Kylie Kwong's restaurant Billy Kwong is one of the mainstayers of Sydney's fleeting restaurant scene. The new location at Potts Point offers diners the opportunity to make reservations or pull up a bar stool at the best seat in the house. And the menu also offers up a few surprises too!
"Clunk Clunnk Clunk" the metal scraper hits the wok tossing fried rice a few inches in the air. A siren sounds past on busy Macleay Street. Chefs wearing headsets dispense quick commands into their mouthpieces. Music plays in the background and at the front of the pass Kylie Kwong's ponytail swings as she moves from one end of the pass to the other and back before picking up a pair of Aboriginal clapping sticks and hitting them together. The soft thwack signals to the staff that a dish is ready for serving.
Chinese for "Home cooked family food"
Kylie Kwong's long standing restaurant Billy Kwong has moved to bigger premises on Macleay Street in Potts Point. It's quite a different space. Whereas the other place was small with small tables and three legged stools this has a front section, bar section and back section seating 143 in total. Bookings are taken for this restaurant whereas formerly customers had to stand in line outside or retreat to a nearby pub to be called when their table was ready.
Like all restaurants there are what are considered to be the best tables and nowhere is this more apparent than with the bar stools - their version of a chef's table. Diners can sit just inches or metres away from Kylie and her team (but there is no time to chat, she's head down, busy at work) and the whole kitchen is open to view. To keep the noise down and to avoid shouting across the busy restaurant with woks clanging constantly, they have the headsets.
Louise and Viggo are sitting waiting for us at the corner section of the bar. They're nibbling on olives - not your usual Chinese restaurant snack but they are salty, oily and moreish. Our fantastic waiter takes care of everyone perfectly ensuring that we are left not wanting or waiting for a thing.
Goong Goong's Chinese Pickles $7
Kylie brings over a plate of pickles and explains that they are her family pickle recipe. There is carrot, cabbage and radish with a crispy cracker with numbing peppercorns to give lips a tingle. The pickles are slightly sweet and stir up the appetite nicely (not that I ever need any help with that, more's the problem). We look through the menu and they also explain the two pages of specials, written by Kylie in artistic cursive writing.
Crispy salt bush cakes with chilli sauce (4pc) $16
I've only had salt bush a few times and it tends to pop up on menus as feed for lamb so we're curious about the salt bush cakes.They're more like fried dumplings filled with the mild flavoured and slightly salty greens inside. They're a big hit at the table as they're deep fried but not at all greasy.
Steamed vegetable and warrigal green dumplings (4pc) $16
The plump soft dumpling parcels are filled with warrigal greens and black fungus and are served with Japanese white soy. A lot of the menu here uses indigenous ingredients and these warrigal greens are not dissimilar to a soft, mild flavoured spinach. They melt in the mouth.
Steamed mini pork buns with Rooftop Honey $28 for 4
The steamed mini pork buns are pricier than what you might find at other Chinese restaurants, actually the whole menu is but they do use organic, sustainable, biodynamic and locally sourced produce where they can. These mini pork buns are made using free range pork cooked with The Wayside Chapel's Urban Beehive Honey. They're slightly sweet, plump and made for a generous lick of chilli sauce.
Steamed mini Lamb buns with pickled celery and chilli $28 for 4
By contrast the lamb buns are pillow soft and filled to the brim with the softest strands of lamb. They are served with a vinegary sauce to counteract the richness of the lamb.
Deep fried chicken with Brown Rice Vinegar, Spring Onion & Ginger $45
Instead of all of our mains coming at once, the waiter has the chicken come out first with the greens and rice. It's half a deep fried chicken cleavered into pieces and served with brown rice vinegar, spring onion and ginger. The free range chicken is tender and succulent and mild on the inside but with plenty of flavour from the sauce.
Red braised caramelised wallaby tail with Black Bean & Chilli $32
We are all curious about the wallaby tail. For those outside Australia, wallabies are similar to kangaroos but smaller. The tail is similar to oxtail in that there is a central bone and here it is served bone-in in small pieces with black bean and chilli. They give us a bowl to put the bones in. The meat is soft and the flavours are strong against the gamey flavoured meat. This is a favourite of mine.
Duck with organic tangelo and Davidson plum $48
Space should always be reserved for the duck, their signature dish, which I've made a few times. It's a dish that changes with the fruit in season and this time it is Davidson plum (an Australian native fruit) and citrus with half a free range duck. The duck is deep fried and then coated in the sweet, slightly tart sauce. There is cassia bark, star anise and other spices that add so much depth of flavour to this dish.
Stir fried Australian native greens with Ginger & Shiro Shoyu $12
This is a mixture of Australian native greens and they take very well to the Chinese flavours and are a great accompaniment to the meat dishes.
Cantonese fried rice (per bowl ) $12
This looks to be a vegetarian fried rice with lots of mushrooms and vegetables and egg in it. I do prefer my mum's version only because it contains Lup Cheong but it's good to have rice with the dishes above.
Live green ants
There isn't a dessert menu as such and because it is NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week they bring out a special treat that comes with some fanfare. It's live green ants for dessert! Kylie brings them over and they are set in a small bowl surrounded by water. The green ants have jut been woken up from their refrigerated slumber and some are active. Kylie explains that you grab them by their head and squeeze. Once they've been dispatched you pop them into your mouth where they give you a sherbet flavour! Louise squeaks "Ow!" as an ant bites her. I get my first taste of sherbet with my first ant but the second ant has a less tangy sherbet flavour. It may be where it landed on my tongue and when it hit the side of my tongue, the sherbet flavour was pronounced.
Panna cotta $10
Onto some more regular desserts. The ginger panna cotta is served with an aromatic sauce scented with star anise. It's appealingly wobbly and Mr NQN would swallow this in one bite if he didn't have to share it.
Pepe Saya buttermilk and Davidson Plum sorbet $10
The sorbet is a super refreshing Pepe Saya buttermilk and Davidson plum flavour. It's the kind of sorbet that you go back to again and again even after a large meal.
Chocolate Mousse $10
The last dessert is a Fairtrade chocolate mousse served in a large, rich quennelle of sweet goodness. Sure it ain't no sherbert ants but we finish every bit of it.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever eaten live ants or live food? Would you try it? And would you prefer to sit at a regular table or at the bar watching the chefs at work?
Psst! If you would like to take a peek behind the scenes of one of our food challenges, I made a little video of our recent pizza challenge and posted it to my youtube channel! I hope you like it and I'd love to know what you think of it :) xxx
This meal was independently paid for.
Billy Kwong Chinese Eating House
28 Macleay Street, Potts Point, NSW 2011
Tel: +61 (02) 9332 3300
Monday to Thursday 5:30 – 10:00 pm
Friday & Saturday 5:30 – 11:00 pm
Sunday 5:30 – 9:00 pm