Name: Billy Kwong
Address: Shop 3, 355 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW, 2010
Ph: 02 9332 3300
Hours: Monday to Thursday – 6pm-10pm, Friday and Saturday – 6pm-11pm, Sunday closed
“Excuse me everyone,” called out the woman to the room full of strangers. “The food tonight was amazing, and I would like everyone to join me in thanking the kitchen staff.”
A hesitant round of applause arose from bemused diners all around the restaurant, unsure of exactly what just happened. It was not what you would usually expect at a quiet dinner in Surry Hills.
It isn’t that anyone would have disagreed with the sentiment. She was right, the food was excellent. But the delivery of this praise was a little strange. Couldn’t she just have left a tip like the rest of us?
Sometimes it is difficult to know how friendly you should be in a restaurant, to know what is appropriate and expected. This becomes even more of a quandary when the restaurant itself straddles the line between casual and formal.
Billy Kwong, the Sydney high temple of sustainable produce, is one that walks this tightrope. Styled as a casual, suburban Chinese restaurant, while serving some of the best of that style of food in the country, it is a mix. Think cheap plastic chairs and paper serviettes, but top end prices. Or really good Australian wines, served in low quality tasting glasses.
Then there is the celebrity chef factor. When Kylie Kwong sits at the window table to do her paperwork after a long day in the kitchen, I am not the sort of person that could go up and talk to her. I don’t want to bother her, and really don’t want to act that fanboy, accosting her with a camera.
Others are not so restrained. Which is their prerogative, and I can understand the motives, but it seems unnecessary when she is working. Though she did seem to accept it.
And, in many ways, Kylie Kwong is a celebrity chef worthy of the adoration. Her adherence to organic, sustainable and local food is admirable, and something to inspire to.
But all of that would mean nothing if the food wasn’t good.
Thankfully, it really is.
A dish of homestyle fried biodynamic eggs with organic tamari and homemade XO is surprisingly large. Vibrant orange egg yolks coat the tongue and dribble down your chin, while the XO sauce gives a kick of rich spiciness. It was a plate of food that delivered more than it promised.
My love of eating with fingers was sated by fatty pork belly, wrapped in thin pancakes. This is an increasingly popular dish these days, and as pork, pancakes and a sauce, it is hard to go wrong. But it is hard to really stand out.
Especially when up against the famed crispy skin duck with organic orange sauce. The slightly charred duck skin crunches with a smokiness, balanced with the sweet bitterness of the orange sauce. Spice, citrus, and fatty duck is a hard combination to dislike.
While the meat was excellent, it’s vegetables that really carry the restaurant’s philosophy. It’s exciting to eat a native plant that has been eaten in this country for millennia, and more exciting still when that plant happens to taste great. Native saltbush, named for the strong salty flavour, is here stir-fried with ginger. A very powerful dish, and too intense to eat all by yourself, this was a different and enjoyable side.
By placing food of this quality in such a relaxed, casual restaurant allows all the focus to be on the food. Sure, I didn’t love the chairs, or the glasses, but those things fade into the background next to that duck or those eggs.
Billy Kwong is a place well worth eating at, and well worth praising. But for the comfort of your fellow diners, maybe thank them privately.