Keen to get a look at Sydney’s latest eating precinct, Darling Square, I booked a table at XOPP. At just two weeks of age, this restaurant is a new entry for the Golden Century Group, which was established by Eric and Linda Wong thirty years ago.
XOPP is in the hands of their son, Billy Wong, though Mum’s here on the floor talking up his achievements and dazzling guests with her eye-catching footwear and bubbly personality. You’ll find the restaurant wrapped around the mezzanine level of the Darling Exchange.
Bound in kilometres of recycled timber, this beautiful six-storey building is designed by Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma. It’s part of the NSW Government’s $3.4 billion-dollar splurge on Darling Harbour and is set to house a new, high-tech library that will open in October.
On the ground floor, Maker’s Dozen is already up and running, setting the benchmark for food courts with stylish design and a shared airspace with XOPP. The adjoining air shaft is populated by a permanent, dangling art piece by Nike Savvas that looks like a whirlwind of colourful confetti.
With this artistic centrepiece, and so much going on architecturally on the other side of the curved glass windows, the XOPP team have sensibly opted for a toned-down, lounge-room feel. Woven flooring, leather banquettes and neutrally toned chairs keep things casual, with a spark of interest overhead with floral fabric light boxes and dangling fake plants.
Dark tables and low light are broken up by jade green crockery and fluoro orange wine lists, chopsticks and water glasses, signalling towards a contemporary reinterpretation of Cantonese.
Seared Scallops ($24) give you a modern mash-up of chilli, garlic puree, ham and prawn floss on a perfectly cooked shellfish delivery vehicle. They’re salty from the ham, and fruity from the bell pepper-like chilli, but a bit lacking on savoury middle for me. They arrive hot on the heels of our 2017 Picardy Chardonnay ($89) drawn from Pemberton in Western Australia. Plucked from a thirteen-page list, it’s a cracking Chardy with great intensity and a strong slate mineral line sitting over stone fruit, white pepper and a tickle of butter.
While it’s very early days, getting good wine service did prove difficult. A list this extensive needs people who understand the wines it contains, not “a little bit” or because “it’s popular” but with the skills to help diners compare them. It needs to be backed up by the ability to open them without placing the bottle onto the table and saying: “I’m not very good with corks. No, I’m terrible with corks. I hope it doesn’t go wrong.”
With the restaurant’s very name being a play upon stir-fried Pipis in XO Sauce ($46/500g) it’d be wrong not to order them.
We opt for the Chinese Doughnut ($10) add-on and are pleased to find our beautifully cooked, fleshy clams are accompanied by a vat of XO sauce for doughnut dipping.
The XO sauce is so beautifully balanced and punchy, it’s almost more exciting than eating the clams themselves!
In a gonzo mix of rendered and tendered pork cheek and fermented Malay prawn paste, Stir Fried Brussels Sprouts ($24) are seriously misnamed as a vegetable side. They’re a celebration of crisp sprout and tender pig that had me reaching for a doughnut to make sure nothing was left behind.
They nudged out Japanese Wasabi Beef ($36), which has been a Golden Century staple for at least ten years for very good reason.
The steak is so tender, and the saucing is so full of nostril-flaring wasabi vigour, it eats beautifully over well-separated, Yeung Chow-style Fried Rice ($22).
While there’s no denying XOPP is pricy, the food is on point. If you have the cash to splash, you can order with impunity, secure in the knowledge that they’re not too fancy to put your leftovers in a plastic container to take away with you. While I probably could have done without the dishes being scraped and stacked at the table by staff who teeter between tentative and incompetent, they had a sweetness and enthusiasm about them that makes me believe they just want for finessing that will happen over time.
The Darling Exchange, Mezzanine Level
Shop 31 / 1 Little Pier Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 8030 0000