“Kylie Kwong is like a Leonard Bernstein in her restaurant kitchen,
orchestrating a team of chefs whose food play beautiful music on my palate”
“TUK TUK TUK”, the loud clashing sound of two heavy wooden batons clutched by Kylie Kwong signals her stern instructions to busy chefs in her restaurant on this frantic Saturday evening.
“Come on! Four chicken, three fish and five ducks ….. NOW!”
Donning her signature all black attire and an agitated frown on her forehead, she yells into her headgear walkie-talkie, “Where are my wontons??”
It was back in 1999 when Kylie Kwong (cover image above) collaborated with ex-business partner Bill Granger that saw the birth of her celebrated restaurant next to his “breakfast institution” bills.
Fourteen years later, a spanking new 120-seater has evolved from that tiny 40-seat space in trendy Surry Hills to an equally hip location in Potts Point.
Welcome to bar dining and the kitchen theatrics of one of Sydney’s most celebrated Chinese restaurants over the last decade.
Billy Kwong, Potts Point
It’s a Saturday night and unlike its previous location in Surry Hills, Billy Kwong now takes bookings.
Needless to say, they are fully booked. But we are told we could walk in and wait for seats at the bar.
Over 18 metres in length that seats up to 34 diners, the native Jarrah wood bar is proving to be extremely popular. This long dining space is as much a feature as the celebrity chef herself.
Just like the previous gig in Surry Hills, the specials of the day are scrolled in Kylie’s own handwriting.
Some feature native Australian and organic ingredients which are sustainable and ethically produced ~ line-caught fish, samphire, warrigal greens, saltbush and wallaby are transformed into delectable flavours with a unique twist that pay homage to classic Cantonese cuisine.
We are seated at the bar right next to where Kylie Kwong is leading her team of chefs.
It is a busy Saturday night and she is right in the thick of the action. Like the conductor of an orchestra, she is busy orchestrating except it is not music from musicians.
Instead, beautiful aromas are wafting from the open kitchen that bears its soul to diners.
Head chef John Leong is behind fiery woks, deep-fryers and steamers where leaders of each section are equipped with headset walkie-talkies, receiving instructions from Kwong as each food order is electronically zoomed into the kitchen by an army of floor staff.
Roasted crickets and prawn wontons
Kylie Kwong has long been an advocate of sustainable and ethical food production and practices her advocacy in her restaurant.
She says there is much to love about insects because they are super-sustainable to breed and produce very little methane gas. Rich in iron and protein, crickets are said to also be very delicious. Kwong has her insects bred to order by Skye Blackburn, an entomologist from Parramatta.
There is one roasted cricket with a sprinkle of the crushed insect on each crispy prawn wonton. For me, the whole insect is crisp with a gently bitter taste. I would not have known little Jiminy was on my crispy wonton if blindfolded. Taste wise, this insect is not something that wow me so I find this “novelty” a little pricey for $19.
The dining room at the front section of the restaurant now looks onto Macleay street instead of Crown street.
And I am willing to bet my last dollar it is a welcome relief for Billy Kwong fans who now sit on chairs with a back as opposed to enduring those three-legged stools for the last fourteen years.
Mysaucepan‘s choice of a 2010 Rippon Vineyard Osteiner comes from beautiful Lake Wanaka region in Central Otago where we spent our honeymoon.
This wine has sour lemons on the palate and for a four year old wine, we both agree it is surprisingly a little too tart for our liking. Hopefully this taste is not an indication of what’s to come between us.
Red braised caramelized wallaby tail
Unlike oxtail, chunks of wallaby tail are a lot leaner with little fat. These tails may not be chopped right on the joint but they are right on the money for taste.
Each piece of meat is falling off the bone, having soaked up flavours from a slow-braised with black beans, ginger, black vinegar and topped with fresh red chillies.
Herein, I believe, lies the strength in Billy Kwong’s food concept.
Using an ingredient as native and natural as wallaby, Kylie Kwong has created a beautiful dish that is synonymous with herself – an Australian Chinese with class and elegance that is difficult to find elsewhere in the world.
I love watching talented chefs at work in restaurants with an open kitchen.
They are like crafty magicians and musicians who can transform ordinary moments into spectacular ones through their very special vocation.
Cantonese style fried rice
I fondly remember Billy Kwong’s Cantonese style fried rice from its Crown street location ~ each grain of rice is al dente with a dose of smoky wok hei.
Tonight’s fried rice is studded with crunchy bits of choy poh, egg and spring onions. There is good wok hei but lacks savoury complexity in either light soy and / or my favourite Chinese lup cheong.
Stir-fried Australian native greens
Native Australian plants, some of which grow on the coastal fringes of our seascapes, have been making its way onto the plates at Billy Kwong for a few years now.
Stir-fried native saltbush, karkalla, bower spinach and samphire (Australian native Tecticornia) with ginger, shiro shoyu and biodynamic sesame oil tick all the boxes for flavour, wok hei, texture and Chinese tradition.
Portion size is small and for this quality and uniqueness, I am happy to pay for more quantity considering Chinese restaurants charge upwards of $18 for their highly predictable Asian greens.
The crunchiness of samphire against velvety bower spinach and subtlety of umami from shoyu with a splash of Shao Xing wine is exquisitely Cantonese with a delightful Aussie twist. Tasting this dish draws me into the heart of my very own Cantonese roots. It awakens a sense of rich, cultural history that makes me so proud to be both Chinese and Australian.
There are just two desserts of the day on the menu and a ginger pannacotta with quandong syrup is overshadowed by the wallaby tail and other menu items we have our eye on for the next visit.
Those who find this restaurant “expensive” need to remember Billy Kwong’s unique DNA allows it to command a premium. It is Chinese food with a distinctive Australian flavour derived from quality organic ingredients which are sustainable and ethically produced.
Billy Kwong has matured having been successful for so many years. And it seems logical relocating to a much larger, elegant and decidedly more comfortable space to build more brand presence and bring the business to the next level.
I just wonder why it has taken fourteen years for this move.
So dear readers, would you try deep fried insects like cricket or roasted mealworms?
Shop 1, 28 Macleay street
Potts Point, New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9332 3300
Opening hours: Monday – Thursday 5.30pm – 10pm, Friday – Saturday 5.30pm – 11pm, Sunday 5.30pm – 9pm