area where you can just chill with friends before/after your meal. Kind of like Hemmesphere.
I would imagine getting a booth would not be easy, considering there’s only so many but boy, chillax with a bottle of bubbly and you may as well call it a day. It’s dark, it’s moody, it’s perfect.
Oh and yes, those massive bottles were making the rounds on the opening and yes, they’re not just for show.
As usual, I’m no wine/champagne expert so I didn’t really focus on the alcoholic aspect of Waitan’s launch. Let’s just say that they are serious about their drinks menu.
The one drink I tried (pictured above) was awesome. It took my love for champagne to a new level – who’d have known lychee goes so well with it! The fruity infusion is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
As this was a restaurant launch, I wasn’t exposed to a proper menu so I actually have absolutely no idea on
a) What the prices are like (but can’t be cheap)
b) What kinds of food is served (specific menu items that is)
That would take a proper visit to determine so look for that post. That said I gather that Waitan will include a degustation-style meal for those who prefer it, and the general cuisine is authentic Asian with French gourmand inspirations. East meets West right? I’ve seen it done before, and it will be interesting to see how that pans out at Waitan.
For now, we got served various canapes and the above was the first that made its way into my stomach. It’s delicious, but perhaps I got to them a bit late – it was slightly cold.
The kitchen you’re seeing here is one of the two main kitchens that they have. This one is the dim sum kitchen.
While this kitchen (much more not pictured) is the main kitchen, where the mains are expected to come from. Can’t wait to get my hands on those oysters.
Oh wait, I did! These are an absolute blast. I began to have an inkling (that later got confirmed) that Waitan chefs really know their condiments. The dressing on the oyster was an absolute blast. If you’ve never gotten into raw oysters this may be THE oysters to start off your journey.
Next up, we’ve got some wagyu beef buns that are served rare with a delicious pickled cucumber. These totally hit the spot, but as usual, served hot they would be much better. You should not have this problem if you ate them made to order ( as you would on a normal restaurant visit).
Comparisons to other buns you may have had (*cough* Ippudo *cough* Momofuku) might come up but don’t – these are beef and of a very different texture profile. The buns are the same though which is only a good thing.
At this point, food gets interrupted as a speech is given. We learn that Waitan is funded by Sydney businessman Patrick Tian, while Aaron Chin (the swag gentleman with the gold bow tie) is the COO of Waitan. The restaurant is the first Australian presence established by Asian restaurant chains Xiang E Qing & TungLok Group. These guys are big players in their locales, and now you know where you can get $10m from
As you can see, the media presence was absolutely massive. Around 200 people is a good guess.
It wasn’t long ago that I discovered that Peking duck actually required several days of preparation to do correctly. When I learnt this I also decided to never try and make it at home. Some things are best left to the masters. Indeed, they flew over a master Peking duck chef from Beijing for this launch. If only that was a permanent thing…
One of the chefs preparing a new duck for sweet carvings.
The Peking duck is cooked in some kind of cherry sauce as I could taste it quite profoundly. It’s actually different from many others I’ve had. I was worried when Waitan promoted these duck pancakes as their signature dish since so many other restaurants do it. But, after tasting these pancakes let’s just say that they may just be able to pull it off.
Aannnnnnd it took me way too long to actually get to the front of the queue. The duck queue was the longest and for a good reason.
Somehow, I forgot to take a picture of the special duck oven which had its components imported from China. You can find pictures of it on the other blogs I’ve linked to. It’s a classic brick oven – like wood-fired pizza, you can’t beat the smokiness of traditional methods.
I can see more beef buns being prepared in the distance, but I cannot breach the crowd!
These small, golden buns were one of the first canapes to be served, and while they are already yum enough to eat separately, they come with a delicious curry sauce that really screams “wipe the plate clean”. Remember my inkling about Waitan condiments? At work!
I expect any Asian restaurant to have spring rolls, though this configuration is an interesting one. Instead of short and fat, Waitan have gone with long and skinny. This for the people who really want to get at the crispy skin. The filling is a spicy seafood mixture, and the dish comes with its own dipping sauce. Actually, it didn’t even matter – mix and match, it tastes great no matter how you do it. Delicious and one of my faves.
The last canape to be tried are these deep fried prawn skewers. These are also spicy and have a dipping sauce and are full of flavour. I really hope all of these are on the normal menu because I would order them with little hesitation.
A shot of the seafood tank later, and I was off to the second level to see what that’s all about!
There’s 10 of these rooms on the second floor, and the style is distinctly different from below, primarily due to the tables and the walls. I believe that you can only access these rooms via Waitan’s exclusive $10,000 membership which gives you unlimited facility access and drinks & canapes on any visit. 3 such memberships were sold on the night. As for their value, you can be the judge of that.
This is the Pièce de résistance of the second floor. A table that seats 36 people. It is the biggest in Australia and is so big it has to be assembled in 13 parts. I question the usefulness of such a big table (do people dance at the centre for you? You can’t reach food there, after all) but it sure makes a statement. Waitan is all about making statements.
This is the entrance to the second floor.
Unfortunately, I never got to see the 50k bottle of Hennessy but it’s in this box I’m sure. I wonder how it tastes…
I come back downstairs and to my delight I spot dessert being made!
I only had one of these little morsels but it was a morsel well worth having. It avoided the trap of being overly sweet, and at just the right density too. A solid showing.
I’m about to wrap up here, but remember what I said about Masterchef contestants being there on the night?
Yeah, that was pretty cool
The biggest question is going to be how Waitan will do in the long term. $10m is a lot of money, so you had better sell a lot of those memberships…
While I enjoyed the canapes overall, they don’t say much about the food that will be served at the restaurant as a normal diner. I look forward to visiting Waitan in such a context, and give it the usual review treatment.
But I’ll say this – if the food is as bombastic and stylish as the launch was for me, then this place is here to stay. Waitan you waiting for?
NOW FOR A PICTURE DUMP!