Sunday, August 24, 2014

Billy Kwong

August 19, 2014


I've managed to set up my current employment situation so that I get to make semi-regular trips to Sydney for a week at a time. I usually stay somewhere near the beach and haven't really stumbled across too many places worth blogging (let's just say that I eat a lot of cheap Thai food). But clearly I've been talking food with my colleagues, because on this trip one of them booked me in for a Tuesday night outing for something a bit fancy. Our original plan was Berta, but their special Tuesday night meal doesn't include a vegetarian option. Luckily, my friend had plenty of fall-back plans and we were able to snare a table at the one on the top of her list - Billy Kwong.

Billy Kwong is a stalwart of the Sydney scene - run by celebrity chef Kylie Kwong with a strong emphasis on local ingredients and sustainability, it's a regular presence in lists of 'must try' Sydney restaurants. It's a tiny and crowded space and has only recently started taking bookings after years of long queues for tables. We felt lucky to nab a booking on the day - rainy Tuesdays are probably the best time for impulsive trips to high demand restaurants.

The menu changes regularly, and the current iteration isn't its most vegetarian friendly - there weren't quite enough dishes available for us to order the $95 chef's banquet. The staff were lovely though, suggesting dishes and helping us come up with more than enough options to form an excellent meal. The style of the menu is fascinating, pioneering a kind of bush tucker Chinese food, whereby relatively standard Chinese dishes are tweaked with the addition of local ingredients. Most famously, Kwong advocates for the use of insects as a sustainable protein source, serving up cricket and prawn dumplings and fried rice with meal worms (for the record, my dining companions sampled the crickets and described them as just adding some crunch to the dumplings). Vegans do almost as well as vegetarians here - all the savoury dishes I had were vegan and the dessert would just need a sour cream substitute.


We split a couple of the veggie starters among the three of us. The saltbush cakes with house made chilli and soy sauce ($18) were a brilliant way to get started, with the slightly salty greens seasoning the crisply fried cakes and the chilli adding some bite. Note to self: next time, don't share these.

Next up was the vegetarian sung choi bao ($26) - big lettuce leaf cups to be stuffed with a black fungus, saltbush, organic vegetables, coriander and chilli sauce.


I'm sure there's a knack to making neat little parcels out of the lettuce leaves, but I wound up with chilli sauce and veggie pieces dribbling down my chin. Messiness aside, this was a dish bursting with freshness and flavour - the fungus got a bit lost, but this was all about big crispy bites of vegetables.


I got a whole main to myself - steamed silken tofu with ginger, shaved kombu, chilli, shiro shoyu and sesame oil ($26) and we split a $15 plate of the stir-fried native greens with ginger (my note-taking failed, but I think it included Warrigal greens and some more saltbush). The tofu was creamy and a tiny bit sweet, but otherwise fairly featureless, taking on the flavours of its accompaniments - a salty, umami flavour from the kombu, mild shoyu and a decent ginger kick (I must admit to not really noticing any chilli, but we were a few wines deep at this stage). It's a lovely dish, but probably one that's better shared - it all got a bit samey by the end. The gingery native greens provided a nice contrast, with some sharp flavours.


There's just the one dessert option - poached pears with hazelnut praline, home-made sour cream and crumbled dark chocolate ($15). We split this between the three of us - it was fresh and pleasant, but strangely unexciting given the fascinating dishes on the savoury menu.

In light of her Writers Festival appearance, Cindy and I have been talking a bit lately about what's distinctive about Australian fine dining, and Billy Kwong provides some answers. Kylie Kwong has taken excellent Chinese cookery and given it a really distinctive Australian twist. I was very impressed. It's not a cheap place to eat (e.g. a similar tofu dish at Rice Queen goes for $16), but the focus on sustainable and organic produce, the friendly and efficient service and the imaginative approach to food just about make it worth the money. Billy Kwong is doing something quite unique and is well worth a visit if you're looking for somewhere exciting to eat in Sydney.

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A couple of veg-bloggers have visited Billy Kwong previously, and both Tales of a Vegan Food Fetishist and Not Another Mushroom Risotto were very impressed.


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Billy Kwong
3/355 Crown St, Darlinghurst (although it's soon to move to Potts Point)
(02) 9332 3900
menu 



Accessibility: There's a flat entryway but a very tightly packed interior. It's full table service. We didn't visit the toilets.

4 comments:

  1. How wonderful that you get to travel consistently for your job. :) I get to do the same occasionally - long weekends in Melbourne where I'll work a Thursday, Friday, Monday out of our Melbourne office every two months or so.

    If you stay in Sydney on a weekend, you'll have to try the Billy Kwong stall at Eveleigh Markets on a Saturday. I always enjoy getting my breakfast there, but haven't tried the actual restaurant yet.

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    1. The Everleigh Markets sounds fun - I have a huge list of Sydney things to check out when I eventually stay for a weekend.

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  2. I've never eaten at Billy Kwongs but you've convinced me to give it a try.

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    1. I hope you like it! It's a pricey experience, but I thought it was just about worth the $$.

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