Billy Kwong, the food temple of celebrity chef Kylie Kwong, is the quintessential example for any local restaurant wanting to ethically source its produce. Take time to read the menu and you will be hard pressed to find many restaurants that are more accountable in every facet of their operation. This drives not only the restaurant on Crown Street, but also their weekly presence at Eveleigh Farmers’ Market, and the Chef’s affiliated media “spinoffs”. While such integrity clearly impacts on the pricing of dishes, the success and longevity of Billy Kwong proves that diners will be supportive; providing the motives are transparent and genuine.
The acidity of the homemade Chinese pickled vegetables, covered with a generous garnish of seasoned crispy biodynamic wonton skins, stimulates the palate nicely in the banquet option. Freshly shucked Pacific oysters, lightly steamed with ginger and Shao Hsing wine, garnished with shallots, biodynamic sesame oil, soy, and a whack of coriander, hits the mark. Beautiful textbook translucent steamed vegetable dumplings, with fresh warrigal greens and black fungus, is light, healthy and moreish.
All inhibitions are quickly cast aside with the much publicised and locally bred insects which were recently introduced to the menu. Does the garnish of roasted crickets add anything to the crispy prawn wontons with sweet chilli sauce, other than a curiosity element, and micro texture? Probably not, although in fairness, I suspect it is symbolic of Billy Kwong’s progressive foray of bringing awareness to the diverse possibilities that exist within Indigenous cuisine. The key will be defining the relevance of its use within specific dishes which will be enhanced by it.
Superbly wok fried rice noodle rolls, with slow braised biodynamic beef and black beans, do not last long. They deliver a nice play of textures, underpinned by depth of flavour. Followed by delicately steamed wallaby and pork siu mai dumplings, they highlight the flexibility of this relatively new local meat, with goji berries providing a subtle hint of contrast. The Sung choi bao of certified free range pork, with fairly mild ginger and mushrooms, need a helpful spike from the chilli (separately provided), although this remains a preference issue.
From my perspective, the Cantonese-style fried rice with omelette, roasted mealworms, dried scallop, chilli and cricket sauce, has a far more effective use of insects than the earlier wonton dish. The mealworms in particular, add an undeniable texture and umami characteristic. Visually stunning, the ‘home-style’ fried yet oozy biodynamic eggs, with organic tamari and a cracking homemade XO sauce is undeniably a “wow” dish. The harmony and balance, an underlying premise of Billy Kwong, is delivered to the plate here with a fair deal of love.
The combination of very tight table configuration and escalating noise levels challenges the definition of ‘a vibrant room’, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea, depending on their expectations. However, it makes the informed and professional level of service even more noteworthy, which does not falter for the entire night. Clearly, this is a polished team which thrives under pressure, delivering a level of grace to the diners that impresses, amidst the frenetic pace of an atypical service.
It’s chopsticks down and fingers in, with the pasture-fed Flinders Island Wallaby. A magnificent mound of sticky caramelised tender tail meat, coated with an unsurpassed black bean sauce, and the precise chilli note for the occasion is “sigh worthy”. Mother Nature even pitches in with her own base seasoning from the “roaring forties” off Bass Straight, which dusts the grazing land with sea salt. Hopefully, the stunningly new boutique produce will be embraced by mainstream diners, as more Chefs interpret its unique qualities.
Tasmanian Fisherman Mark Eather’s line-caught Ling fillets have a stunning freshness, texture and clarity of flavour, steamed with only ginger and shallot, and served with shiro shoyu for contrast. I am fortunate to be savouring the Burrawong Peking duck with the producer on this occasion, and both agree this is one of the best representations of their spectacular free range produce. The diverse nuance of spicing gives the distinctive flavour another dimension, and the wider context the produce deserves. It is one of those rare and surreal moments when a dish is complete in every respect.
Stir-fried Coorong beach banana succulent with bower spinach, munyeroo (native purslane), and biodynamic garlic, is the essence of discovery providing dividends back on the plate. Divine and rich red-braised Black Berkshire pork belly was always going to be bullet proof. However, it is the Malfroy’s pure yellow box honeycomb, fresh organic muntries, and fresh lychees, which provides a subtle point of difference to an old favourite. Is a plate of fresh fruit with 70% dark organic chocolate a surprise choice for dessert? Yes, but with hindsight, oddly appropriate given the multitude of spicing on the previous dishes.
It is hard not to be impressed by the environmentally sustainable footprint of Billy Kwong; however in charting new territory with their innovative play of Chinese/Indigenous fusion, they have embraced a new frontier of fascinating and meaningful culinary possibilities. This is a brave, sensitive, and exciting new journey that Kylie Kwong has embarked upon, and in doing so has not only reinvented her much-loved restaurant, but sparked an interest in Indigenous culture and cuisine. Ultimately, when a restaurant is passionate about being one degree of separation from the producer, and actually achieves that, the results are clearly evident on the plate.
Shop 3, 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Mon-Thu 6pm to 10pm, Fri-Sat 6pm to 11pm, Sun 6pm to 9.30pm
7 thoughts on “Billy Kwong (15.5/20)”
I loved my meal at Billy Kwong…I’d love to go back one day. Not sure I’m so keen on the bugs – but I’d give it a whirl as I’m sure Kylie Kwong can do no wrong (hey, that rhymes)!
I love Kylie’s non compromise attitude on ethical sourcing of produce, something I know you are also very passionate about, and the quality of those choices clearly shines on the plate. Layer on that a seamless transition of those ingredients into a bold new Chinese/Indigenous fusion, and it is exciting times at Billy Kwong.
Great work! Sounds like an absolute epic feast full of so many delights and flavours. Love Kylie’s local, sustainable focus. Really putting Sydney on the map.
Thanks for leaving those kind words. A lot of people talk up sustainable menus, but Kylie actually walks that walk, and without a hint of compromise and it sets such a great global example.
I ate there in january 2001 and unfortunately have no pictures of it. But that night has changed my life and my taste buds came alive more than ever before. I can remember every morsel I had… It was great!!! Thanks for this post!!!!
Always a pleasure reviewing sustainable food of this calibre. Kylie has such an intuitive gift for understanding balance of flavour, and given the diversity of ingredients that she uses across the menu, that is key to its whole success.
Excellent review as aways.
BUT …”pasture fed Flinders Island wallaby” is tautological spin from a meat supplier – that has been unthinkingly regurgitated onto the menu (there’s history here with her pork from not asking appropriate questions of a supplier you may remember)…what else could a wallaby be …especially on an island ?! Grain-fed, lot-fed macropods?